The Russian President, Vladimir Poutineand his Belarusian counterpart, Alexander Lukashenkoare to meet soon at a summit that could have important implications for the military crisis on Ukraine’s borders.
The two leaders are expected to discuss what will happen to the roughly 30,000 Russian troops in Belarus after joint Allied Resolve exercises end on February 19.
“We will take all appropriate decisions tomorrow,” Lukashenko said when asked about the troops during a visit to the Osipovichi training ground on Thursday. He arrived in Moscow on Friday morning and will meet Putin at the Kremlin.
Up to 30,000 Russian soldiers, as well as almost all of the Belarusian armed forces, are taking part in the exercises, according to the Russian Defense Ministry. Western officials have warned that the drills could serve as cover for preparations for an invasion of Ukraine and threaten a possible attack on Kiev.
Satellite imagery showed Russian armor and artillery miles from the Belarusian border with Ukraine and Western officials reported unusual military activity such as the construction of a pontoon bridge over the Prypyat River in the Chernobyl exclusion zone.
Russian officials have promised that the troops will leave Belarus after the exercises are over. But in contradictory remarks, Lukashenko said on Thursday that “while it makes sense to keep Russian troops here, we will keep them as long as necessary. I insist once again: it is our territory and this decision belongs to us”.
Lukashenko criticized US troop deployments in Poland and said he would “not ask permission”.
Leaving Russian troops in the country would be a controversial decision in Belarus. Many Belarusians, even Lukashenko supporters, do not want to see further integration with Russia and would view a large Russian military presence as an occupation.
Lukashenko has resisted efforts to integrate his economy and politics with Russia under a Union state plan, but increasingly needs Russia’s financial and diplomatic support amid his own stalemate. with the West.
Russian troops in Belarus are considered among the most concerning to Western analysts, as they have been sent thousands of miles from Russia’s Eastern Military District.
Thomas Bullock, senior OSINT analyst at Janes, a defense intelligence provider, said the troops were among Russian units that would have to withdraw for Russia to significantly reduce tensions.
“You want to see those long distance journeys taken out,” he told the Guardian.
Rochan Consulting, a military consultancy, estimated that Russia sent 50-70% of the combat potential of the Eastern Military District to Belarus. Units include armor, artillery, speznaz special forces, engineer brigades, iskander ballistic missile battalions, SU-35 fighters, paratroopers and anti-aircraft systems.