Russian soldiers are flooding into Belarus ‘by the trainload’, according to reports, after dictator Alexander Lukashenko announced he will deploy a ‘joint military task force’ with Moscow on his country’s western border in a move that Belarus said today was ‘purely defensive’.
Despite Minsk’s apparent attempt to play down the task force, Ukraine said that it is strengthening its northern border with Belarus amid fears Russia is trying to draw its ally into Vladimir Putin’s on-going war.
On Monday, Kyiv Post reporter Jason Jay Smart said that a Belarusian source had told him: ‘Russian soldiers are entering Belarus by the trainload. They’re travelling in cattle cars – just a huge quantity. Just waves of trains arriving,’ he wrote on Twitter.
Lukashenko said the task force with Russia was in response to a clear threat to Belarus from Kyiv and its backers in the West, baselessly claiming Lithuania, Poland and Ukraine were training Belarusian ‘radicals’ for terror attacks.
The two countries began combining some of their military forces shortly after the explosion on the Kerch Bridge joining Russian-occupied Crimea to the Russian mainland, according to Lukashenko.
This has sparked fury in Europe, with the European Commission urging Belarus to refrain from any involvement in Russia’s ‘brutal illegitimate undertaking’ that violated the United Nations Charter and international law.
Meanwhile, air raid alerts have been issued across the whole of Ukraine on Tuesday in anticipation of more Russian missiles strikes just a day after Putin unleashed the biggest barrage since the start of the war – killing 19 civilians and wounding 105. Every Ukrainian region bar occupied Crimea was told to be on alert for more strikes.
Officials said rockets had been shot down near the capital Kyiv and that suicide drones were prowling the skies near the southern port city of Odesa. Explosions were also reported in western Lviv, with power cut in the city.
Ukraine said drones used in the strikes on Monday had been launched from Belarus.
Russian soldiers are flooding into Belarus ‘by the trainload’, according to reports, after dictator Alexander Lukashenko announced he will deploy a ‘joint military task force’ with Moscow on his country’s western border. Meanwhile, Ukraine has said that it is strengthening its northern border with Belarus. Pictured: Ukrainian soldiers in training
Lukashenko (pictured with Putin on September 26) said the task force with Russia was in response to a clear threat to Belarus from Kyiv and its backers, claiming Lithuania, Poland and Ukraine were training Belarusian ‘radicals’ for terror attacks
In response to the growing threat, Ukraine said it was strengthening its border with Belarus, fearing another Russian advance into the north of the country.
‘Active actions are being taken to strengthen the units of the MIA [Ministry of Internal Affairs] system on the border with the Republic of Belarus,’ Deputy Minister of Internal Affairs of Ukraine Ihor Bondarenko said on Monday.
The Ukrainian Ministry of Internal Affairs also said in its statement ‘[…] Bondarenko inspected the section of the state border with the Republic of Belarus. During the visit, the readiness of the units of the Ministry of Internal Affairs to repel potential aggression from the territory of the Republic of Belarus was verified.’
The ministry added that it was ‘actively involved in the construction of fortifications, structural units are strengthened with a fire component, which significantly strengthens our defence lines.’
Alexander Alesin, an independent Belarusian military analyst, says Belarus could host some 10,000-15,000 Russian troops, which together with its own military could form a joint force of up to 60,000.
But, he argued, Minsk is not willing to deploy troops to Ukraine.
The Kremlin, according to some reports, wants its neighbour to host Russian nuclear weapons. Alesin said: ‘Iskander-M (missiles) have already been deployed to Belarus. They could be equipped with nuclear warheads with a capacity of 50 kilotons and a range of 500 kilometres.’
The analyst said some Belarusian Su-24M bombers had been modified at Russian factories to carry nuclear bombs. But he added: ‘Minsk specifically stipulates that deployment of Russian nuclear weapons to Belarus would only be possible if (U.S.) nuclear weapons are deployed to neighbouring Poland.’
In response to the growing threat to the north, Ukraine said it was strengthening its border with Belarus, fearing another Russian advance into the north of the country. Pictured: A Ukrainian soldier points a weapon over a barricade
Alexander Alesin, an independent Belarusian military analyst, says Belarus could host some 10,000-15,000 Russian troops, which together with its own military could form a joint force of up to 60,000. Pictured: A Ukrainian military vehicle in Ukraine
Putin is running out of missiles and troops, GCHQ head says
Russia is running short of weapons, allies and troops with Vladimir Putin’s regime becoming increasingly desperate, the head of the UK’s GCHQ intelligence agency said.
