Russia has allegedly dispatched its elite Russian tank unit to Belarus for training exercises amid reports that President Vladimir Putin is looking to launch a new invasion of Kyiv from Belarus in the coming weeks.
Ukrainian Intelligence officers have claimed that units from Russia’s 1st Guard Tank Army (GTA) have been sent to Belarus to practice combat coordination.
The Deputy Chief of the General Staff, Brigadier General Oleksiy Gromov, said in a recent press conference: “As part of the deployment of the regional grouping of the allied state, the Russian units of the 2nd Motorised Rifle Division of the 1st Tank Army of the Western Military District are undergoing training and combat coordination.”
Gromov said that Belarusian military instructors were also involved in the training exercises.
According to the UK’s Ministry of Defense, the 1st GTA is one of the most prestigious of Russia’s armies, allocated for the defense of Moscow, and intended to lead counterattacks in the case of a war with NATO.
The 1st GTA has been in the fight since the onset of the Russian invasion of Ukraine. The Russian Army’s assault on Kyiv in the initial weeks of the war was led by the 1st GTA.
However, it was forced to retreat when Ukrainians prevailed in the battle with the help of several Western-supplied anti-tank guided munitions (ATGMs) and Turkish-made Bayraktar drones.
— ?? Ukraine Weapons Tracker (@UAWeapons) March 25, 2022
Whatever was left of the 1st GTA after suffering humiliating losses in its assault on Kyiv, in particular, two regiments of the 4th Guards Tank Division (GTD) and two regiments of the 2nd Guards Motor Rifle Division, were redeployed to the front around Kharkiv.
However, Kyiv launched a counteroffensive in the Kharkiv region on September 6, which surprised the Russian Army, forcing the troops to hastily retreat to the Belgorod region across the border into Russia.
In this counteroffensive, Ukraine’s 4th Tank Brigade comprising T-72s and T-64s, reportedly destroyed half of the Russian 4th GTD in an assault outside the city of Izium.
Reports suggest that by the time the Russian tank division withdrew toward the Russian border, it had lost around 90 T-80U tanks, which is half the number of tanks the division would have at full strength.
The Ukrainian forces captured many of the T-80Us intact, which they could have fixed, painted with the Ukrainian army’s cross insignia, and sent them back into battle.
The newest russian tank T-90M was found in Kharkiv region in perfect condition. We ask its owner(s) to contact the #UAarmy . Please identify yourself by a sign: a white flag. pic.twitter.com/Lo1KeOtepS
— Defense of Ukraine (@DefenceU) September 18, 2022
Some of the captured tanks also included Russia’s most advanced T-90M types, at least one of which the Ukrainian forces have fielded against the Russian forces, as reported by EurAsian Times earlier this month.
Putin Trying To Drag Belarus Into The Ukraine War?
The latest claims by Ukraine of the units from Russia’s 1st GTA having been dispatched to Belarus came amid President Putin’s visit to Belarus on December 19 to meet with his Belarusian counterpart, Alexander Lukashenko.
Experts have warned that President Putin may try to pressure Belarusian President Lukashenko to commit Belarusian forces to support Russia’s war effort in Ukraine.
Since the past few months, Ukrainian Military Intelligence (GUR) has also been raising alarms about a build-up of Russian troops in Belarus for an imminent invasion of northern Ukraine.
In September, the GUR said that the agency expected around 20,000 Russian conscripts to be sent to Belarus for military training.
Brigadier General Gromov warned that Moscow continued to send military equipment and weapons to their units in Belarus, which included tanks and MiG fighter jets that can fire hypersonic missiles.
Russia began transferring to the south of Belarus the equipment that was previously brought to the training grounds with the mobilized Russian Armed Forces – the "Belarusian Gayun" monitoring group.
P.S. Fuck you pic.twitter.com/8HAMvrh4eR
— Lynn Thigpen (@Lynski_07) December 20, 2022
“Last week, one battalion set of tanks each was moved to the Obuz-Lesnovsky and Losvido training grounds,” Gromov said.
President Putin and President Lukashenko appeared at a palace in Minsk following their talks. President Putin said that the two leaders had also discussed forming a “unified defense space,” without describing what that would entail, and had agreed to continue joint military exercises.
Also, the Russian and Belarusian Defense Ministers signed an unspecified agreement to strengthen military ties between the two countries this month. Last week, Belarus said it was checking its troops’ combat preparedness. The last time Belarus did that was just days before Russia’s invasion of Ukraine from its territory.
Therefore, officials in Kyiv have been concerned that Russian forces could prepare for a new assault from Belarus to seize the Ukrainian capital, only about 88 kilometers from the Belarusian border, or to disrupt the flow of Western weaponry and aid into Ukrainian coming from Poland.
However, the US-based Institute for the Study of War (ISW) said in its recent report that a new Russian assault into northern Ukraine seems improbable because “there are still no indicators that Russian forces are forming a strike force in Belarus.”
Some military experts have also cautioned against reading too much into the recent uptick in military activity in Belarus, including the arrival of thousands of Russian troops ostensibly for training, suggesting it could just be aimed at forcing Ukraine to divert its troops to the north from active fronts in the east and south of the country.
Konrad Muzyka, an independent defense analyst, said open-source intelligence suggests that Russia has 10,000 to 15,000 soldiers engaged in training activities in Belarus. However, that was a small fraction of their number when they began the full-scale invasion.
Meanwhile, the Kremlin spokesperson, Dmitri S Peskov, has dismissed speculations that Belarus could become directly involved in the war, telling reporters on December 19 that such reports are based on “totally stupid, groundless fabrications.”
However, Peskov had similarly dismissed warnings from the US at the start of the year that Russia was preparing to invade Ukraine, insisting that Russian troops were sent to Belarus only for training exercises.