Ukraine’s Belarusian volunteers create complications for Putin ally Lukashenka

In late March, Ukrainian MP Ihor Guz unfurled the flag of the Belarusian Kalinouski Regiment within the Ukrainian Parliament and paid tribute to the Belarusian volunteers serving to to defend Ukraine towards Russia’s invasion. This gesture was a reminder that Belarusians presently make up one of many largest contingents of overseas nationals preventing for Ukraine. Their rising presence helps to form the battlefield in Ukraine and has broader implications for regional safety.

Belarusians have been a part of the Ukrainian battle towards Russian aggression since 2014, when dozens becoming a member of the volunteer battalions that emerged in response to Russia’s seizure of Crimea and invasion of japanese Ukraine. When Putin launched the full-scale invasion of Ukraine in Febuary 2022, Belarusians responded by forming their very own battalion and naming it after Kastus Kalinouski, a nineteenth century Belarusian nationwide hero who led an rebellion towards imperial Russia.

This Belarusian battalion has since expanded to turn out to be a regiment, with representatives claiming as many as 5,000 volunteers. Belarusian troops have taken half in a number of the greatest battles of the battle together with the preventing round Kyiv, Mykolaiv, and Bakhmut. The Kalinouski Regiment now has its personal recruitment and coaching constructions, and has acquired a substantial arsenal of army tools. Whereas casualty figures aren’t publicly disclosed, there are studies of greater than 40 Belarusian volunteers killed whereas defending Ukraine, with the overall quantity prone to be considerably greater.

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The presence of so many Belarusians preventing alongside the Ukrainian army has lengthy been a supply of concern for Belarus’s pro-Kremlin dictator Alyaksandr Lukashenka. Hypothesis over the potential risks posed by Belarusian fighters in Ukraine has intensified in current weeks amid a collection of cross-border raids carried out by Russian volunteer models getting into Russia from Ukrainian territory. Many are actually asking whether or not Ukraine’s massive Belarusian contingent might mount comparable border zone operations inside Belarus.

For now, there isn’t any signal of any plans for offensive exercise alongside the Ukrainian border with Belarus. As an alternative, there are indications that Ukraine’s political and army leaders would somewhat keep away from any escalation within the confrontation with Minsk at a time when they’re preventing for nationwide survival towards Russia’s ongoing invasion.

In an October 2023 interview, Ukrainian Navy Intelligence chief Kyrylo Budanov spoke favorably of Lukashenka’s capacity to forestall his nation from turning into a direct participant within the Russian invasion. This prompted appreciable disquiet among the many Belarusian pro-democracy opposition, with many viewing it as a sign of renewed readiness in Kyiv to cope with the Lukashenka regime.

Eurasia Middle occasions

Regardless of the absence of any offensive operations towards Belarus, Lukashenka clearly views the Belarusians preventing in Ukraine as a severe menace to his personal regime. He’s effectively conscious that many Belarusian volunteers regard victory in Ukraine as a stepping stone towards the overthrow of the present pro-Russian authorities in Minsk. Unsurprisingly, volunteer fighters face legal prosecution if caught inside Belarus. Some relations have additionally reportedly been detained by the Belarusian authorities.

Lukashenka has good motive to be cautious. His place has been precarious since 2020, when nationwide protests over a rigged presidential election threatened to topple his regime till Kremlin intervention and a brutal crackdown enabled him to cling onto energy. Whereas there’s solely comparatively restricted cooperation between the home inhabitants and Belarus’s exiled pro-democracy opposition, the hazard of renewed protests stays.

Some Belarusians have accused the nation’s exiled opposition of not doing sufficient to confront the Lukashenka regime. Leaders of the Kalinouski Regiment have urged opposition chief Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya to play a extra energetic position in efforts to mobilize help for the regiment and enhance help for Belarusians preventing for Ukraine.

There are some indications that the Kalinouski Regiment might have political ambitions of its personal. The regiment has strengthened ties with the Cyberpartisans hacktivist group, which is a member of the Belarusian opposition’s Coordination Council. In January 2024, Kalinouski Regiment leaders introduced plans to go to 12 European cities to fulfill Belarusian supporters. Whereas in Warsaw, they spoke of their curiosity in creating a “political observe.”

The Kalinouski Regiment is taking part in a big position in Ukraine’s armed battle towards Russian imperialism and its leaders clearly have ambitions to ultimately liberate their very own nation. Nonetheless, the regiment is presently far too small to problem the Lukshenka regime by itself.

In the meantime, there’s little signal of any Ukrainian urge for food to develop the battle. Quite the opposite, the absence of cross-border raids and the softer tone adopted in current months by some in Kyiv hints at a extra pragmatic strategy towards ties with Belarus. Till this modifications, the Kalinouski Regiment might hold Lukashenka awake at evening, however it’s unlikely to orchestrate his downfall.

Alesia Rudnik is a PhD Fellow at Karlstad College in Sweden and director of Belarusian suppose tank The Middle for New Concepts.

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The views expressed in UkraineAlert are solely these of the authors and don’t essentially replicate the views of the Atlantic Council, its employees, or its supporters.

The Eurasia Middle’s mission is to boost transatlantic cooperation in selling stability, democratic values and prosperity in Eurasia, from Japanese Europe and Turkey within the West to the Caucasus, Russia and Central Asia within the East.

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Picture: Russia’s President Vladimir Putin and Belarus President Alyaksandr Lukashenka arrive to attend the opening ceremony of a monument to civilians killed throughout World Battle Two, as a part of occasions marking the eightieth anniversary of the liberation of Leningrad from Nazi blockade throughout WWII, close to the village of Zaitsevo, Leningrad area, Russia January 27, 2024. (Olga Maltseva/Pool through REUTERS)

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