No Russian reinforcements were needed in the end, but the payback for the Kremlin’s support was inevitable, and Lukashenka had nothing to offer Putin but the remnants of Belarus’s sovereignty.
In spring 2021, Belarusian Defense Minister Viktor Khrenin and his Russian counterpart Sergei Shoigu unveiled
a decision to create combat training centers for the air force and air defense. The first aircraft arrived in Belarus in August 2021. Further deployment of military infrastructure took place under the pretext of military exercises: for example, the Zyabrovka Air Base was restored, where Russian air defense systems and other equipment are based. In February, it was used in the invasion of Ukraine.
There are still debates about the degree to which the Belarusian regime is involved in the war. Lukashenka has sought to create distance for Belarus, emphasizing that Belarusian troops didn’t cross into Ukraine. He has tried to paint Belarus as a potential victim of aggression from Ukraine and even talked about where exactly they were planning to attack Belarus. Meanwhile, the first hints
of possible Russian aggression against Ukraine were heard
on Belarusian state television in summer 2021, while a few weeks before the invasion Lukashenka stated
that the war with Ukraine would last 3-4 days.
The complicity of Belarus in the aggression is beyond doubt: Belarus allows Russian troops on its territory and provides Russia with logistical support and assistance in supplying troops, treating the wounded and repairing equipment.
The European Union issued a statement
calling the Lukashenka regime an accomplice to the aggression sharing responsibility for what is happening in Ukraine and imposed corresponding sanctions on Minsk. Yet Ukraine itself still hasn’t broken off relations with Belarus. The main reason is that the Ukrainian authorities don’t want to risk provoking Lukashenka – even with symbolic moves – into taking real action against Kyiv.Divisions in Belarusian society
Currently, the Russian military presence in Belarus is growing. On October 31, Lukashenka approved
a draft agreement on establishing combat training centers, though it isn’t clear whether it is about creating new ones or adding on to the existing ones. The Ministry of Defense is making statements and releasing videos
of trainloads of arriving troops, but neither their number nor whereabouts has been disclosed. As mentioned above, Ukrainian intelligence estimated their number at several thousand, while the Belarusian defense department puts the figure at 9,000. Currently, both the Russian and Belarusian regimes are interested in maintaining an atmosphere of uncertainty.
Minsk is justifying the military preparations underway in Belarus by pointing to the need to protect the state. Lukashenka repeats that he isn’t going to attack anyone. As for society, polls – such as those conducted by Chatham House
in August – indicate that most Belarusians don’t want war, with approximately 30% of respondents definitely supporting the actions of Russia in Ukraine versus 45% not supporting them. Still, it should be borne in mind that people who don’t support Russia's actions don’t necessarily unambiguously support Ukraine.
As for the deployment of the Russian military in Belarus, about a quarter of Belarusians have a positive view, while 43% view it negatively. Because the survey was conducted online, it is very likely that supporters of the war and of Russia were underrepresented in the survey. In any case, however, there is no mass support for the war across Belarusian society.