Russia and Belarus start joint drills, sparking fears of a new Ukraine offensive

Access to the comments Comments
By Euronews  with Reuters
In a still from a video released by Russian Defense Ministry Press Service on 28 December 2022, Russian troops take part in drills at an unspecified location in Belarus.
In a still from a video released by Russian Defense Ministry Press Service on 28 December 2022, Russian troops take part in drills at an unspecified location in Belarus.   -   Copyright  AP/Russian Defense Ministry Press Service

Russia and Belarus began joint military exercises on Monday, sparking fears in Kyiv and the West that Moscow could use its ally to launch a fresh ground offensive in Ukraine.

Russia used its neighbour Belarus as a springboard to invade Ukraine last February.

The two countries will conduct air force drills from 16 January to 1 February using all Belarus military airfields and began joint army exercises involving a "mechanised brigade subdivision" on Monday, the Belarusian defence ministry said.

Minsk is claiming that the drills are "defensive in nature" and that it has no plans to enter the war, accusing Ukraine of "provoking" Belarus and causing turmoil at the two countries' border.

Speaking at the World Economic Forum in Davos on Monday, Belarus' exiled opposition leader said she did not think Russia would launch an offensive on Ukraine from Belarus. 

Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya told reporters she believed the "purpose [of the drills] is to threaten the Ukrainians, distract them and turn the attention of their troops from the eastern part of the country to the northern borders."

Tsikhanouskaya, who fled Belarus in 2020, said she also thought they aimed to scare the Belarusian people about the possibility of war.

"We're maintaining restraint and patience, keeping our gunpowder dry," stated Pavel Muraveyko, first deputy state secretary of Belarusian Security Council, according to a post on the Belarusian defence ministry's Telegram app on Sunday.

"We are ready for any provocative actions on the part of Ukraine," he added.

While Moscow refutes the claim that it has been putting pressure on Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko to get more actively involved in the Ukraine war, Kyiv has repeatedly warned of possible attacks from Minsk.

Belarus has conducted various military exercises since Moscow's invasion, both independently and jointly with Russia, bolstering the drills with weaponry and military equipment.

Unofficial military monitoring channels on Telegram have reported that military equipment, including fighters, helicopters and transport planes, have been shipped to Belarus since the start of the year -- with eight fighters and four cargo planes on Sunday alone.

Reuters, however, has been unable to verify the reports, while Minsk claims that only "units" of Russia's air forces have been arriving in the country.