By moving forces into Belarus, Russian soldiers are opening up another flank where Ukraine must prepare for a possible attack. – It increases the chance of Russian success, explains military expert.
Both the Russian and Belarusian defense forces have in recent days sent out new photos of Russian soldiers on the ground in Belarus: They stand in line and greet Belarusian colleagues, they load armored vehicles and they drive tanks on icy roads .
On the way to the Belarusian border with Ukraine.
– What Russia is doing now is to place its forces completely in the western part of Ukraine. The Russians create such a larger front width, if they were to enter Ukraine, says Lieutenant Colonel Palle Ydstebø, expert in military strategy at the War School.
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After meetings on Friday between the American Antony Blinken and his Russian counterpart Sergei Lavrov, the latter claims that Russia is not a threat to the Ukrainian people.
But Russia has nevertheless moved what may look like an invading force of around 100,000 soldiers near the border with the neighboring country. In addition, they announced a military exercise in Belarus together with Belarusian forces in February.
In fear of a Russian invasion, Ukraine has strengthened its front line with eastern Ukraine. Russia already has indirect control over the two pro-Russian breakaway regions, Donetsk and Luhansk.
An attack from the pro-Russian territories is considered unlikely, because one then has to cross a network of fortified trenches.
It is considered more likely that a possible Russian invasion comes from Kharkiv, northern Ukraine, via the annexed Crimean peninsula in the south and possibly from the Black Sea Fleet, Ydstebø has previously explained to VG.
And now from a new flank: Belarus in the West.
– It forces Ukraine to either spread its forces and thus thin out the line of defense, or to concentrate on the area where they think an attack will come, the lieutenant colonel explains.
– But if Russia invades Ukraine from another country’s soil, what will it mean for Belarus?
– It will probably confirm that Belarus has become a Russian monarchy. But with developments there over the past year, Lukashenko has no choice but to do as Putin wants.
Ydstebø believes Russia will win the troop relocation anyway. If the exercises in Belarus are only more saber-rattling to put pressure on Ukraine and NATO, then they will succeed. If there is actually a war, then the Russians are stronger.
– Such troop movements do not determine whether there will be a war, it is well determined by the outcome of negotiations, how much Russia feels they get. But it increases the pressure, both diplomatically and militarily, and thus it increases the chance of Russian success, says Ydstebø.
VG has also sent written questions to researcher Karen-Anna Eggen, at the Department of Defense Studies, about the situation around troop transfers:
– How do you interpret the military exercise in Belarus?
– This is a further escalation of an already tense situation. Russia and Belarus have practiced a lot together before as well, but the exercise they have now announced must be seen as a continuation and expansion of the massive force building on the border with Ukraine, she writes.
– It is also an expression of a closer political approach between Putin and Lukashenko. Belarus has been the subject of a political process that has had major consequences for its people and has made President Lukashenko at the mercy of President Putin. Putin seems to be taking advantage of this in the current situation and has made Belarus an active piece in Russia’s security policy game against Europe.
– What does the Kremlin gain from increasing the pressure on another flank?
The activities we are now seeing in Belarus, including Russia sending forces from its eastern military district, increase the tense situation, create more insecurity and unpredictability and put further pressure on Ukraine and the West. It is also a better positioning should Russia give the go-ahead to enter Ukraine, since Kiev is closer to the border with Belarus and an attack from several sides will stretch Ukraine’s defense beyond.
– But, whether they say they are happy to threaten war or actually intend to send the forces into Ukraine, we do not know. Russia seems concerned that the latter should at least seem credible, and what we are now seeing is not ordinary military activity.
– How is the security situation in the Black Sea
– The situation in the Black Sea is tense. If Moscow gives the go-ahead for a full-scale invasion, the annexed Crimean peninsula could be used as a springboard for invasion via Ukraine’s southern flank. Russia also has a significant military presence in the Black Sea and could block commercial and allied traffic if we get a further escalation of conflict.