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Belarus’ military build-up to deal with invented NATO ‘threat’ suits Lukashenko as it distracts his troops from reality

Mikhail Khodarenok
Mikhail Khodarenok
is a military commentator for RT.com. He is a retired colonel. He served as an officer at the main operational directorate of the General Staff of the Russian Armed Forces.
is a military commentator for RT.com. He is a retired colonel. He served as an officer at the main operational directorate of the General Staff of the Russian Armed Forces.
Belarus’ military build-up to deal with invented NATO ‘threat’ suits Lukashenko as it distracts his troops from reality
Alexander Lukashenko has sent forces to Belarus’ western border after claiming “NATO’s forces are clanging at our gates.” But it’s purely a diversionary tactic to keep troops occupied and away from protesters.

On Monday, Belarus’s armed forces started to conduct military drills near Grodno, close to its border with Lithuania. Tactical exercises have been carried out in military training areas and other locations, in an operation designed to show they are combat-ready.

Tank and mechanized infantry battalions from the sixth and 11th brigades, missile forces and artillery units, plus units from the 103rd Airborne Brigade and anti-aircraft missile troops have all been involved.  

And as part of the tactical training, the 103rd Airborne Brigade was dispatched to the Gozhsky test ground (about 20 km from Grodno), where it is working together with the border guard to secure certain sections of the national border, according to the country’s Ministry of Defence.

Earlier in the month, speaking at a rally in his support, President Lukashenko seemed to set the scene for the operation, by saying, “Look out of the window! Tanks and jets have been deployed, 15 minutes from our borders! And that is not an accident. NATO’s tanks are clanging at our gates. There is military build-up happening along our western borders. And instead of going there, to our western military training grounds, to demonstrate our potential, we are keeping our guys on the streets and squares, so they can manage the protests. Is this normal, soldiers?” 

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And, last Saturday, Lukashenko explained the relocation of paratroopers to the country’s western border. He said, “We can’t sit idly by and watch what’s happening in the western regions. Our military leaders are also concerned and see it as a problem. Because the situation near the western border is tense, I am asking to send an airborne brigade from Vitebsk to Grodno.”

However, NATO spokesperson Oana Lungescu claimed that its presence in Eastern Europe should not be misinterpreted. She said “There is no NATO build-up in the region. NATO’s multinational presence in the eastern part of the Alliance is not a threat to any country. It's strictly defensive, proportionate and designed to prevent conflict and preserve peace.”

And it’s true there is no intelligence to suggest that NATO has started a strategic or operational deployment along the western border of Belarus, and no suggestion that forces are on a wartime footing. There has been no operational deployment to a potential combat area, and no strategic relocations, either. NATO is not utilizing its first-line strategic reserves.

In addition, there have been no signs of the alliance stepping up reconnaissance or getting combat-ready. Troops are not being sent to strategic areas; they are not forming strike groups; artillery and missile forces are not taking up firing positions; military jets are not flying to tactical airfields.

In fact, all the NATO forces are actually doing is carrying out their regular peacetime activities; there are no plans to invade Belarus any time soon. At this point, the only place where “tanks are clanging” is the Belarusian leader’s head.

And it begs the question of why the president is making up threats and ordering military exercises near the western border.

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There are several possible scenarios. First of all, by creating a threat out of thin air, Lukashenko might be trying to drag the Russian armed forces into play. He knows that Russia and Belarus have a ‘single defense space,’ and now there is apparently a common enemy.  

But it seems like this is more of a plan B, whereas Lukashenko’s main objective has nothing to do with honing the skills of Belarus’ army and air force. 

What he is really trying to achieve is the relocation of as many troops as possible. Lukashenko doesn’t want military personnel to connect with local residents, especially the protesters, and he is doing everything he can to prevent army units from switching sides and openly expressing support for the opposition.

Considering the latest developments across the country, this scenario is entirely feasible. So, conducting military drills is the best solution in this situation. Soldiers and commanders are busy doing things in remote areas, there is almost no interaction with civilians, and while in combat training, they don’t get much time to think about what is happening elsewhere. 

The warning about the “enemy at the gates” might just do the trick and, as has happened before, distract Belarusian military personnel and some civilians from the real problems facing the country. But with the situation in the country changing by the minute, it is hard to say with any real confidence that Lukashenko’s plan will prove effective.

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The statements, views and opinions expressed in this column are solely those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of RT.

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