Putin's Top Ally Doesn't Want to Enter Ukraine War: Report

Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko is "likely" trying to show support for his top ally, Russian President Vladimir Putin, without directly entering the war in Ukraine, according to a U.S. think tank.

The Institute for the Study of War said in its July 11 war assessment that Lukashenko is likely backing his Russian counterpart by continuing to allow Russian forces to enter its airspace. This is meant to "demonstrate at least nominal support to Russian President Vladimir Putin without risking direct military involvement of Belarusian Armed Forces in operations in Ukraine," the ISW said.

While Russia's invasion of Ukraine in late February was met with widespread condemnation from the U.S. and other Western countries, Lukashenko was one of the few leaders to stand by Putin after he launched the assault. Though Belarus has not sent troops into Ukraine, it has aided Russia by allowing it to place troops within and launch airstrikes from its territory. But the ISW's July 11 assessment indicates that Putin may want direct aid from Lukashenko's army, as Ukraine reports heavy Russian troop losses, which have not been confirmed by Russia.

The ISW cited two earlier developments in reporting that Belarus was likely continuing to grant Russia access to its airspace. The first was when a top Ukrainian official said last week that Belarus had given Russia "full control" of the Zyabrovka airfield in the Gomel region, located 19 miles from the Ukraine border.

Vladimir Putin meets Alexander Lukashenko
Russian President Vladimir Putin meets with his Belarus' counterpart Alexander Lukashenko in the Black Sea resort of Sochi on May 23, 2022. Getty

Oleksiy Gromov, deputy chief of the Main Operative Department of the General Staff of the Armed Forces of Ukraine, said during a briefing that there were "activities to equip [a] Russian military base" at the airfield.

The ISW also noted that the Hajun Project, an independent Belarusian monitoring organization, said Monday that a Russian Airborne Warning and Control System (AWACS) aircraft flew into Belarus' airspace for the first time since April 4. In a tweet, the Hajun Project said that no missile launches were recorded, but it observed "increased aviation over Belarus this night."

New airspace restrictions were placed along the border where the AWACS aircraft patrolled, according to the Hajun Project. Newsweek was not able to independently confirm these restrictions.

"Taken together, these data points likely indicate that Lukashenko is attempting to provide support to Putin's war in Ukraine short of direct Belarusian military intervention in an effort to respond to the pressure Putin is likely putting on him," the ISW said.

"As ISW has previously assessed, the likelihood of direct Belarusian involvement in the war in Ukraine remains low due to the effect that might have on the stability and even survival of Lukashenko's regime," the think tank said.

The ISW's assessment that Putin is likely pushing Lukashenko for more direct involvement has been backed up by at least one expert. Mark Voyger of the Transatlantic Defense and Security Program at the Center for European Analysis told London's Daily Express that there is a concern that "Putin has been trying to put pressure on Lukashenko and force him to take a more aggressive stance to launch more aggressive actions out of Belarus, involving Belarusian troops."

Lukashenko may be facing pushback against entering Ukraine from members of his own military. In an open letter that was reported by the Express, which Newsweek was not able to independently verify, senior officers allegedly argued that sending troops into Ukraine would be "pure suicide."

"By entering the war against Ukraine, Belarus will be evicted from the community of civilized states and will be an international outcast for many years to come," the officers reportedly wrote.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky has also warned Lukashenko against letting Putin drag his country into the conflict.

"You are being drawn into the war. The Kremlin has already decided everything for you," Zelensky said during a video address in late June. "But you are not slaves and cannon fodder. You don't have to die."

Newsweek reached out to the foreign ministries of Russia and Belarus for comment.