By Hlib Parfonov*
From the outset of the “partial mobilization” campaign in Russia, processes began taking place in Belarus that created a greater potential for armed escalation in this direction, in particular in northern Ukraine. As such, on October 14, according to Belarusian Foreign Minister Vladimir Makei, Belarus began introducing a counterterrorist operation (CTO) regime to deal with “provocations” from neighboring countries (Izvestiya, October 14).
The announcement of the CTO regime in Belarus did not come as a surprise to Kyiv, as tensions on the border between the two countries have continued to simmer since the start of the war. Military exercises have been held by both sides on the border; in Belarus alone, the exercises have been extended for 27 weeks (T.me/hajun_by, October 28). On this, it is no surprise that hidden rotations of Belarusian military units have been regularly taking place along the border with Ukraine (Suspilne.media, July 18; T.me/dpsukr, September 8). Accordingly, it is now highly unlikely that the grouping of Russian troops in Belarus will catch the Ukrainian units by surprise.
Minsk has its own logic for its actions vis-à-vis Moscow’s war against Ukraine. The announcement of the CTO regime was preceded by the growing role of the Kalinowski regiment not only directly in Ukraine but also with the wider Belarusian opposition. For eight months of the war, the regiment has grown into almost the size of a brigade—and enough artillery pieces are available to fully form a brigade. In general, the current number of units already represents more than a regiment. As a result, this poses certain challenges for the Alyaksandr Lukashenka regime, as, for the first time, his opponents are being organized into armed formations with specific political goals to change power in Belarus (Kalinouski.org, accessed November 8).
Recent political actions have led to increased conflict between the official Belarusian opposition in exile, represented by the transitional cabinet of Svetlana Tikhanovskaya, and the Ukrainian authorities (Svoboda, October 14). Kyiv sees in Tikhanovskaya’s office the “hand of the KGB” and the fact that little progress has been made in the two years of the opposition fighting with the Lukashenka regime only fuels the possibility of the Kalinowski battalion being used for political purposes. Moreover, the regiment’s representatives are already gaining support not only among the Ukrainian authorities but also among the Polish and Lithuanian governments (YouTube, October 20; T.me/belwarriors, October 28). Distrust of the 2020-style Belarusian opposition will only grow as the conflict between Minsk and Kyiv heats up—potentially heading for open armed confrontation.
As a result of the Kupyansk-Lyman operation, the Russian army suffered heavy losses in equipment and munitions. Therefore, Russian troops must now replenish their stocks at the expense of the Belarusian reserves. To this end, on October 21, the 7th Group of Railway Cars laden with reactivated military equipment of the Belarusian Armed Forces departed from Urechye railway station, which is located northwest of Minsk. This time, 20 BMP-2 units, which were removed from the mothballed 969th Base of the Tank Reserve, were sent to Volokonovka railway station (Belgorod region in Russia) and onward in the direction of Luhansk. All the equipment arrived in the Belgorod region on October 24 (T.me/belzhd_live, November 1).
In general, throughout the past month, the Lukashenka regime has handed Russia:
- At least 122 T-72A tanks;
- 36 to 44 Ural trucks;
- 20 BMP-2s.
From this, we see that the main reserves come from currently obsolete equipment, in particular T-72A tanks, which will most likely be used to replenish the mechanized units of the Russian army in Donbas (Twitter.com/motolkohelp, November 2).
But the question still remains regarding the true purpose of this common group of forces in Belarus. Over the past month, at least 16 echelons of the Russian Armed Forces have arrived in Belarus. The main forces were moved to the Baranovichi, Lepel and Vitebsk regions. At the time of writing, the exact number of Russian servicemen in Belarus and the specific amount of equipment and munitions sent there remains unclear. But it is already clear that the transfer of significant numbers of troops and equipment is actively underway and may intensify following the official announcement of the Russian army’s withdrawal from the right bank of Kherson region, which had been preceded by the rushed evacuation of valuables and the local population from the area (Meduza, November 9).
The real risk is growing that, on the basis of the reserve units and BKhVT (storage base for military vehicles), Russian forces from the Kherson direction could be deployed in combat formations—building out from the three separate mechanized brigades at the expense of Belarusian equipment. The covert mobilization of service personnel in Belarus confirms the fact that this scenario should be considered as an initial response to the Kherson retreat—should that indeed happen (Kyiv Post, October 14).
It is also likely that the newly mobilized Russians may be subordinate to the regular Belarusian officers. This has been indirectly confirmed by the fact that Belarus and Russia are planning to create combat training centers for joint training of military personnel from their respective armed forces (T.me/pul_1, October 31). To this end, the main medical unit of the Belarusian Armed Forces began performing field exercises for its possible deployment. During the exercises, the servicemen at the center completed a number of maneuvers and worked out the deployment of “structural units in the area” (Sputnik.by, October 18).
This is also a marker that a strike group will most likely be formed from the Russian units in Belarus in the near future, about which the Ukrainian General Staff has regularly warned. Overall, this grouping’s tasks will be to jeopardize the supply of aid to Ukraine and seize the Rivne Nuclear Power Plant—the capture of which, coupled with the rampant attacks on electricity infrastructure in western Ukraine, will make it possible for Russian forces to limit Kyiv’s use of rail transport due to the shortage of diesel locomotives in Ukraine.
The blow of such a move is likely to be powerful, regardless of whether the Belarusian Armed Forces directly participate or not. Given the level of training for Ukrainian forces, the probability of success for the joint Russian-Belarusian grouping will be insufficient to complete the aforementioned tasks. It should be noted that, at the time of an actual Russian offensive in northern Ukraine, the Ukrainian Armed Forces would carry out direct missile attacks on infrastructure within Belarus. And in the case of Ukrainian troops reaching the shared border after a potential offensive in this direction, one should not rule out the possibility of Belarusian units actively joining the fight.
*About the author: Hlib Parfonov is a graduate of the National Aviation University (Kyiv) and a flight engineer. Since 2020, he has headed security policy at the Doctrine Center for Political Studies, in Kyiv. He is broadly engaged in open-source intelligence (OSINT) projects as well as research into the role of intelligence agencies in politics and hybrid threats.
Source: This article was published by The Jamestown Foundation’s Eurasia Daily Monitor Volume: 19 Issue: 167