Belarusian President Lukashenko and Russian Federation President Putin are set to meet on February 17th in Russia. According to Russian state-owned media:
“As for arrangements for tomorrow’s meeting between the two presidents, Putin and Lukashenko, yes, I can confirm that such a meeting is being prepared,” Kremlin Spokesman Dmitry Peskov told reporters, adding that “a substantial conversation” will take place in Novo-Ogaryovo..
Belarusian media reported that the pair are to discuss “important economic and defense issues”. President Lukashenko also told press that the meeting was “unplanned”.
Since the invasion of Ukraine on February 24th, 2022, the pair has met several times, with the most notable meetings being at the end of 2022, when President Putin made his first visit to Minsk since before the pandemic. In these meetings, both countries pledged to strengthen military ties, especially the combined air picture, military drills, and the sharing of advanced surface-to-air missiles. However, President Lukashenko has surprisingly resisted President Putin’s requests to join the fight. Mostly due to the resistance from Lukashenko’s own military, which privately oppose the war and the possible escalation with Poland, should Belarusian troops invade Ukraine. The entrance of Belarus into the Ukraine War brings the possibility of the Baltic states and Poland entering and escalation into a multi-party conflict.
Ukrainian National Security and Defense Council Secretary Danilov sounded the alarm in Ukrainian press that President Putin will most likely exert increased pressure on Lukashenko to convince Belarus to join the war. This accusation comes as President Lukashenko attempted to get in front of the issue by announcing that Belarus will participate in the war if Ukraine attacks Belarus.
However, it is worth noting that Belarus has been a major supporting party for Russia by allowing TACAIR, LRA, and rotary aircraft to operate from within its borders. You will recall that the dramatic air assault operation against Kyiv on February 24th, 2022 was launched from several Belarusian airfields and more than 20,000 Russian ground troops crossed into Ukraine from assembly areas in Southern Belarus.
More than 10,000 Russian troops are also stationed in Southern Belarus currently as well as at least two squadrons of TACAIR assets. These troops, coupled with the Belarusian military could create a force capable of making another push for Kyiv or Lyiv, especially while the bulk of the Ukrainian military is engaged in Eastern Ukraine.
The results of the meeting will be especially important to watch tomorrow.