Russia and Belarus have started combined military drills, causing alarm in Kyiv that a new attack is on the horizon.

On Monday, Russia and Belarus started joint armed forces exercises, which have sparked fears in Kyiv and the West that Moscow could use its ally to launch a fresh ground attack in Ukraine. Last February, Russia utilized its neighbor Belarus as a base for its invasion of Ukraine. According to the Belarusian defense ministry, the air drills will take place from Jan. 16-Feb. 1, using all Belarus military airfields, along with a “mechanized brigade subdivision” joint army exercises. Minsk said the air drills are defensive and will not enter the war. 

Pavel Muraveyko, first deputy state secretary of the Belarusian Security Council, reported on the Belarusian defense ministry’s Telegram app on Sunday that they are exhibiting restraint and patience, keeping their guns unloaded. Muraveyko also shared that the situation on the country’s southern boundary with Ukraine is “not very calm” and that Ukraine has been “provoking” Belarus. 

Russia-Belarus talks
Vladimir Putin and President of Belarus Alexander Lukashenko held a joint news conference at the Kremlin following Russia-Belarus talks (Source: Presidential Executive Office/Wikimedia Commons)

Meanwhile, Moscow has refuted that it has been putting pressure on Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko to take a more active part in the conflict in Ukraine. However, Ukraine has constantly been warning of potential attacks from Belarus. President Volodymyr Zelensky said last week the nation must be ready at its border with Belarus. Belarus has conducted several military exercises since the invasion began, both on its own and with Russia. In combination with Moscow, Minsk has also reinforced the drills with arms and military equipment. 

Unofficial Telegram military monitoring channels have been disclosing a series of fighter jets, helicopters, and military transport planes coming to Belarus since the start of the year – eight fighters and four cargo planes on Sunday alone. Reuters was unable to authenticate the reports. The Belarusian defense ministry said that “units” of Russia’s air force have been arriving in Belarus.

On Sunday, Ukraine had defined expectations of finding additional survivors in the ruins of an apartment building in Dnipro that was hit during a major Russian missile attack, with numerous individuals anticipated to have perished. 

Valentyn Reznichenko, the governor of the Dnipropetrovsk region, stated on Monday that 35 deaths had been verified up until this point and the destiny of 35 more inhabitants was still unknown. He said on Telegram that the search for individuals under the debris was ongoing. Ukraine’s Air Force said that the apartment block was hit by a Russian Kh-22 missile, which is known to be inaccurate, and that Ukraine lacks the air defenses to shoot it down. This missile was developed during the Cold War era to annihilate warships. Moscow has been deploying missiles and drones against Ukraine’s energy infrastructure since October, which has caused widespread power outages and interruptions in central heating and running water. 

In his nightly address after the Dnipro strike, Zelenskiy asked for Western allies to furnish more arms to end “Russian terror” and attacks on civilian targets. On Saturday, Britain followed France and Poland with promises of more weapons, stating it would send 14 of its Challenger 2 main battle tanks and other advanced artillery support in the coming weeks. This first dispatch of Western-made tanks to Ukraine is expected to be seen by Moscow as a heightening of the conflict.