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Belarus Joining Ukraine War Could Be 'Devastating' to Lukashenko's Army

Newsweek 12/13/2022 Andrew Stanton
Above, a split image of Russian President Vladimir Putin and Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko. Belarus has reportedly ramped up military action in recent weeks, sparking concerns that it could join Russia's invasion of Ukraine. However, this could have "devastating" consequences for Belarus' military, an expert told Newsweek. © Contributor/Getty Images; SIARHEI LESKIEC/AFP via Getty Images Above, a split image of Russian President Vladimir Putin and Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko. Belarus has reportedly ramped up military action in recent weeks, sparking concerns that it could join Russia's invasion of Ukraine. However, this could have "devastating" consequences for Belarus' military, an expert told Newsweek.

Belarus ramped up military action in recent weeks, sparking concerns that it could join Russian forces in Ukraine. But doing so could be "devastating" to its military, an expert told Newsweek.

Ever since Russian President Vladimir Putin launched the Ukraine invasion on February 24, Belarus has emerged as one of its closest strategic allies as Putin faces rebuke from the West. Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko has publicly supported Putin, even allowing Russian troops to enter Ukraine from the Belarus-Ukraine border, providing closer access to the capital city of Kyiv.

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Belarus on Tuesday announced plans to inspect the combat readiness of its troops, the latest of several actions by the military in recent weeks, according to Reuters. It follows a counterterrorism exercise this month, a check-in on eligible service members and an army exercise in October.

Javed Ali, a University of Michigan professor specializing in international policy and diplomacy, told Newsweek on Tuesday that Belarus joining the war in Ukraine could have drawbacks.

"It comes with considerable risks for the Belarusians. Look at the pounding that the Russian military has taken in Ukraine," Ali said. "Belarus is such a small country. It has such limited military resources. Losing a few hundred troops or a couple thousand would be devastating for them."

While Ali doesn't "see the upside" for Belarus joining the war, as it could trigger operational and political consequences for the government, he said Belarus still could join the war if Putin "strong-armed" Lukashenko into doing so.

Russia, facing mounting losses, would likely take any support it can get, but Belarus could also face backlash from the international community for joining the war if its military is seen as aiding an aggressor or attacks civilian targets, Ali said. It could face diplomatic pressure or sanctions, which the West has used against Russia.

"I think that, unless the Belarusian president has the same perspective of driving his country into a ditch and potentially not being able to back the car up—if we use that analogy—then I just don't see what advantage it has to Belarus," Ali said.

Ali said Belarus could also be ramping military exercises to project solidarity with Russia or make a show of force toward Ukraine, but he doubted that it would "fundamentally alter" the outcome of the war, pointing to Belarus' small size and limited resources. Still, he said, there wouldn't be much of a downside to Russia, which has reportedly suffered significant troop losses throughout the war.

A recent report from the Institute for the Study of War found that Belarusian forces remain "extremely unlikely" to join the war, even as the Kremlin seeks to pressure Lukashenko into sending troops into Ukraine.

Lukashenko dismissed speculation that his troops would join the war last month, describing it as "total nonsense."

"If we use the Armed Forces' personnel to get involved in this conflict, we will add nothing to it," he told reporters. "On the contrary, we will make things worse. It is not Belarus' role in this conflict."

Ukraine warned Lukashenko against sending his troops into the conflict in October. The General Staff of the Armed forces wrote in a Facebook post: "If the army of Belarus supports the Russian aggression, we will respond. We will respond as harshly as we respond to all invaders on the territory of Ukraine."

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