Is Russia About to Invade Belarus?
Russia will hold what may be its biggest military exercises in the post-Soviet era, possibly utilizing as many as 100,000 troops.
The weeklong Zapad military exercises, which start on September 14, will be held primarily in Belarus. Other former Soviet satellites in the neighborhood are eyeing the massive exercises nervously. They suspect that Russian President Vladimir Putin will use the war games to permanently increase Russia’s military presence in Belarus. Some even fear that he may use the exercises as a Trojan horse to take over the country.
According to international law, observers from other countries must be invited to war games that involve more than 13,000 troops. Russia has stated that the number of troops involved in the exercises will be about 12,700. Analysts consider it too convenient that this number is just below the limit.
The Belarussian Defense Ministry has invited observers from seven countries. But nato says that this gesture still falls short. Reports vary, but many experts expect the Zapad exercises to involve more than 100,000 troops. For exercises of that magnitude, any country that wants to observe should be allowed to—not only a select few.
Some experts caution that those numbers are blown out of proportion. Russia has organized 4,000 railway cars to transport troops and equipment into Belarus. If Russia only sends troops by train, the maximum capacity would be 30,000.
Even if that number is correct, however, it is still double the number that Russia reported. The 30,000 figure also doesn’t exclude troops already in place in Belarus or any that may arrive by air or other means. With that in mind, this may be the largest Russian exercise since 1991.
The Zapad exercises occur every four years. Historically, the exercises have been a way for Russia to show off its military might. The 2009 Zapad exercises, which involved 12,500 troops, simulated an invasion of Poland and a nuclear strike on Warsaw. The 2013 exercises involved at least double that number of troops. The war games that year also ended with a simulated nuclear strike, this time on Sweden.
For Russia, military exercises are a convenient excuse for troop movements that would otherwise be suspicious. In 2014, Russia used exercises as a cover for preparing to annex Crimea and invade Ukraine. James Carafano, the vice president of foreign and defense policy studies at the Heritage Foundation, told cnbc: “Unfortunately, the Russians have a big habit of actually doing operational activities under the guise of war games. This goes back to the days of the Soviet Union. So it definitely makes people nervous.”
This is why Estonia, Latvia and Poland are so concerned about this year’s exercises. These three nato member nations border Belarus. They fear that if Vladimir Putin sends this many troops into Belarus, he may not bring them back out. A larger Russian presence there would endanger these three nations in particular. Belarus is the only buffer zone between them and the Russian bear.
Some analysts worry that Russia may be planning to annex Belarus during the war games. This is definitely possible, but unlikely. However, Russia doesn’t have a lot to gain from the move. Belarus is already securely in its back pocket.
Belarus’s current president, Alexander Lukashenko, was the only member of the Belarussian parliament who voted against independence from Russia in 1991. His government has been uniformly pro-Russian. He has been called “the last dictator of Europe” because his government is so repressive—just like Putin’s. Since Putin’s rise to power, Lukashenko has realized that to stay powerful, he needs to be close to Russia. He also knows that if Russia decides to take over, he is helpless to stop it.
Putin is moving multiple thousands of troops and a lot of military hardware into Belarus during next month’s exercises. He could conceivably leave some or all of them there. Instead of annexation, that could mean a proxy Russian occupation of the country. Putin knows that Belarus is an ideal launching pad for further campaigns in eastern Europe.
Former Estonian Defense Minister Margus Tsahkna told Reuters in April: “For Russian troops going to Belarus, it is a one-way ticket. This is not my personal opinion, we are analyzing very deeply how Russia is preparing for the Zapad exercises.”
Whatever the outcome of the Zapad exercises, one thing is certain: They are just another example of Russia’s rising military might. The fact that Europe is thrown into turmoil at the mere threat of substantial Russian troop movement shows how much these “tidings from the east” are already troubling the Continent. Europe is on the watch—and for good reason.
After Putin attacked Georgia in 2008, Trumpet editor in chief Gerald Flurry wrote (emphasis added throughout):
Vladimir Putin is called the prime minister of Russia, but that is a cover-up. He really is the dictator of Russia. He called the breakup of the Soviet Union “the greatest geopolitical disaster of the 20th century.” That gives you some insight into his thinking. He is trying to resurrect the Soviet empire.
Putin has big plans. The former kgb operative desires to be the one to bring the old Soviet empire back together. Putting a stronger military presence in Belarus is a step in that direction.
Read this excerpt regarding the breakup of the Soviet Union from our booklet about Herbert W. Armstrong, He Was Right:
Why is the loss of these Eastern European nations significant? Because it drastically weakens Russia’s western border defenses. Russia has learned, having suffered three European invasions in two centuries, that it needs a strong buffer against Germany on its western flank. With that buffer removed, Vladimir Putin’s Russia has been on a rampage to rebuild Russian strength. His February 2014 annexation of Crimea, Ukraine, was a part of this campaign. Putin seeks to create a buffer at the Ukraine plain and reassert its influence in the Caspian region. Russia … would like nothing more than to bring the former-ussr Commonwealth of Independent States (Armenia, Azerbaijan, Georgia, Kazakhstan, Belarus, Kyrgyzstan, Moldova, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, Ukraine and Uzbekistan) back in the Kremlin’s fold. In some of these nations, such as Georgia, Ukraine and Moldova, Putin has already regained de facto control of some key regions. In others, such as Belarus, Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan, he is essentially king of the whole nation in all but name.
No matter what happens in September, the Zapad military exercises show Russia’s increasing aggression. If Russia annexes Belarus—or if it doesn’t—this situation still illustrates the rise of the kings of the east, of whom Russia is a major player.
At the same time, these kind of exercises are pushing Europe to unite. Hungary recently joined Romania and Bulgaria’s Black Sea military drills for the first time. These are changes that the Trumpet and its predecessor, the Plain Truth, have forecast for decades. Both magazines have long said that a united Europe will emerge with an eastern and western leg.
This European power, along with a strong Russian leader, were both forecast in your Bible. The book of Daniel foretells the rise of this European power and exactly how it will clash with its eastern neighbors. To learn more, read Mr. Flurry’s free booklet The Prophesied ‘Prince of Russia.’