Wednesday, June 17, 2015

Why is Belarus Conducting Military Exercises on the Ukrainian Border?

Paul Goble


            Staunton, June 17 – Two days ago, the Belarusian armed forces began a command staff exercise in Gomel oblast with the territorial forces of that region to perfect tactics to interdict diversionary forces and illegal armed formations, an action that may have broader implications because these maneuvers are occurring on that country’s border with Ukraine.


            In commenting on this exercise today, Aleksey Melnik, a security specialist at Kyiv’s Razumkov Center, said that “personally, these training exercises do not disturb him a great deal.” On the exercises, see; for Melnik’s comments,


            “Any military exercises, if of course they are conducted according to a plan and in the presence of international observers, is normal practice, he says. “If they occur not far from the borders of another state, then the latter should be warned in advance about them.” That will prevent both misunderstandings and accidents.


            That Belarus is doing this, however, raises questions, he suggests. On the one hand, conducting such exercises is standard practice if one’s country adjoins another that is in a state of war: There is always the chance that forces there, legal or illegal, might cross the border either for maneuver or to escape encirclement. Any government needs to protect itself.


            But on the other hand – and these are possibilities Melnik does not mention – there are at least three reasons why Belarusian leader Alyaksandr Lukashenka may have taken this step. First, he may have wanted to protect his own regime against a possible repetition of Russia’s use of “little green men.”


            Second, he may want to use the problems in Ukraine as an excuse to bring his forces to greater readiness in anticipation of possible domestic problems.  And third, Lukashenka may be providing yet another form of cover for Moscow’s “hybrid” war, muddying the waters of the conflict in Ukraine further and providing the Kremlin with plausible deniability on its role.


            As of now, there is no clear indication in the open media as to which of these or possibly some other factor is at work, and the possibilities are large because in that part of the world, Vladimir Putin is not the only national leader who is living in an alternative reality and who might act irrationally.  


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