Plan for preemptive strike? Ukraine says it could be attacked from Belarus.
Speaking to a security forum in Kiev yesterday, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky said of a potential armed conflict with neighboring Russia, “I think it could be a world war.”
He was responding to a question by a reporter who had asked whether a Russian attack against Ukraine – he specified in September – could be launched not only from the pro-Russian Donetsk and Lugansk republics in the Donbass but also from Crimea and Belarus. Russia and Belarus are scheduled to hold this year’s ZAPAD joint military exercise in September. (The last was conducted in 2017. Western officials and analysts beforehand warned of the participation of over 100,000 troops; in fact the number was closer to 12,000. We can expect to hear inflated figures again ahead of this year’s event.)
Yesterday’s Ukrainian press accounts didn’t explain where the story of an attack on the nation came from or why such an attack would occur in four months aside from the above. If military maneuvers portended armed aggression against neighboring states Europe would be in a state of perpetual warfare with the scores of NATO war games occurring every year.
Today it’s reported that Ukrainian Defense Minister Andriy Taran, speaking at the same forum, reiterated the claim of an attack from Belarus, identified as the north of the country (Ukraine) in these words: “According to our intelligence and our Western partners, Russia is pulling back its troops very slowly….Russian military hardware still remains near our northern border.” The National News Agency of Ukraine (Ukrinform) gave its account of his comments the title “Taran says Russian troops could invade Ukraine from Belarus.“ The defense chief further stated that Ukraine was closely monitoring events inside Belarus, and that his ministry is considering the invasion of Ukraine by Russian troops through Belarus “or the spread of military aggression through Belarusian territory.”
Tempering his warning somewhat in terms of a timeline if not in substance, he added:
“As of now, we do not note such an immediate threat. At the same time, if necessary, we have developed plans and we know how to act if we see signs of the creation of a group of armed forces that can be used through Belarus.”
As to the earlier allusion to the month of September, he was also quoted telling attendees at the All-Ukrainian forum “Ukraine 30. Country Security” gathering:
“As for the escalation, perhaps in the autumn, I would say this: If I expect there might be an escalation in the autumn, I must be held criminally liable. We expect a possible escalation at any moment. We are always ready to give an appropriate rebuff.”
Addressing the same forum, Colonel-General Ruslan Khomchak, Commander-in-Chief of the Ukrainian Armed Forces, boasted:
“Today, the Armed Forces of Ukraine, other components of the security and defense sector are ready to repulse armed aggression….I will say with confidence that they are 100% ready, but further, when a battle or aggression begins….” (Def. Ministry expects escalation on border with Russia at any moment)
He also was quoted as saying: “Our plans for the further development and reform of the Ukrainian Armed Forces are based on the result of the defense review of Ukraine’s National Security Strategy. These reform measures take into account the best practices and approaches of NATO member states.”
Last September, a month after his nation’s presidential election and during protests by pro-Western supporters of his opponent, Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko warned of a NATO military build-up on his nation’s western border, stating:
“The defense ministry should pay special attention to movements of NATO forces in Poland and Lithuania. We should track all directions of their movements and intentions.”
The western part of Belarus near Grodno has residents of Polish ethnic background and in recent years has seen increased activity by ethnic Polish separatists and irredentists supported by Poland. In August Belarusian Defense Minister Viktor Khrenin announced large-scale drills to practice defending the area from foreign attack.
He was quoted saying:
“I can confidently state that the Armed Forces are ready for combat. The morale is high. We are ready to carry out missions. The main task for us is to preserve territorial integrity, sovereignty, and independence of the country….”
Also in August President Lukashenko warned:
“Many in Russia comment on the developments in Belarus….This is not about Belarus. This is about Russia, your western frontier. Putin and I agreed: Belarus is first, Russia is next in line. We should frustrate their plans to use Belarus as a springboard….”
As to who threatens whom, it’s worth noting Belarus warned of attacks against it from Ukraine’s NATO allies nine months before Ukrainian officials raised the specter of an attack against their nation by or from Belarus.
The population of the nations mentioned above are also telling:
Belarus: 9.4 million
Ukraine: 44 milion
Poland: 38 million
History has recorded numerous cases of a nation being attacked after it was falsely accused of attacking first or of planning an attack. September 1, 1939 is such an example.