Speed Reads


Belarus' Lukashenko deploys joint force with Russia

The authoritarian president of Belarus, Alexander Lukashenko, said on Monday he is forming a "joint regional group of troops" with Russia to head off "possible aggression against our country" by Ukraine and NATO.

"This won't be just 1,000 troops," Lukashenko said. His comments, reported by the state news agency Belta, are "stirring speculation that Belarus might send troops into Ukraine to help Russia's flailing military campaign," The New York Times' Andrew Higgins writes. Lukashenko has not yet sent Belarusian troops to Ukraine, which shares a border with Belarus, and told his military chiefs on Monday to "be ready to receive" the newly-drafted Russian soldiers who have been called up to go to Ukraine.

Lukashenko also claimed without citing any evidence that Ukraine has been planning attacks against Belarus. Svetlana Tikhanovskaya, a Belarusian opposition leader, said Ukraine "doesn't pose a threat to Belarus. It's a lie. I urge the Belarusian military: Don't follow criminal orders, refuse to participate in Putin's war against our neighbors."

Lukashenko met with Russian President Vladimir Putin in St. Petersburg over the weekend, and at the time, Belarusian state media reported that he "stressed the need to take measures in case of the deployment of nuclear weapons in Poland." Lukashenko depends on money, gas, and security assistance from Moscow, and the Times says some analysts believe this was a signal the ground is being prepared for the possible deployment of Russian nuclear weapons in Belarus.

Leading up to Russia's invasion of Ukraine in February, tens of thousands of Russian troops were moved to Belarus, and the country's territory was used to launch Putin's initial, failed assault on Kyiv. Andrei Sannikov, a former deputy foreign minister who fled Belarus after being jailed, told the Times that Lukashenko is in an unenviable position — Russia, which is losing ground it captured in Ukraine, is pressuring him to send his own troops to fight, but he knows that even his loyalists would be upset if he sent Belarusian troops to Ukraine.

Sannikov said he believes Lukashenko "has no real choice," and "his boots will inevitably be on the ground in Ukraine." He is "not taking decisions on the war," Sannikov added. "Putin takes all the decisions and tells Lukashenko what to do."