The US and NATO believe that Belarus could “soon” join Russia in its war against Ukraine, US and NATO officials said, and that the country is already taking steps to do so.
It is increasingly “likely” that Belarus will enter the conflict, a NATO military official said on Monday.
“(Russian President Vladimir) Putin needs support. Anything would help,” the official explained.
A Belarusian opposition source said that Belarusian combat units are ready to go into Ukraine as soon as in the next few days, with thousands of forces prepared to deploy.
In this source’s view, this would have less of an impact militarily than it will geopolitically, given the implications of another country joining the war.
A senior NATO intelligence official said separately that the alliance assesses that the Belarusian government “is preparing the environment to justify a Belarusian offensive against Ukraine”.
Russia has launched its attack on Ukraine in part from Belarus’ territory, and thousands of Russian troops amassed in Belarus ahead of the Kremlin’s invasion of Ukraine last month, which the two countries had claimed was for training exercises.
US and European sanctions in response to the war have targeted both Russian and Belarusian officials, including Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko.
The sources emphasised that there have been no indications to date that Belarus is currently participating in the fighting in Ukraine, and a senior US defence official said the Pentagon had not seen “any indications that the Belarusians are preparing to move in — into Ukraine or that they have made any agreements to do that”.
The NATO military official said that a final decision for Belarus’ involvement in the war still has to be made in Moscow, as of yet there has been no indication that Belarusian forces are participating in the fighting in Ukraine.
Ukraine forces retake Kyiv suburb
Ukraine said it retook a strategically important suburb of Kyiv on Tuesday, as Russian forces squeezed other areas near the capital and pressed their attack on the embattled southern port of Mariupol.
Explosions and bursts of gunfire shook Kyiv, and black smoke rose from a spot in the north. Intensified artillery fire could be heard from the northwest, where Russia has sought to encircle and capture several suburban areas of the capital, a crucial target.
Residents sheltered at home or underground under a 35-hour curfew imposed by city authorities that runs to Wednesday morning.
Russian forces also continued their siege of Mariupol after the southern port city’s defenders refused demands to surrender, with fleeing civilians describing relentless bombardments and corpses lying in the streets. But the Kremlin’s ground offensive in other parts of the country advanced slowly or not at all, knocked back by lethal hit-and-run attacks by the Ukrainians.
Early Tuesday, Ukrainian troops drove Russian forces out of the Kyiv suburb of Makariv after a fierce battle, Ukraine’s Defence Ministry said. The regained territory allowed Ukrainian forces to retake control of a key highway and block Russian troops from surrounding Kyiv from the northwest.
Still, the Defence Ministry said Russian forces were able to partially take other northwest suburbs, Bucha, Hostomel and Irpin, some of which had been under attack almost since Russia’s military invaded almost a month ago.
Russia’s invasion has driven more than 10 million people from their homes, almost a quarter of Ukraine’s pre-war population, according to the United Nations. The UN has confirmed 953 civilian deaths while saying the real toll is probably much higher.
Estimates of Russian military casualties in the grinding war have been hard to come by and vary, but even conservative figures by Western officials are in the low thousands. Russia has not given an update since it said March 2 that 498 soldiers had been killed in action in Ukraine. Russia’s pro-Kremlin Komsomolskaya Pravda newspaper, citing the Defence Ministry, briefly reported Monday that almost 10,000 Russian soldiers had been killed. The report was quickly removed, and newspaper blamed hackers. The Kremlin refused to comment on Tuesday.
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