Belarus is now expected to deploy its own troops to assist Russia in attacking Ukraine, a Ukrainian intelligence source and a Biden administration official confirmed Monday.
The news comes as Belarus hosts the Ukrainian defense minister and Russian counterparts to discuss a cease-fire in Ukraine.
A United States senior defense official denied the claim on Sunday about reports that Belarus is preparing paratroopers to attack by air, by saying the Defense Department was not in possession of any evidence supporting the claim.
Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko has said that while his troops are not invading Ukraine at the moment, they will be there if Russia needs them.
Belarus is now officially open to keeping Russian nuclear weapons on its soil, per the results of a referendum held this weekend to amend its constitution. The approved amendment erases Belarus’ non-nuclear status, in a reversal of the arrangements made in the Budapest Memorandum shortly after Lukashenko took power in 1994. The results of the referendum were met with intense protests in Belarus, resulting in the arrests of about 800 people by Monday.
Lukashenko, a former Soviet solider and bureaucrat, violently suppressed protesters and persecuted his opposition after the 2020 presidential election, in which Lukashenko claims to have won a sixth consecutive term with 80 percent of the vote, and Russian President Vladimir Putin may have provided support for him to stay in power.
In 2021, Russia and Belarus held a record number of joint military drills, according to the International Conflict Resolution Center.
In the current war, Belarus has acted as an extension of Russian territory. Many of the Russian troops now en route to Kiev staged in Belarus for weeks. Belarusian land extends the direct access Russia has to Ukraine’s border by about a third.
Since the fall of the Soviet Union, Belarus has overwhelmingly favored expanding ties with Russia and other ex-Soviet republics.
Russia and Belarus created the Union State in 1999 to integrate their economies as well as to share military technology and intelligence.
The U.S. has sanctioned some Belarusian individuals already and said it is prepared to do more. However, the economy in Belarus is already largely dependent on economic ties with Russia and other post-Soviet republics.