Jan 18, 2022 - World

U.S. warns Russia may attack Ukraine from Belarus

Belarus dictator Alexander Lukashenko (left) and Russian President Vladimir Putin. Photo: Mikhail Klimentyev/TASS via Getty Images

The U.S. believes that Russia may use joint military exercises inside Belarus as cover for an invasion of Ukraine from the north, according to a senior State Department official.

Why it matters: New deployments to the Belarus-Ukraine border in the coming weeks — in addition to the 100,000 Russian troops already encircling Ukraine from the north, east and south — could allow Russia to open up a new front less than 100 miles from the Ukrainian capital, Kyiv.

  • It would also position Russian troops close to the borders of NATO members Poland, Lithuania and Latvia.

What they're saying: "I think what we should be concerned about is not whether it increases the intent [to attack Kyiv], but whether or not it increases the capability and their ability to launch that invasion of Ukraine with an intent to topple the government," the senior State Department official told reporters.

  • "What I know about the Kremlin and what I know about President Putin is that he is an opportunist and he creates opportunities," the official stressed.
  • "And so it is incredibly important that when we see these kinds of movements and when there is a concrete change in capabilities, that we acknowledge it and call it for what it is."

Context: Belarus dictator Alexander Lukashenko has clung to power over the last year and a half thanks to the support of Russia, after his crackdown on nationwide protests led to Western sanctions and international isolation.

  • "We know that Putin doesn't give that support for free. It's clear Russia is preying on Lukashenko's vulnerability, and he is calling in some of those accumulated IOUs," the official said.
  • The official suggested that Lukashenko may not even be a part of the decision-making on how Russian troops are using Belarus territory, and that he has sacrificed his claim as "the guarantor of Belarus' sovereignty and independence" for the last 27 years in a desperate bid to stay in power.
  • Russia continues to deny that it is planning to invade Ukraine while threatening unspecified action if the U.S. and NATO don't agree to a set of demands, including ruling out NATO membership for Ukraine.

The big picture: The new warning about Belarus is the latest example of the Biden administration urgently sounding the alarm about the possibility of an imminent Russian invasion.

  • White House press secretary Jen Psaki told reporters Tuesday that the U.S. believes "this is an extremely dangerous situation. We are now at a stage where Russia could at any point launch an attack."

What's next: Secretary of State Antony Blinken plans to travel to Kyiv and Berlin this week, before heading to Geneva on Friday for a meeting with his Russian counterpart.

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