Putin's Belarus Gains Show He Has Ambitions Beyond Ukraine: ISW

Vladimir Putin has been increasing his control over Belarus which he intends to use for his "imperialistic ambitions" beyond Ukraine, the Institute for the Study of War (ISW) has said.

Following a meeting with his ally on Friday, Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko confirmed greater defense and security integration between the countries, including Minsk producing Sukhoi Su-25 ground attack aircraft for Putin's forces with the support of Russian technology transfers.

Lukashenko said the Belarusian state-run Minsk Automobile Plant has also started producing components for Russian truck producer KAMAZ and suggested he would help get Russia electronic components to replace lost Western imports.

Putin and Lukashenko
Russian President Vladimir Putin (R) meets with his Belarusian counterpart Alexander Lukashenko at the Novo-Ogaryovo state residence, outside Moscow, on February 17, 2023. Putin intends to use Belarus's military industrial complex to further his "imperialistic" ambitions, the Institute for the Study of War has said. VLADIMIR ASTAPKOVICH/Getty Images

Extra Su-25s and truck parts may not be crucial to Russia's long-term war effort, but the Kremlin may commandeer Belarusian factories and "subsume" parts of Belarus' defense industrial base (DIB) to reequip the Russian military "to support a protracted war against Ukraine," the ISW said.

"The Kremlin's gains in Belarus underscore that Putin's imperialistic ambitions transcend Ukraine," said the ISW on Friday, concluding that this wider Russian threat "requires the West's sustained attention."

"Putin will very likely make significant gains in restoring Russian suzerainty over Belarus regardless of the outcome of his invasion of Ukraine," added the think tank.

The Belarusian leader has so far avoided more direct involvement in his ally's invasion of Ukraine although Belarus has been a staging post for Russia, which has conducted drills and gathered troops and weapons there.

However, the ISW said that the announcement of closer military integration shows that Lukashenko is "likely paying for his rejection of Putin's larger demand for Belarusian forces to join the invasion against Ukraine by making smaller concessions that he has stonewalled for years."

Experts have dismissed the immediate prospect of Belarus joining Russian troops in Ukraine, although before his meeting with Putin, Lukashenko said he would order his troops to fight with Moscow if there were an attack on Belarusian territory.

Minsk journalist and non-resident fellow at the Atlantic Council think tank said that Lukashenko's comments were to show his loyalty to Russia "in every way possible" even if there was no pressure on him to deploy troops at the moment.

"He has already helped Russia by offering the territory and infrastructure for attacks, as well as training, medical and housing facilities for Russian troops," she told Newsweek on Thursday. "The idea of the Belarusian military participating in the war against Ukraine remains highly unpopular among Belarusian society.

"There are not enough combat-ready troops in Belarus, and soldiers' morale is very low. For them, it is a foreign war."

Newsweek has contacted the Russian and Belarusian defense ministries for comment.