Belarus, a loyal Russian ally on Ukraine’s northern border, announced Wednesday that it would be moving troops inside the country in a counterterror exercise that some feared could be a mobilization for actual war.
The announcement raised the specter of possible Belarusian involvement in the nine-month-old Ukraine war — or a possible feint to split Kyiv’s attention.
Belarus’ security council said Wednesday that soldiers and military equipment would be moving around the country over the next two days for what it called training operations, the country’s state-run news service said.
The news service said some roads and transportation links throughout the country would be shut down as a result of the “audit of the state system of response to acts of terrorism,” but did not provide any specifics.
The announcement comes as Belarusian lawmakers approved new laws Wednesday enabling the death penalty for the crime of “high treason” committed by any military members or government officials, as well as a law criminalizing the spread of so-called “false information” about the country’s military.
Similar laws have been employed in Russia to stifle dissent against the Kremlin’s invasion of Ukraine.
Belarus — whose autocratic leader, Aleksandr Lukashenko, is widely seen as dependent on Russian President Vladimir Putin in the face of public protests — served as a staging ground for Russia’s ill-fated push into northern Ukraine in February.
Western analysts have long sought signs to whether Belarus would join the fighting on Russia’s side.
Western diplomats have expressed doubt that the relatively small Belarusian military could effectively wage war against the now-battle-hardened Ukrainians — and said such a move would provide an opening for Lukashenko’s opponents to try to unseat him.
Ukrainian officials have previously expressed the opinion that Belarusian posturing could be used as a ruse to cause Kyiv to shift troops to the northern border.
Still, some analysts say Belarus has been taking the necessary steps to join the war and should be taken seriously as a threat to Kyiv.
“We cannot exclude the possibility that a decision has been made that Belarus could join the war,” Konrad Muzyka, of Polish think tank Rochan Consulting, told Reuters. “I don’t know whether this has happened, but from a military indicators point of view, everything is pointing towards Belarusian armed forces taking a more belligerent stance.”
“Belarus has actually been preparing to join the war on the Russian side for a few months. Every capability that they would need to go to war has been tested,” he added.
With Post wires