Russian President Vladimir Putin is likely to put pressure on Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko to force concessions on Russian-Belarusian integration at the upcoming December 19 meeting in Minsk, Putin’s first meeting with Lukashenko in Minsk since 2019, and it is not yet clear whether Putin will be able to get the desired concessions from Lukashenko, according to a December 16 report by analysts from the Institute for the Study of War (ISW).
“Putin’s visit to Minsk could indicate that Putin is trying to set conditions for the newly assessed most dangerous course of action (MDCOA) that ISW reported on December 15: a renewed offensive against Ukraine – possibly against northern Ukraine or Kyiv – in winter 2023… ISW’s December 15 MDCOA warning forecast about a potential Russian offensive against northern Ukraine in winter 2023 remains a worst-case scenario within the forecast cone. ISW currently assesses a Russian invasion of Ukraine from Belarus as low, but possible,” the report notes.
Analysts say it is unlikely that Belarusian forces will invade Ukraine without a Russian strike force. “It is far from clear that Lukashenko would commit Belarusian forces to fight in Ukraine even alongside Russian troops. There are still no indicators that Russian forces are forming a strike force in Belarus,” the ISW said.
It is also noted that Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu and Belarusian Defense Minister Viktor Khrenin signed an unspecified document to further strengthen bilateral security ties – likely in the context of the Russian-Belarusian Union State – and increase Russian pressure on Belarus to further support the Russian invasion of Ukraine.
“Putin and Lukashenko’s meeting will – at a minimum – advance a separate Russian information operation that seeks to break Ukrainian will and Western willingness to support Ukraine, however. This meeting will reinforce the Russian information operation designed to convince Ukrainians and Westerners that Russia may attack Ukraine from Belarus. Russia’s continued strikes against Kyiv, constant troop deployments to Belarus, and continued bellicose rhetoric are part of [and mutually reinforce] this information operation,” the report notes.
At the same time, the ISW said that the Kremlin is unlikely to break the Ukrainian will to fight. The Kremlin likely seeks to convince the West to accept a false fait accompli that Ukraine cannot materially alter the current front lines and that the war is effectively stalemated. “ISW assesses that such a conclusion is inaccurate and that Ukraine stands a good chance of regaining considerable critical terrain in the coming months,” the document notes.