Fearful of a growing Russian presence both inside and just outside the country, Belarus has passed legislation seemingly aimed directly at any potential Russian plans to annex the eastern European country.

The law states that any foreign soldiers, irregulars, or mercenaries, that arrive on Belorussian territory with weapons intended for use against the state would constitute a declaration of war on the sponsoring nation.

The language and timing of this law suggests it is almost certainly a response to Russia, who deftly used such a strategy of inserting airborne and special operations forces without uniform markings to provide deniability for the Kremlin when it annexed the Crimean Peninsula and eastern Ukraine in 2014. The overnight appearance of the masked and armed men all throughout Crimea was dubbed a spontaneous insurrection of “Little Green Men.”

Perhaps in a more unlikely scenario, the law also applies to any NATO country that may attempt a similar strategy. Belarus shares a border with three NATO members.
Belarus and Russia have a complicated relationship, where Belorussian President Alyaksandr Lukashenka has often accused Moscow of unfairly using its energy supplies to leverage influence over the former Soviet republic. Despite occasional disagreements with Putin, Lukashenka is hosting Russia’s major military exercise later this summer: Zapad 17.

The massive maneuvers include the deployment of the First Guards Tank Army, an offensively-oriented armored formation which will move through Belarus to the west to establish a forward command point. When deployed in conjunction with a lighter mechanized division that will also be present for Zapad, the Russians will be training with more tanks in Belarus than NATO has in all the Baltic states, Germany, and Poland combined.

While Belarus is supportive of their military working relationship with Moscow, it may be cautiously wondering if these large Russian formations intend to stay once the training event is concluded.

Image courtesy of Elizabeth Arrott / VOA – Voice of America via Wikipedia

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