Alexander Lukashenko, the authoritarian president of Belarus, unveiled a plan on February 20th to create a paramilitary defence force to help safeguard Belarus against invasion. A close ally of Putin, Lukashenko’s announcement came amid continuing speculation over Belarus’ possible entry into the war in Ukraine, and its deepening ties with Russia.
Speaking at a meeting of his Security Council, Lukashenko outlined his belief in having an armed population. “The situation is not easy. I have said more than once: every man … should be able to at least handle weapons,” he said, “at least in order to protect his family, if needed, his home, his own piece of land and, if necessary, his country.”
The Belarusian Defence Minister, Viktor Khrenin, said that the force should comprise between 100,000 and 150,000 men. Consisting mainly of volunteers, those participating in the territorial defence force would serve and train part-time, while working their day jobs. The force would support Belarus’ 48,000-strong army and 12,000-strong border guard, and in the event of invasion, would act as a guerilla corps.
The policy echoes statements made by Lukashenko last autumn, when he proposed mobilising the population to gather the fall grain harvest. Although Belarus continues to strengthen bilateral ties with Russia, it observes an autarchic policy in economy and defence.
Belarus was used as a launch pad by Russian forces last year during an offensive on Kyiv in the opening weeks of the invasion, although it has not directly involved its own troops in the incursion into Ukraine.
Recently, Ukraine has been expressing fears of a fresh Russian offensive. In December Ukrainian President Zelensky and the Ukrainian Army warned of a second attempt to attack Kyiv, which would most likely be launched from Belarus.
From its side, Belarus has been recently warning against potential border provocations from Ukraine. Minsk has claimed that a substantial number of Ukrainian troops have been massed near their shared border.
While nearly all the regional players bordering Ukraine have sided with Zelensky’s regime, Belarus not only maintains close ties with Moscow, but looks to draw even closer.
Russian documents, outlining a plan for an annexation or integration of Belarus into the Russian Federation by 2030, were recently claimed to have been leaked and obtained by western journalists. The absorption plans apparently describe in great detail how through a gradual harmonisation of laws, increasing ties in trade and business, and through greater military and security cooperation the two countries are to be made one.
The Moscow Times, however, points out that Belarus continues to drag its feet in this process.