Despite the current low probability of a Belarusian invasion in the immediate term, potential mobilisation and deployment of RFAF troops will require further observation and validation to maintain an accurate understanding of the threat to Ukraine’s northern border. Belarus, whilst one of Russia’s only allies, is experiencing increasing instability within its own borders. Support for Russia’s invasion remains low, and a negligible number of Belarusians support their military’s direct involvement.

Executive Summary

  • The overall threat of a Belarusian invasion of northwest Ukraine is LOW. Further observation and validation of Russian and Belarusian military activities is required to increase this threat level in the next 30-days.
  • The Belarusian Armed Forces (BAF) are highly unlikely to conduct offensive operations into Ukraine without significant (and overt) Russian military support. This is unlikely to manifest in the short-term due to the scale of Russian losses, and lack of specialist combat power within their recently mobilised ranks.
  • Recent reporting suggests that BAF support for an invasion remains limited, and if such action is ordered may result in refusal to follow orders or desertion. Concurrent with this sentiment, public dissent is likely to increase in line with any reports of impending mobilisation. Large-scale out-of-country migration is to be expected in this event.
  • President Lukashenko remains wholly reliant upon Russia and President Vladimir Putin to retain power. A wildcard scenario where Lukashenko is forced to commit to deployment is a low probability. However, a likely indicator of this would be further significant Russian Federation Armed Forces (RFAF) losses to the Ukrainian Armed Forces (UAF), requiring an immediate diversion.
  • The threat from additional Belarus military exercises in the border region to fix Ukrainian units and attention remains MEDIUM-HIGH. Intensification of demonstrative activities could require additional UAF personnel to be deployed along its northern border to counter this increased offensive posture.

Belarusian Armed Forces (BAF)

An overview of the BAF can be found here.

Key Changes to Potential Threat Picture

On 29 September 2022, Ukrainian intelligence officials reported that Belarus plans to mobilise 100,000 troops to support the RFAF invasion if Ukraine fails to withdraw from the four occupied regions – Donetsk, Kherson, Luhansk, and Zaporizhzhia. This announcement followed reports that Belarus also plans to accommodate 20,000 mobilised RFAF troops.

Current Situation – Political

The political messaging from Lukashenko on Ukraine has remained consistent throughout the last two months. Belligerent and aggressive rhetoric has been designed to appease Russia. Lukashenko, in a televised statement on 4 October 2022, said that whilst Belarus was involved in Russia’s Specialist Military Operation, the BAF would not be deployed in support of this operation. This is more in line with Lukashenko’s previous statements, suggesting that no mobilisation would take place inside Belarus. However, Lukashenko intimated that Ukraine continues to commit provocations along its shared border, justifying his current position.

Support for the Russian invasion continues to be the minority view across the Belarusian population. A Chatham House poll conducted in August 2022 published a 3% approval rating for Belarus to play an active role in the invasion, whilst separate research suggested that over half of respondents would flee the country or avoid mobilisation. Overall, most Belarusians still do not support Russia’s military actions, with neutrality also becoming a more popular option.

Anecdotal reporting also indicated that military officers would consider defecting to the Ukrainian Armed Forces (UAF), rather than fight on behalf of Russia. This sentiment is a fundamental challenge to any real aspirations of Belarus joining the invasion, as public order events would be highly likely following such a move. This would also not be a new phenomenon, as protests are already being observed across several Belarusian urban settlements.

Political conditions for a potential mass deployment continues to permeate the media discourse. Lukashenko suggested on 4 October 2022 that any attack on its territory by NATO would be considered an attack on Russia. Under the CSTO framework, like NATO, its members can be protected under its Article 4 collective security clause.

Current Situation – Military

The extent of military activities within Belarus have been largely focused on maintaining a degree of readiness for exercise purposes, and surveillance activity along its southern border with Ukraine. However, at the senior level, dialogue with Russian counterparts has increased in the last couple of weeks.

On 27 and 28 September 2022, officials from both Russia and Belarus defence ministries met to discuss potential military cooperation. However, outside of releasing details on training undertakings, little information was released on Belarus’ commitment to the Ukraine invasion. Concurrent with these meetings, Lukashenko visited Vladimir Putin in Sochi. According to local reports, this visit was coordinated with little warning, suggesting that Lukashenko was directed to meet with Vladimir Putin to discuss Belarus’ position.

