Up to 9,000 Russian soldiers and around 170 tanks will be deployed in Belarus, a Moscow ally, to build up a new joint force, the Belarus ministry of defense said Monday.
The creation of the new force tasked with defending the Belarussian borders against a perceived Ukrainian threat was announced last week following Russian setbacks in its offensive in Ukraine.
The “total number” of Russian soldiers “due to arrive in Belarus is up to 9,000,” according to Valeri Revenko, the Belarussian defense ministry advisor for international military cooperation, speaking on Telegram.
Revenko said Russia will also send to Belarus “around 170 tanks, up to 200 (other) armoured vehicles and up to 100 weapons and mortars with a calibre exceeding 100 mm.”
Russian units will be deployed to four training grounds in the east and the center of Belarus, where they will take part in exercises involving notably “combat firing and anti-air missile firing,” Revenko said.
Belarus insists the force will be uniquely defensive and aims to secure its borders.
Last week the leader of Belarus Alexander Lukashenko claimed Ukraine was plotting to attack his country and announced a joint force with Moscow.
Lukashenko accused Poland, Lithuania, and Ukraine of training Belarusian radicals “to carry out sabotage, terrorist attacks and to organise a military mutiny in the country.”
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky accused Russia of “trying to directly draw Belarus into this war” at a recent G7 meeting.
Zelensky called for an international observer mission to be placed on the Ukraine-Belarus border.
Lukashenko is an ally of Russian President Vladimir Putin and allowed Belarusian territory to be used by Moscow’s troops to launch a military operation against Kyiv in February.
But Belarusian armed forces have up to now not taken part in the offensive.
Belarus relies financially and politically on its key ally Russia.
In the summer, Russia promised Belarus it would deliver in a few months Iskander M missiles capable of carrying nuclear warheads and that it would modernize warplanes.