Belarus Begins Mobilizing Under Guise of Military Exercises

Publication: Eurasia Daily Monitor Volume: 21 Issue: 59

(Source: Belarusian Ministry of Defense)

Executive Summary:

  • Belarus tightened its mobilization legislation in April, suggesting that it might be taking steps to prepare for direct combat.
  • The Belarusian military is simultaneously increasing its use of military equipment under the guise of exercises, purchasing more drones, and staffing brigades to wartime numbers.
  • These developments all point to the possibility that Belarus is gradually preparing for war.

On April 3, Belarusian President Alyaksandr Lukashenka officially signed the bill “On Amending National Security Laws.” The measures includes several important military service changes, including adjusting the mobilization system to strengthen Minsk’s ability to enforce compliance, possibly in preparation for war (, April 6; Ukrainska Pravda, April 7).

If the country were to mobilize, Belarusian citizens would receive summons by mail and text message. Penalties for evading military service or failing to report to a military recruitment center have become more stringent. The prison sentence for evading service has been raised from two to three years, and fines have increased several times over. Additionally, under the new law, the required age for military registration will rise from 16 to 17 years old. Military committees will also have the right to prevent citizens from leaving the country if they “violate the obligations of military registration and evade military service.” This restriction applies not only to citizens who evade compulsory or reserve service, but also those who fail to show up for military training (, April 6; Ukrainska Pravda, April 7).

With the new law, Minsk has expanded the type of people who can be called to military service. If Lukashenka deems it necessary to “ensure the interests of defense and national security,” the military will be authorized to mobilize prisoners from penal colonies, citizens with criminal records, and citizens under investigation. Upper age limits for mobilization could also be eliminated (, October 20, 2023). The law’s other changes are quite extensive. The reserve age for women conscripts has been raised, the list of citizens entitled to deferment during mobilization has been adjusted, and reinforcement units will be created at military commissions.

Simultaneously, Minsk is changing the structure and size of the armed forces, which may signal Belarus’s increased alignment with Russia and China. The fulfillment of tasks includes strengthening the combat efficiency of the Belarusian Security Service. The Chief Mobilization Directorate of the National Defense Forces General Staff is implementing a new staffing structure and recruiting reserves for the 19th Separate Guards Mechanized Brigade to reach full-time readiness for a wartime staff (, March 15). The new structure expands the brigade’s size, and the organization will receive more artillery and vehicles (, March 19;, April 3;, April 9). The new staffing structure of the mechanized brigades will consist of:

  •  One tank battalion,
  • Four mechanized battalions,
  • An airborne assault battalion and two reserve battalions will be added to the brigade,
  • Expansion of the brigade artillery group (currently two howitzer self-propelled artillery battalion, rocket artillery battalion, and anti-tank artillery battalion), and
  • Anti-aircraft missiles and artillery support units.

The Belarusian Ministry of Defense has stated up to 5,000 reservists have been called up, though the actual number may be much higher (, March 30). These reservists would allow the 19th Mechanized Brigade to fully prepare for wartime operations. Other units are “taking part in ‘training to improve combat readiness’” (, March 19). Some reports claim that the Belarusian military is taking Buk anti-aircraft missile systems out of storage for the 120th Anti-Aircraft Rocket Brigade (, March 31). Even before the latest mobilization law, new rules adopted in 2023 allowed the Belarusian military to seize citizens’ vehicles during times of mobilization, including cargo-passenger vehicles, tractors, quad bikes, and ATVs (, March 18).

The Belarusian military has increased its investment in the production of drones to build up its air squadrons. On April 5, the Defense Ministry published a plan to purchase 13 high-tech Supercam S350 Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAV). Minsk plans to spend about 17 million Belarusian rubles, or over $5.2 million, on the investment. (A single drone costs about 1.3 million Belarusian rubles or about $406,000.) This is the Belarusian military’s largest single purchase of high-tech Supercam drones (, April 5). While Belarus has previously integrated reconnaissance UAVs into artillery units, adding first-person view drones is a new tactic that has taken hold due to the tactics in Ukraine (, April 7).

On March 29, the 377th Anti-Aircraft Missile Regiment held a rally dedicated to the unit’s 81st anniversary. In a comment to state media, the regiment commander, Alexei Ryabinin, said, “The peculiarity of today is that the regiment has undergone rearmament with S-400 SAMs [surface-to-air missile system]. It is ready for rearmament. Our regiment is also planned to be reinforced with Tor-M2 SAMs and Pantsir-S1 SAMs” (, March 30). Despite the colonel’s words, the transfer of the S-400s to the 377th regiment has not been publicly announced. The S-400 air defense system, however, entered service with the 15th Anti-Aircraft Missile Brigade in 2023, which is another indication Belarus’s creeping combat readiness (, June 6, 2023;, March 30).

In 2023, government officials announced the transfer of new Tor-M2K SAMs to the Belarusian military (, January 31, 2023). Minsk, however, has yet to announce the transfer of Pantsir-S1 SAMs to the armed forces, though the intention to purchase Pantsirs was reported as early as 2021 (, April 11, 2021). The Pantsir-S1 SAMs of the 1530th Anti-Aircraft Missile Regiment of the Russian Armed Forces have now been stationed at the Zyabrovka and Bokov airfields in Belarus (, March 15).

If all of Ryabinin’s statements are implemented, the 377th Anti-Aircraft Missile Regiment will become the most heavily equipped Belarusian air defense force. Coupled with the expected arrival of another four Mi-35M helicopters, Belarus appears to be gradually preparing for war (, April 7). Increasing military equipment under the guise of exercises, filling brigades with wartime staff numbers, and tightening mobilization legislation all support this outlook. Closer examination by the West is needed to assess the true potential threat these military developments might portend.