Sir Jeremy Fleming said Moscow still had a ‘very capable military machine’ despite those shortcomings, although it was being stretched by the ongoing conflict in Ukraine.
Russian president Mr Putin launched a missile and drone barrage against Ukrainian cities including Kyiv on Monday and air raid sirens again sounded in the capital on Tuesday.
Mr Putin has warned about the potential use of nuclear weapons to defend Russian territory – a definition which he could extend to the occupied regions of Ukraine.
GCHQ chief Sir Jeremy said he hoped the UK would see ‘indicators’ from Russia before any deployment of nuclear weapons, something which would be a ‘catastrophe’.
He told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme: ‘We believe that Russia is running short of munitions, it’s certainly running short of friends and we have seen, because of the declaration for mobilisation, that it is running short of troops.’
Sir Jeremy said Moscow’s top brass were ‘worried about the state of their military machine’, adding ‘the word I have used is desperate and we can see that desperation at many levels inside Russian society and inside the Russian military machine’.
Despite the problems facing Moscow, Mr Putin still had ‘deep stocks and expertise’ in his military, as shown by Monday’s co-ordinated strikes against Ukraine’s cities.
Pressed on whether GCHQ would know if Mr Putin was considering using nuclear weapons, Sir Jeremy said: ‘I would hope that we would see indicators if they started to go down that path, but let’s be really clear about that: if they are considering that, that would be a catastrophe.’
Speaking on Monday, Lukashenko said Kyiv presents a clear threat to his country.
The remarks from Lukashenko, who has held power in Belarus since 1994, indicate a potential further escalation of the war in Ukraine, possibly with a combined Russian-Belarus joint force in the north of Ukraine.
‘Strikes on the territory of Belarus are not just being discussed in Ukraine today, but are also being planned,’ Lukashenko said at a meeting on security, without providing evidence for the assertion.
‘Their owners are pushing them to start a war against Belarus to drag us there.’
‘We have been preparing for this for decades. If necessary, we will respond,’ Lukashenko said, adding that he had spoken to Putin about the situation while at a meeting in St Petersburg.
Lukashenko said he had agreed with Putin to deploy a regional military group, and had started pulling forces together two days ago, apparently after an attack on Russia’s road and rail bridge to Crimea early on Saturday.
He said that a warning was delivered to Belarus through unofficial channels that Ukraine planned ‘Crimean Bridge 2’, though he did not give details.
‘My answer was simple: “Tell the president of Ukraine and the other lunatics: if they touch one metre of our territory then the Crimean Bridge will seem to them like a walk in the park”.’
He also claimed – without evidence – Lithuania, Poland and Ukraine were training Belarusian ‘radicals’ to carry out terror attacks in his country. This could be seen as an attempt to justify further escalation.
‘The training in Poland, Lithuania and Ukraine of Belarusian radical militants for them to carry out sabotage, terrorist attacks and to organise a military mutiny in the country is becoming a direct threat,’ Lukashenko said.
However, Belarus’ Defense Minister Victor Khrenin ruled out active participation in the war in Ukraine. ‘We don’t want to fight Lithuanians, or Poles, or Ukrainians,’ Khrenin said in a video statement Monday.
France on Tuesday warned Minsk it could face more sanctions if it gets more involved in the war in Ukraine. Belarus has already been accused of allowing itself to be used as a Russian launchpad for Putin’s invasion.
Yesterday, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky said Russian forces used both missiles and Iranian-built drones – believed to have been sent from Belarus – to strike his country in a series of deadly attacks across the country.
Pictured: Russian and Belarus tanks during joint exercises of the armed forces on February 24, days before Putin ordered his forces to invade Ukraine on February 24
Russian (right) and Belarus soldiers during joint exercises of the armed forces, February 19
In a statement on Facebook, Ukraine’s military specified that ‘the enemy used Iranian Shahed-136 UAVs in strikes launched from the territory of Belarus’ and the Crimean peninsula annexed by Russia, adding that nine drones were ‘destroyed’.
In signs that fears are growing about Belarus’ involvement in the war in Ukraine, Warsaw on Monday said Polish citizens still in Belarus should leave the country.
‘We recommend that Polish citizens staying on the territory of the Republic of Belarus leave its territory with available commercial and private means,’ the government said in guidance for travellers published on its website.
Relations between Warsaw and Minsk deteriorated in 2021 when Poland accused its neighbour of orchestrating a migrant crisis on its border and have become even more strained since the Russian invasion of Ukraine.
