By SCOTT MCDONALD
The war between Russia and Ukraine is entering some blistering cold months ahead as it enters the fourth quarter of one year of fighting. Russia has retreated in some occupied areas but now has an ally willing to step alongside and fight with it.
Belarus leader Alexander Lukashenko said this weekend that his country and Russia continue training together, with Belarusians preparing to fight alongside Russian comrades against Ukraine.
“I think the Belarusian Minister of Defense has already told you about the situation in Belarus, about the training and combat coordination of the units of Belarus and Russia that are present in Belarus,” Lukashenko said, according to Pravda. “I must say that we have approached this seriously. Both our and your officers are training these guys.
“The Belarusians and the Russians are preparing, so that, in case of need, our first ranks – the defenders of the Union State – could repel any aggression. No one is divided here; we are preparing as a single group, a single army today. Everyone around us knows about it. We didn’t hide it. It’s impossible to hide it in today’s world.”
Belarus has been an ally of Russia since the beginning of Russia’s war of aggression in Ukraine, and Lukashenko has been a staunch ally of Vladimir Putin.
Russia amassed troops along Ukraine’s northern and western borders in late January while it also conducted military operations with neighboring Belarus. Russia attacked Ukraine on February 24 this year.
Since the war began, Russia has failed to occupy Kyiv, Lviv and Odesa, but the Russians have occupied many regions in the eastern part of Ukraine. Russia has occupied most of the Donbas Oblast, which includes Luhansk, Severodonetsk, Donetsk and Mariupol. They have occupied the Crimean peninsula since 2014.
Russia has lost more than 90,000 soldiers during the war, according to estimates from Ukraine”s Ministry of Defense.
Russia has maneuvered troops from various spots in the last few months. The latest is that Russia plans to mobilize troops from Belarus into its occupied territories of Ukraine.
“It is expected that the grouping of the enemy’s troops operating in the temporarily occupied territories of Ukraine will be strengthened due to the transfer of individual units from the territory of the Republic of Belarus after they acquire combat capabilities,” the general staff of Ukraine’s armed forces said last week.
The next fierce battle is likely to happen in Bakhmut, located in the Donetsk region, which is in heavily occupied eastern Ukraine. Temperatures in that part of the country are already frigid.
The city of approximately 70,000 residents has already been reduced to mostly rubble from constant shellings, and soldiers are fighting from underground bunkers.
The Russians could wear down their own troops, and morale, even if they were to take the city and claim victory. A long-fought battle of six months would probably give Russia little reward, according to the Institute for the Study of War (ISW).
“Even if Russian troops continue to advance toward and within Bakhmut, and even if they force a controlled Ukrainian withdrawal from the city (as was the case in Lysychansk), Bakhmut itself offers them little operational benefit,” the Institute for the Study of War stated this week. “The costs associated with six months of brutal, grinding, and attrition-based combat around Bakhmut far outweigh any operational advantage that the Russians can obtain from taking Bakhmut.”