Belarus’s ‘Neutral’ Role in the Russo-Ukrainian War (Part One)

Publication: Eurasia Daily Monitor Volume: 20 Issue: 53

(Source: KTVN)

Belarus, despite all of Russia’s attempts to somehow lure it into the war against Ukraine, remains at least nominally neutral in the conflict. However, Moscow’s pressure is still strong on Minsk, and a number of reasons demonstrate that, each month, the Belarusian army is preparing for potential military actions. This is due both to the purchase of new military equipment (Motolko.help, January 21) and to the expansion of certain laws, in particular, the adoption of legal norms regarding the “People’s Militia,” which is to be created after updating Belarus’s national security doctrine. The law will likely be made official sometime in April 2023 (Pravo.by, March 7).

Based on open-source data, one can follow the developing status of the Belarusian Armed Forces. The Ministry of Defense updates information on the availability of soldiers and sergeants every six months to make the necessary arrangements for new military personnel just starting their contracted military service to fill open postings. This information was last updated on January 25 (Mil.by, accessed March 28).

According to the data, the 6th Separate Mechanized Brigade (Grodno) is suffering from a 30-percent shortage of mechanized battalions and 20-percent shortage of tank battalions. And the total shortage of tank crews for these battalion stands at 20 percent, with a 24-percent shortage of drivers and a 32-percent shortage of gunners.

Furthermore, the data from the Ministry of Defense reveals that the situation with the 11th Separate Mechanized Brigade is even worse, with a 49-percent shortage of T-72Bs for the tank battalions and 64-percent shortage of BMP-2s for the mechanized battalions. At the same time, the brigade is suffering a complete shortage of anti-aircraft batteries for the 2K22 Tunguska complex, which is part of the separate anti-aircraft missile and artillery division of the brigade.

Attention is also being drawn to the understaffing of units in the mechanized brigades of the Belarusian Ground Forces. Among the vacancies presented by the Ministry of Defense, only the 6th and 11th mechanized brigades experienced a significant need for specialists (both are part of the Western Operational Command of the Belarusian Armed Forces) (Mil.by, accessed March 28). Meanwhile, no service vacancies were reported for the 19th and 120th mechanized brigades.

In general, for some positions, shortages can reach up to 60 percent of the regular unit staff (on average, falling between 25 and 35 percent). This fact, among other things, indicates that, in the event of a full-fledged entry into the Russo-Ukrainian war by the Belarusian Armed Forces, the Alyaksandr Lukashenka regime will need to carry out partial mobilization to replenish, in the first instance, the units of Belarus’s Ground Forces.

Fresh satellite images of the Belarusian Obuz-Lesnovsky training site (Brest region) were also recently released by Planet Labs on March 6. Comparing them with the pictures taken at the end of February, we can clearly see that some equipment—at least 200 pieces—has left the training ground. The tent camp for mobilized forces also appeared to be at least half empty, which represents a direct confirmation of the regular rotation of Russian mobilized troops in Belarus (Svaboda, March 17). Overall, about 30 soldiers can live in each tent. Using this, it can be estimated that the rotation at the training ground near Baranovichi affected at least 1,000 mobilized Russian troops.

In total, during the rotation from February 24 to March 10, at least 645 pieces of military equipment and about 2,900 personnel from the Russian Armed Forces departed from Belarusian territory back to the Russian Federation as well as to the temporarily occupied territories of Ukraine (Motolko.help, March 16). In the opposite direction, from Russia to Belarus, 80–200 pieces of equipment and about 600 personnel have already arrived.

We can also analyze the expenditure items of local budgets on the “On Mobilization Preparation and Mobilization” (Cis-legislation.com, accessed March 28). Funding in this realm is often used for:

  • Financing expenses related to the material, technical and financial support of those liable for military service and those called up for military training of territorial troops (as carried out by the heads of local administrations);
  • Ensuring the proper functioning of military commissariats.

The following changes in expenditures in local budgets under the items “National Defense” and “On Mobilization Training and Mobilization” in comparison with 2022 can be noted (Motolko.help, January 25):

Region/District/City2022 Budget2023 BudgetGrowth
Brest region1,392,400 rubles ($530,397)1,636,407 rubles ($623,345)17.5%
Gomel region2,301,853 rubles ($876,829)2,837,769 rubles ($1,080,972)23%
Vitebsk region1,752,556 rubles ($667,589)1,832,051 rubles ($697,871)5%
Mogilev region1,560,467 rubles ($594,418)9,368,869 rubles ($3,568,821)500% (a record high for this region)
Minsk region1,110,852 rubles ($423,149)1,580,101 rubles ($601,897)42%
Grodno region1,212,407 rubles ($461,834)651,693 rubles ($248,245)–42%
Minsk city1,587,427 rubles ($604,688)1,959,359 rubles ($746,365)23%
Osipovichi district, Mogilev region2,124.42 rubles ($809)201,000 rubles ($76,565)9,361%
Chausy district, Mogilev region1,350.77 rubles ($514)210,530 rubles ($80,195)15,486%
Slutsk district, Minsk region62,196 rubles ($23,691)126,100 rubles ($48,034)103%
Pinsk city, Minsk region156,000 rubles ($59,424)4,367,700 rubles ($1,663,758)2,700%

Thus, while Belarus does indeed remain nominally neutral in Russia’s war against Ukraine, it is becoming clear that Minsk is prioritizing shoring up personnel and equipment shortages, as well as increasing financing for its armed forces.

*Read Part Two.