Belarus and Russia Practice Border Airstrikes Amid Ukraine Tensions

Belarusian and Russian military units have been practicing airstrikes against simulated enemy formations along Belarus' borders in joint drills that have prompted concerns that Minsk may soon join Russia's ongoing invasion of Ukraine.

Alexander Volfovich, the state secretary of the Belarusian Security Council, said Tuesday that units of the bi-national "regional group of forces," formed late in 2022, had conducted a series of exercises imitating conflict with an enemy force crossing into Belarus.

"The exercises have been planned to address tactical episodes that could arise, such as the crossing of the state border by an illegal armed group, a passage of vehicles, the establishment of some offensive footholds near the border of the Republic of Belarus and striking control posts [and] columns of advancing vehicles," Volfovich said in a video statement released by the Belarusian military and translated by Russia's state-run Tass news agency.

Aircraft and helicopters had struck simulated enemy formations threatening Belarus' borders he said, adding the drills were of a "defensive nature."

Russia Su-25 aircraft in military drills 2020
This file photo shows Russian aircraft launching rockets during military exercises in the Volgograd region of southern Russia on September 24, 2020. Belarusian and Russian aircraft have been practicing strikes against simulated enemy formations along Belarus' borders in drills that have prompted concerns that Minsk may soon join Russia's ongoing invasion of Ukraine. DIMITAR DILKOFF/AFP via Getty Images

Belarus has supported Russia's invasion of Ukraine from the beginning. Mechanized Russian units crossed into northern Ukraine from forward staging areas in southern Belarus early on February 24 under the cover of missile and airstrikes launched from Belarusian territory, while the helicopter assault teams that tried to seize the vital Hostomel airport also took off from Belarus.

Since then, Russian missiles launched from Belarus have continued to rain down on targets across Ukraine. Russian soldiers have also been using bases and hospitals in the country to recover and recuperate before returning to combat operations.

With Moscow's 11 month-old invasion bogged down and with few signs of an imminent Russian victory, the Kremlin has reportedly been pressuring Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko to open a new front along his nation's 674-mile southern frontier with Ukraine.

Belarus is believed to have fewer than 50,000 troops, not all of which could be committed to an invasion of Ukraine. There are thought to be some eight Russian battalion tactical groups currently deployed on Belarusian territory, which would mean between 6,000 and 9,000 troops based on group strength and additional support elements.

Military experts consider it highly unlikely that a joint force will strike across the well-defended northern Ukrainian border. Any hypothetical northern invasion force would not be as well trained or equipped as the Russian invasion group last spring, and would face the same problems that proved insurmountable for those formations.

Lukashenko, who barely clung to power with Moscow's aid amid mass domestic unrest in 2020, would be taking a major risk by ordering his troops into battle. The dictator would risk mutiny in the ranks, and would be sending away his most capable troops, that have proved vital in suppressing the Western-aligned pro-democratic opposition.