Top officials in Belarus, a key Russian ally, are growing increasingly on edge this week about what they see as provocations—and warning that they might soon be forced into a harsh response.
The head of the border committee of Belarus, Anatoly Lappo, claimed that Poland was acting “provocatively,” and that if any Polish attack takes place against Belarusian border officials, Belarus will not hold back.
“[If] there will be at least one bullet in our border guards, the answer will be immediate and cruel,” Lappo said.
It’s just the latest indication that Belarus could be laying the groundwork to potentially use force against neighboring countries by claiming provocations as a justification. The threats echoed the way Russia staged attacks against its own troops early this year in order to claim a reason to invade Ukraine.
The warning comes just as Ukrainian forces prepare for possible attacks from Belarus. According to an assessment from Ukraine Security Service (SBU) Colonel Roman Kostenko, it is possible that Belarus may mobilize its forces to invade Ukraine.
“This is a threat. It cannot be ruled out that they will make another dash from there in the north,” Kostenko, who is Secretary of Ukraine’s Verkhovna Rada Committee on National Security, Defense, and Intelligence, said in an interview Ukrinform published this week.
The potential threats from Belarus have prompted Ukraine to keep a defensive line along the shared Belarus-Ukraine border, Kostenko said.
The Ukrainian Army, National Guard, and State Border Guard Service have also been hosting joint exercises near the border.
“We know that Belarus is an enemy. We realize that they may go to war,” he added.
Belarus has toed the line with Russia and the war in Ukraine for months now. While Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko has been a key ally of Russia and allowed Moscow to use Belarus as a staging ground for the war, Lukashenko has also tried to distance his country from the war in some regards. He has accused the war of dragging on too long and repeatedly claimed he is interested in peace, not conflict.
But Lukashenko himself appears to be bandwagoning on the idea that Ukraine and neighboring countries are acting out of turn right now. Earlier this week, he accused Ukraine of acting provocatively towards Belarus.
“Ukraine conducts optical, electronic, and radio-technical reconnaissance of our territory, troops, and facilities, with their drones often violating the Belarusian state border,” Lukashenko said. “They say they are allegedly very concerned about Belarus' entering the war and yet at the same time they continue provocations on the border.”
Belarusian Defense Minister Viktor Khrenin, too, said Russia’s war in Ukraine has resulted in national security threats to Belarus, in particular, due to other countries eyeing Belarus as a Russian ally.
“Today we believe that the NATO forces in neighboring countries can become the core for creating attack groups against Russia and Belarus as its closest ally,” Khrenin said Thursday.
The North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) has increased its troop presence in neighboring countries near Belarus as a result of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, due to a “pattern of aggressive actions against its neighbors and the wider transatlantic community.” NATO has deployed four multinational battlegroups of approximately 4,500 troops to Latvia, Lithuania, Estonia, and Poland as a part of the effort, which is aimed at deterring Russia.
Nonetheless, Belarus is interpreting the rotational presence as a provocation, falling in line with Russia's claims that NATO has long been provoking Moscow.
“An analysis of the international situation and a forecast of its development allow making a number of main conclusions that testify to the presence of direct challenges to the military security of the Republic of Belarus,” Khrenin said Tuesday at a military security meeting with Lukashenko.
According to Ukrainian intelligence the Security Service colonel Kostenko has reviewed, Belarus will enter the war if Russia is winning.
But for now, Russia is struggling to maintain control of territories that it has seized. Last month Ukrainian forces pushed Russia out of several territories it had seized in the northeast and south of the country. This week Ukrainian forces continue to push into territories that Moscow claims to have absorbed into Russia via illegal annexation.
Nonetheless, Russia has plans to send troops into Belarus shortly, Kostenko said.