Separately, Belarusian railways are reported to be undertaking improvement works to enable the reception of military echelons. Reports shared on social media indicated that employees were directed to sign a non-disclosure agreement on this activity, likely to maintain a degree of operational security. Other unconfirmed reports include the alleged suspension of all freight rolling stock for Belarusian logistic companies; this is reported to have been reserved for the Ministry of Defence.

There have been no reports highlighting the imminent deployment of RFAF personnel to Belarusian military bases, nor any unusual activity observed at Belarusian bases. There have been reports of select units, including Special Operations Forces, Radio Technicians, and Air Defence units, have been aggressively exposed to anti-Ukrainian messaging. Yet, no further details have been published on the scope of such a deployment.

Indicators and Warnings of Invasion from Belarus

The following table is not exhaustive but covers some of the major indicators and warnings that would demonstrate Belarus is going to directly invade northern Ukraine. The baseline is set on 5 October 2022, and future iterations of this report will show any changes – either towards participation or otherwise.

Assessment

  • At present, there is no corroborative information to support the assessment that Belarus is ready to mobilise 100,000 personnel. It is much more likely that the RFAF will deploy its mobilised forces to various garrisons, in a train and equip capacity. Other material, including long-range weapons, are also likely to be deployed in support of this effort and to act as a further indicator of intent. It is plausible that there will be an increase in demonstration (i.e. show of force) activities, following an RFAF deployment. This will remain one of Ukraine’s chief concerns moving forward, likely designed to fix the UAF and divert resources away from active operational fronts.
  • It is highly likely that Russia will continue to put pressure on Lukashenko to vocalise his disapproval of UAF activities in each of the four occupied territories and recognise Russia’s sovereignty. However, given the lack of domestic support, Lukashenko is likely to avoid direct involvement in the war at this stage. Plus, it is highly unlikely that Belarus will be able to amass the reported combat power as suggested by Ukrainian sources.
  • As per the previous assessment (see here), Belarus will be unable to commit sufficient combat power to secure its own borders and launch offensive action into Ukraine. Any attempts to conduct significant mobilisation (or retention on active duty of forces which have conducted ‘snap readiness exercises’) are likely to be met with large-scale public resistance, and similarly to the reaction in Russia, there will be migration of fighting age males over the Belarusian border. Partisan activity, including railhead sabotage, is a likely response to any mobilisation calls.
  • The potential for a new front to open up along the Belarusian border is almost certain to remain a critical intelligence priority for NATO and Western agencies. There is minimal probability that Belarus could mobilise or pre-position forces without their acknowledgement. If identified, as was observed in January and February 2022, this information will be shared by those respective agencies. Also, social media platforms were heavily saturated with troop movements pre-invasion and such a trend is likely to re-emerge once this activity has commenced.
  • Belarus’ actions in the next 90-days are likely to be dictated by Putin and his inner circle if the invasion continues along its current trajectory. As his options within Ukraine decrease, Belarus becomes a diversionary option. Unilateral action of this nature is a low probability but would fit the model of erratic decision-making becoming associated with Putin.

Outlook

A large-scale BAF offensive into northwest Ukraine remains unlikely in the short term, without any advanced notice being circulated across digital media and social channels. The publication of Ukrainian intelligence on this matter also serves as an additional tipper on this threat but requires validation from other sources (including satellite imagery). Belarus, nor Russia, are likely to confirm this movement to retain the element of surprise. But this is unlikely to be achieved.

The military situation remains extant, as highlighted in the previous assessment (see here). The forward deployment of BAF assets could present a long-range risk to the UAF; plus, the longer that the RFAF’s mobilised troops have in-country, the threat will increase proportionately. However, in the immediate term, the most likely scenario is the deployment of personnel, to train and equip until they reach a level of combat readiness to deploy with some effect.

The assessment of potential timelines remains extant. Preparatory activity required to launch any offensive activity greater than a raid would almost certainly provide at least 96 hours' notice prior to occurring. Accusations of UAF or NATO military strikes or SOF operating within Belarus are likely to be the most significant indicator of impending military activity.

Longer-term, Lukashenko’s rhetoric is unlikely to change, supporting the Russian invasion but avoiding statements which suggest large-scale, military deployments into Ukraine. Public approval ratings within Belarus are unlikely to improve in the medium term – which remains the key internal threat to Lukashenko and his government. However, as pressure increases on Putin, domestically, the greater the likelihood that Lukashenko will be forced into decisions which further destabilise his own power base.


Belarus Protest Flag Image/Jana Shnipelson