Belarusian planes are now capable of carrying Russian nuclear weapons, Belarusian leader Alexander Lukashenko announced on Friday, an ominous sign six months into Russian President Vladimir Putin’s war in Ukraine.
His threatening announcement came days after he sent a happy Independence Day message to Ukraine, when he wished the country a “peaceful sky”.
Lukashenko, a longtime Putin ally, wished Ukrainians “success in restoring peaceful skies, tolerance, courage, strength and decent life.”
“I am sure that today’s contradictions will not destroy the centuries-old sincere good-neighborly relations between the people of the two countries. “Belarus will stand for the preservation of harmony, the development of friendly and mutually respectful contacts at all levels,” Lukashenko said on Wednesday, marking the 31st anniversary of Ukraine’s independence from the Soviet Union and, perhaps coincidentally, six months from now. A symbol of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine earlier this year.
Ukraine initially rejected the Belarusian leader’s “cynical” greeting.
“Lukashenko really believes that the world does not notice his involvement in the crimes against him [Ukraine]. And so he cynically wishes ‘peaceful skies’ by firing at us.” Mykhailo Podolyak, said a top adviser to Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky. “This blood-soaked clown is on record and there will be consequences.”
The news that Belarusian Su-24 jets have been converted to carry Russian nuclear weapons coincides with Russia’s efforts to dispel the image that Moscow is bolstering Putin’s fighting forces in Ukraine. Putin earlier this week issued an order to increase the size of Russia’s armed forces by 137,000, with a goal of deploying a total of 1.15 million troops. It was unclear whether Putin would rely on drafting or finding volunteers.
But if history and eyewitness accounts are any guide, it probably won’t matter. Efforts earlier in the war to recruit more soldiers for Ukraine did not go particularly smoothly. Russia announced an effort to recruit thousands of troops from the Middle East, an effort that a senior US defense official did not appear to have made at the time.
Russian military leaders sometimes had to beat commanders and threaten to sign contracts or face other consequences throughout the war, according to a series of complaints filed with the Russian military prosecutor’s office throughout the war, which were obtained by insiders.
“We really had to deal with the ‘illegitimacy’ of the commanders of the military units—my friend’s grandson returned wounded and how the commanders beat him, forcing him to sign the contract,” said Gavrilyuk Elena Nikolaevna. inside “I ask you to quickly investigate the facts already known, to identify those who fraudulently sent the appointment to certain death, and to judge everyone, regardless of rank and position, according to the laws of wartime.”
Another complaint suggests that some military leadership in Russia simply forged signatures to force Russians into service.
“My son served in the Belgorod region, he has not been in touch since February 20. I have information that the commander does not leave the recruit, threatens to leave. Everyone in the military unit knows about this, they forced the children to sign the contract, whoever left signed a fake one,” read another complaint.
According to Steven Pifer, former US ambassador to Ukraine, such efforts and announcements to strengthen Russia’s military would likely require a major lift from Russia.
“You think we were just covering our mouths? It’s all ready!“
“It is already the Russian army which they said is 1 million people and most people said they only have 800,000. And even if he did, it would take them months, years to train them,” Pifer told The Daily Beast. “And where is he going to get the equipment? A lot of equipment is destroyed, they are now bringing in T-62 tanks, which in some cases are 40-60 years old, from old reserves, and they will not be able to produce them in my opinion. Lots of modern stuff.”
Lukashenko’s announcement of upgraded Su-24 aircraft appears to be an attempt to somehow fend off criticism that the Russian war effort is lagging behind, and Lukashenko and Putin aren’t just making empty promises.
“Some time ago, Putin and I announced in St. Petersburg that we are going to upgrade the Belarusian Su-24 aircraft so that they can carry nuclear weapons,” Lukashenko said, according to RIA Novosti, citing Sputnik Belarus. “You think we were just mouthing off? It’s all ready!”
But even some Russian officials have acknowledged that the war effort is slowing and are finding excuses to deflect criticism about why the effort is flagging. Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu alleged that the war effort was slowing down to try to avoid civilian casualties – a claim that did not hold true for the entire war, as Russian forces periodically attacked civilian structures. From maternity hospitals to shopping malls.