NOVI YARYLOVYCHI CROSSING BORDER, Ukraine – On the other side of this border in northern Ukraine, not visible through the dense pine and birch forests on the E-95 motorway but noticeable by the passing trucks , a force concentrated in Belarus is stronger than anything military officials and analysts say in the country since the fall of the Soviet Union.
Russia has deployed tanks and artillery, warplanes and helicopters, advanced missile systems and thousands of troops across Belarus, reinforcing a combat force that will soon encircle Ukraine like a rim. horses on three sides. Russia said the military had launched exercises slated to begin next month, but the buildup in Belarus could indicate an attack from a new vector, one near the capital Kyiv. Ukraine.
With most of Ukraine’s military likely concentrated in the east of the country – where the war with Russia-backed separatists has been raging for eight years – Ukrainian military analysts and generals say that it would find it difficult to muster the necessary force to defend its northern border.
Ukraine’s Defense Minister Oleksii Reznikov said: “As Russia took control of Belarus, our 1,070 km border with Belarus has become a threat.” “This is not a threat from Belarus – Ukraine has a very warm attitude towards the Belarusian people – but a threat from Russia moving through Belarus.”
Crossing the Novi Yarylovychi border is a fast, 140-mile drive straight from the Belarusian border south to Kyiv on an almost newly paved highway thanks to President Volodymyr Zelensky’s efforts to resolve the situation. bad state of Ukrainian roads. It would be an easy ride for any Russian tank driver, as long as Russian forces must destroy Ukraine’s air power and artillery first, and the US-supplied Javelin anti-tank missiles. for Ukrainian troops still deployed in eastern Ukraine.
On the Ukrainian border, preparations to repel a potential military attack are largely nonexistent. Last fall, Ukraine deployed 8,500 troops to its northern border, a combination of border police, national guard and military primarily aimed at preventing Belarus from sending Middle Eastern migrants across borders as in Poland and Lithuania.
Although that force remained in the border area, its members had already left the vicinity of Novi Yarylovychi. There are currently only a handful of border guards, armed with automatic rifles, stationed at the post, offering little deterrent if a Russian tank unit launches a surprise attack on the capital. A truck driver carrying candle wax through Ukraine, who gave his name only, Yevgeni, said he had seen columns of military vehicles, including armored personnel carriers with license plates indicating they were from the Ryazan region. , southeast of Moscow.
“There are kilometer-long columns there, escorted by police,” he said.
In fact, new troops, armor and equipment were pouring into Belarus every day. News reports from within Belarus showed local officials standing next to Belarusian women in traditional dress, greeting Russian military commanders with bread and salt, the traditional greeting.
The Russian Defense Ministry said that Russia is deploying some of its most advanced and well-equipped forces to nine different bases and airfields around Belarus. Ukrainian and Western officials say that special forces units and well-trained paratroopers, powerful S-400 air defense systems and hundreds of aircraft have begun arriving at bases around the country. .
Understanding Russia’s relationship with the West
Tensions between regions are growing and Russian President Putin is increasingly willing to take on geopolitical risks and assert his demands.
Russia’s Deputy Defense Minister, Aleksandr V. Fomin, said during a meeting with foreign military attaches in Moscow this month.
Dressed in a green camouflage, Aleksei Shevchuk, the first deputy business commander of the border post, said that he and his comrades would be ready to fight if Russian forces appeared on the border. However, he acknowledged that there would be little they could do against the Russian tanks.
“With the naked eye, we didn’t see anything, not equipment, not people and not Belarusian armed forces near the post,” he said. “In the event of an invasion or other non-standard situation on the national border, we will act, but for now everything is going according to plan.”
Historically, Belarus has caused Ukraine many problems. Despite its authoritarian leadership, Aleksandr G. Lukashenko, Perhaps closer to Moscow than any other post-Soviet head of state, he has previously largely avoided taking sides in the Ukraine-Russia conflict. That changed after the August 2020 presidential election, when Russian intelligence agencies were forced to rescue him amid the outbreak of protests against his rule.
Since then, he has recognized Russia’s annexation of Crimea and vowed to support Moscow in any military action involving Ukraine. Like his Russian counterpart, Vladimir V. Putin, he has accused Ukraine of escalating tensions and threatening war without providing evidence.
“Ten years ago, we could not have imagined that a moment like today would come when we had to form military units and entire coalitions to defend our southern border,” said Lukashenko. said during a visit to Belarusian military bases last week. And in a country address On Friday, Lukashenko accused the West of trying to “sink the Russian-Ukrainian brotherhood in blood.”
Mr. Reznikov, Ukraine’s Defense Minister, assessed that Russia could use the territory of Belarus to threaten not only Ukraine but “the whole of Europe”, although he expressed hope that diplomacy and de-escalation will success.
Some European leaders are less optimistic. While military analysts say there is currently little chance that Lukashenko, let alone Putin, risk opening a war with a NATO country, leaders in Eastern Europe, especially is in Poland and the Baltic countries, are increasingly worried.
Edgars Rinkēvičs, Latvian Foreign Minister, “We are reaching a point where the continued military buildup of Russia and Belarus in Europe needs to be addressed by appropriate NATO countermeasures,” tweeted this week. On Tuesday, the Pentagon put 8,500 troops on “high alert”, as President Biden weight deposit more assets to reinforce NATO units in Eastern Europe.
Understanding the escalating tension in Ukraine
Jens Stoltenberg, NATO Secretary General, accused Russia this week of pursuing a military build-up in Belarus “in the form of an exercise”.
“These are highly capable, combat-ready armies and there is no transparency about this deployment,” he said. “It adds to the tension and shows that there is no de-escalation. On the contrary, it’s actually more troops, more capabilities in more countries.”
Some in Ukraine have criticized the government for not doing enough to bolster the country’s defenses, either on the Belarusian border or elsewhere.
“The biggest danger is that Ukrainian forces are mainly concentrated in eastern Ukraine, but the closest route to Kyiv is from Belarus,” said Arseniy Yatsenyuk, Ukraine’s prime minister when war broke out in 2014. “It is also urgent. no less level. sent more army units to defend the capital of Kyiv, as a military barricade. That’s what we did in 2014.”
Ukrainians who work in a strip of shops and offices in the shadow of the Novi Yarylovychi border post say they are not entirely convinced that war is inevitable, at least in a place far from the conflict zone to the east. winter. But they detected a change in the air.
Viktor Beznoshenko, who runs a small travel insurance office, said: “People have started to drive less back and forth because television is exaggerating the situation.
Although he said he doubted Russia would launch a broader war against Ukraine, he compared Moscow to a 6-foot-5 neighbor who wakes up one morning and decides push your hedge deeper into your property.
“Belarus decided, ‘Okay, okay, let him move the fence,’ he said. “But Ukraine does not want to agree to this. We won’t let him move his fence. “
When Yuri Lukasevich, a truck driver, was about to get his pickup truck across the border into Belarus, he said he hoped that if Russia attacked, the US and NATO would join in to help Ukraine.
And what if that doesn’t happen?
“We will fight,” he said. “We are Ukrainians. We are prepared for everything. ”
Steven Erlanger Contribution reports from Brussels.
https://www.nytimes.com/2022/01/29/world/europe/russia-troops-belarus-border-ukraine.html When the Russian army held the Offensive Ceremony in Belarus, a Ukrainian border was completely unobstructed