The role of Belarus in the war in Ukraine

March 25th marks Freedom Day in Belarus. This is a historic day of significance for many, but more importantly, a symbolic day for all Belarusians who continue to fight for their country's independence. 

Many believe that Belarus‘ independence will be determined by the outcome of the war in Ukraine. There’s much at stake for those pushing towards a more democratic and just society, as well as those clinging to the past at the expense of the country’s integrity. 

In 2022, there were numerous news reports about Belarus, situated between Russia and Ukraine. Since the early days of Russia’s full-scale invasion two years ago, long columns of Russian equipment and missiles were seen moving from Belarus heading towards Kyiv. There have been repeated reports of Belarusian army soldiers participating in the invasion in February-March 2022. The self-proclaimed president of Belarus, Alexander Lukashenko, even admitted the country’s involvement in the attack. 

However, it’s not entirely clear to the world what role Belarus plays in this war. The country hasn’t officially been designated as an aggressor state, and Ukraine still maintains diplomatic relations with representatives of Belarusian authorities. 

Katerina Deikalo, a lawyer and expert from the Belarusian Helsinki Committee, claims in an interview with Belarusian media that by making its territory available to the aggressor, Belarus not only violated the UN General Assembly resolution of 1974 but also several of its obligations towards Ukraine. The countries signed a “Treaty of Friendship on Good-Neighbourliness and Cooperation” in 1995, suggesting Belarus may likely have to pay reparations to Ukraine by the end of the war. 

Deikalo also reminds us of an OSCE declaration stating that “a participant in the conflict is the one that engages in hostilities, in this case – Russia and Ukraine. Belarus, by providing its territory for use, is not a party to the conflict, similar to NATO countries not participating in the war, even though they provide weapons to Ukraine.”  

Democratic opposition forces from Belarus, led by Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya, argue that the country cannot be held accountable for involvement in the war in Ukraine because the current government of Belarus is not legitimate. 

On the other hand, it’s also a fact that Belarusian volunteers have been fighting on Ukraine’s side since 2014. The independent Belarusian online newspaper “Zerkalo” wrote that between the outbreak of war in 2014 and February 24, 2022, 20 Belarusians serving in Ukraine were killed in combat. Another 20 volunteers lost their lives after the start of the full-scale invasion. 

Intelligence services from various countries and independent analysts regularly warn of a possible full-scale attack from Belarus and the potential integration of Belarusian troops into the Russian ground operation. 

These warnings are supported by statements from Belarusian authorities that the country’s military potential has significantly increased in recent years. One of the key events was the deployment of fighters from the Russian Wagner group in Belarus in the summer of 2023. According to Lukashenko’s plan, they were to teach combat experience to the country’s military forces. It’s also necessary to mention the deployment of Russian tactical nuclear weapons in Belarus since the fall of 2023. 

At the same time, the number of ground forces in Belarus has noticeably decreased, according to Global Firepower, most likely due to the supply to the Russian army. And due to the massive repression of Belarusians who do not support Lukashenko, the country is now on the brink of a demographic crisis. Large portions of the young population were forced to flee the country after the protests in 2020 and later due to the threat of mobilization. 

On October 4th last year, Lukashenko said the country is ready to participate in military operations in Ukraine alongside Russia only in the case of direct aggression, meaning if Ukrainian troops threaten Belarus in any way. 

At the beginning of this year, a proposal for a new military doctrine was introduced, stating that “An attack on any state allied with Belarus will be considered an attack on the republic itself.” It’s not yet entirely clear which countries are considered allies, but Russia is definitely one of them. Such statements and formulations seem to allow room for manoeuvres and provocations for the dictatorial regime. 

It’s not easy to understand what role Belarus plays in this war and how it may develop in the future. But it’s clear that while the country and its citizens continue to suffer from a wave of severe repression following the 2020 election, and all power is consolidated in the hands of one person, the possibility of Belarus becoming a direct participant in the war against Ukraine remains on the table. And the country’s independency is off the table.  

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Aliaksandra Safonava

Program Assistant, Project Manager for BelarusEmail: [email protected]Phone: 46373631
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Inna Sangadzhieva

Director for Europe and Central AsiaEmail: [email protected]Phone: +47 97 69 94 58
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Dag A. Fedøy

Director of CommunicationsEmail: [email protected]Phone: +47 920 54 309Twitter: @dagfedoy
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