On January 18, the Ministry of Defense announced the drills to be held on the territory of Belarus with the participation of Russian troops from February 10 to 20. This happened after Russian military equipment was spotted on the territory of Belarus.
The publication Radio Svaboda asked Kiryl Mikhailau, a member of the investigative project Conflict Intelligence Team, some questions. We quote the interview unchanged.
— How typical is the situation when Russian troops enter another country, observers notice it, and only after that the authorities officially declare that drills will be held there?
— We observed this, for example, in Syria, when troops were transferred in 2015, and they announced it post factum. Although, everyone was also watching the planes and ships that were carrying them.
A similar story happened in April last year, when troops transferred to the Crimea suddenly showed up there and began to organize drills, although this had not been announced before.
This is practiced, and this is not the first time.
— What does CIT know at the moment about Russian troops on the territory of Belarus?
— We cannot give an accurate quantitative assessment now. We only know that there are units from the 16th Radiation, Chemical and Biological Defense Brigade based in the Primorsky Region of Russia in the Far East. If there are really anti-NATO drills, then it is quite logical to use such compounds. After all, in theory, any clash with NATO can enter the nuclear phase.
In addition, it can already be said that, for example, multiple launch rocket systems «Uragan» are located on the territory of Belarus.
A large number of different vehicles are coming from the Far East now – tank and motorized rifle units. Our Western colleagues believe that we are talking about 10-15 battalion tactical groups – these are special units as a part of Russian formations. They are staffed by contractors and are considered the most ready for such transfers.
Each of these units has an average of about 800 fighters – from 600 to 1000. So count it up – we can talk about more than 10 thousand military personnel. But this is provided that they all go to Belarus. According to comments on social networks, indeed, most of them allegedly go to Belarus for drills, but there are also reports that they are going to the border with Belarus or even to the Donbass — this may mean the Rostov Region of Russia.
However, a significant part is definitely heading to Belarus, and what we saw yesterday is probably not the last footage of the arrival of Russian troops. The Russian Deputy Minister of Defense has already stated that parts of the Far Eastern Military District will take part in drills on the territory of Belarus.
— Has there ever been such a case before that an army from the Far East of Russia was quickly and unexpectedly transferred into the East?
— As we can remember, this is the first time this has happened on such a scale. For example, let us recall when tank and motorized rifle units, who took part in the war in eastern Ukraine in the winter of 2015, in the battles of Debaltseve, were transferred from Buratia. That was the last time we saw them, and now they are a part of the forces that are being transferred.
We have not seen such a mass transfer from the Far East before. The Russian military explains this by saying that the army should be ready for any emergency situations, when, for example, all forces in the western direction may be needed.
But if we talk about Russia, there is such a practice – not to withdraw troops after the drills. This happened in the North Caucasus in 2008, and on the border with Ukraine in 2014, when the military did not return to their permanent locations after the drills, and then they entered Ukraine.
Now we predict that these units will not fully return from Belarus — at least to leave equipment there, although some of the personnel may return. People from different units who are going to Belarus are being told different things now. Someone – that they are going for 2 months, someone – for six months, and someone – for 9 months. Someone thinks that these are drills, and someone thinks that there will be a war.
— How has the situation at the Russian borders with Ukraine been changing in recent weeks and days?
— The first evidence of the transfer of airborne units from Siberia and Central Russia to the border appeared. We do not yet know on what scale — is it as large as last spring, when airborne forces were transferred in whole divisions. But this is something we have not seen so far during the current escalation.
All this indicates that the preparation continues – albeit slowly. We still don’t know if there will be an attack. We do not know what is in Putin’s head and whether he will give such an order. But everyone is now preparing so that he can give such an order and get the result within just a few days.
The build-up of forces is going on quite slowly, but the threat of an open, large-scale conflict is increasing literally every day. Not only we, but also other researchers believe that those units that are located on the territory of Belarus and are heading there can play some role in such a conflict.
There are absolutely apocalyptic versions that there will be an offensive from the north to Kyiv, but another version is that their role will be to pull back a part of the Ukrainian troops and not to allow them to transfer everything to the zone of alleged military actions in the east of the country.
Source: Radio Svaboda