NATO must ‘watch out’ for Russian military presence in Belarus in coming years

Dr Liana Semchuk: Russian military build-up a 'huge concern'

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Dr Liana Semchuk, a Eurasia intelligence analyst at strategic advisory firm Sibylline, told that Belarus offers a huge opportunity for President Vladimir Putin who can use crazed Belarusian leader Alexander Lukashenko as a useful ally to hold a forward military operation right in front of NATO’s noses. It comes as tensions continue to soar of a potential Russian invasion of Ukraine after President Putin amassed over 100,000 troops and hardware along its borders. 

Explaining the situation, Dr Semchuk warned how even if President Putin doesn’t invade Ukraine, “I think a permanent Russian military in Belarus will certainly be an advantage to the Kremlin”.

She said this is a possibility because it is not just beneficial for Putin’s possible plans for Ukraine “but also as a threat to the Baltic states” to the north of Belarus.

The political expert stressed this would allow Putin to purposefully “drive tensions with NATO states” and maintain an affront to NATO which must be watched by the West.

Dr Semchuk elaborated: “That is not to say that would immediately translate into some sort of armed confrontation with NATO.

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“But that could heighten the risk of some sort of miscalculation or a border incident occurring during particularly high tensions in the future.”

She noted how despite President Lukashenko being “quite reluctant” to initially allow a Russian military presence in Belarus, this is changing day by day.

Dr Semchuk pointed to the increased joint military drills between the two countries as a worrying signal Mr Putin is moving a military presence to Belarus.

She said while this is not necessarily a threat in itself, the concern lies in the fact that Russia leave military equipment in Belarus even after the exercises end, which stressed could be signifiers of broader plans of President Putin.

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It comes as more joint military exercises between Russia and Belarus are planned later this month, on February 10 and 20, they follow “substantial” drills conducted in September and November which the political expert warned could be the start of a more concerning era in the region.

In January and February, advance Russian S-400 missile defence systems were also photographed in Belarus.

Dr Semchuk concluded: “I don’t think it is anything to worry about necessarily right now, I think Ukraine should be more worried right now than Nato member states.

“But certainly this growing military presence in Belarus is something that is problematic and something to watch out for in the years ahead.”

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British Prime Minister Boris Johnson travelled to the Ukraine capital of Kiev on Tuesday morning to meet with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky in a sign of unity and strength against Russian aggression.

Mr Johnson pledged major support of Ukraine amid failure from European leaders to jump to the support of Mr Zelensky.

It comes as western leaders are increasingly concerned Moscow is plotting a full-scale invasion of the former Soviet territory after the Russian president has amassed over 100,000 troops on the border with Ukraine.

Mr Putin has claimed the troop build up is in response to NATO aggression.

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