Warsaw says that the Polish minority in Belarus faces repression from the state, with some community leaders having been imprisoned.
Belarus and Russia reportedly began combining some of their military forces shortly after the explosion on the Kerch Bridge (pictured, October 8) joining Russian-occupied Crimea to the Russian mainland, according to Lukashenko
A medical worker runs past a burning car after a Russian attack in Kyiv, Ukraine, October 10, 2022
Russia unleashed one of the largest bombardments of Ukraine since the opening day of the war on Monday, as virtually every major city was hit in strikes that killed 19 people and wounded 105
Today, Ukraine’s air force said Russian strategic bombers – Tu-95s and Tu-160s which were originally designed to carry nukes – had fired non-nuclear missiles at the country from over the Caspian Sea around 7am local time, and that four of the weapons had been shot out of the sky.
The city of Zaporizhzhia, located close to the Russian frontlines in the south, continued to be bombed overnight with officials saying 15 missiles hit schools, hospitals and homes, killing at least one person. Vinnytsia, in central Ukraine, was also targeted this morning amid reports that drones struck a power plant.
It came mere hours after Putin’s bloodthirsty war hawks appeared on state TV to praise his new no-holds-barred approach to the war while urging him to go further and bomb Ukraine ‘into a 19th century country’.
Yuri Podolyak, a military analyst speaking on Channel 1, said Russia is ‘easily’ capable of sustaining the intensity of Monday’s attacks throughout the winter – predicting that the consequences for Ukraine would be ‘catastrophic’.
‘A red line has been crossed, and I think this is now obvious to everyone,’ he said.
‘All European governments have promptly requested that their embassies be evacuated from Kyiv.
‘They realise this is not just a one day event, that this will continue and that winter in Ukraine will be catastrophic.’
Meanwhile Konstantin Dolgov, former Russian commissioner for human rights, also urged Putin to keep up the bombardment, asking TV viewers: ‘Are they whining yet? Are they howling yet?’
A car dealership in the Ukrainian city of Zaporizhzhia in flames in the early hours of Tuesday after it was hit in a Russian missile attack, as Putin’s bombardment of Ukraine continues
Firefighters cover the body of a man killed by Russian shelling on the city of Zaporizhzhia overnight with a sheet as Putin’s bombardment of Ukraine continues
Firefighters inspect the ruins of a car dealership in Zaporizhzhia that was hit by a Russian missile, after 15 rockets slammed into the city overnight Monday
A truck is seen peppered with shrapnel and buried under rubble after Russian missiles hit the city of Zaporizhzhia overnight
Defence analyst, Alexander Artamonov, said Western hopes that Russia would run out of missiles would never come true. They will never end.’
The pro-war fanatic insisted: ‘It is of course necessary that strikes continue in a systematic way, given that Ukrainian society is at present, in my view, psychiatrically ill. In psychiatry, people are not given weapons.
‘Naturally, they are treated, and naturally they should have essential benefits, but anything that can be turned into a weapon, be it a car, a knife, a gun, or some other thing must be seized.
‘So if bridges are cut and railways too are destroyed there will not be capacity to deliver troops to the frontline.’
Moscow’s barrage of missile strikes on cities all across Ukraine elicited celebration from Russian officials and pro-Kremlin pundits, who in recent weeks have criticized the Russian military for a series of embarrassing setbacks on the battlefield.
Commentators and war correspondents lauded Monday’s attack as an appropriate, and long-awaited, response to Ukraine’s successful counteroffensive in the northeast and the south and a weekend attack on a key bridge between Russia and Crimea.
Many argued, however, that Moscow should keep up the intensity of Monday’s missile strikes in order to win the war now.
‘Putin’s initiative is weakening and he is becoming more dependent on circumstances and those who are forging the `victory’ (in Ukraine) for him,’ Tatyana Stanovaya, founder of the independent R.Politik think-tank, wrote in an online commentary Monday.
Putin’s supporters have been calling for drastic steps on the Ukraine battlefield for weeks. These calls intensified over the weekend, shortly after an explosion on the Kerch Bridge linking Crimea to Russia sent shock waves around the globe.
The bridge, Europe’s longest, is a prominent symbol of Russian military might and was opened by Putin himself in 2018. It was seen as a declaration after it was annexed by Moscow in 2014: That Crimea is Russia.
Ukraine has said it intends to retake the peninsular, which is still internationally recognised as Ukrainian.