The visitors climbed into tanks, checked rifles, watched special forces in combat: Last Saturday, the new field camp near the Belarusian city of Rechiza invited to a "military-patriotic event" called "Two States - One People, One History".

Russian and Belarusian flags waved.

According to the news portal, so many people came that the plates for the free porridge from the field kitchen ran out.

Frederick Smith

Political correspondent for Russia and the CIS in Moscow.

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Rechiza in the south-eastern Belarusian region of Gomel has been the destination of Russian military transports since mid-January.

Satellite images show the field camp 50 kilometers from the border with Ukraine with dozens of troop tents and military vehicles.

With the festival, those in power apparently reacted to the fact that residents commented on the march on social networks with concern.

NATO sees the Russian troop concentration in Belarus as the largest since independence in 1991 in preparation for a possible invasion of Ukraine.

On the other hand, Minsk and Moscow present the transfers as part of the joint maneuver "Union Resolve 2022". However, its official territory lies in the west and in the center of Belarus.

The camp in Retschiza and a number of others are far from it.

Troops could advance from the Gomel region on both sides of the Dnieper River to the Ukrainian capital of Kiev.

Lukashenko's "see-saw policy" is over

For a long time, the Minsk ruler Alexandr Lukashenko had promised Moscow loyalty to the alliance, but sought a compromise with the West and Kiev.

This “see-saw” policy has become impossible with the suppression of the 2020 protests.

Now the ruler Vladimir Putin, who has been thrown back to the Kremlin, is giving interviews to the state media in which he wants to prove himself useful to the Russian president and threaten his Western opponents.

Lukashenko said in a similar way that the maneuvers would be directed “if necessary, both against Ukraine and against NATO”.

Lukashenko himself announced the current maneuver in an earlier interview at the beginning of December.

The fact that he also recognized the annexation of Crimea was hardly registered as a "friendly gesture of hopelessness" (as Belarus expert Artjom Schraybman put it).

Lukashenko's proposal to Putin to "bring nuclear weapons back to Belarus" is different.

According to the Budapest memorandum, signed by Lukashenko himself in 1994, the country handed over the Soviet nuclear weapons remaining on its territory to Russia and, like Ukraine and Kazakhstan, received guarantees of sovereignty from Moscow, Washington and London.

According to the previous constitution, Belarus should be a “nuclear weapons-free zone” and “neutral”.

But a referendum on constitutional reform will be held at the end of February.

In future, the corresponding article will say that Belarus excludes military aggression against other states from its territory.

French President Emmanuel Macron has expressed "concern" about the plans just after his meeting with Putin.

Putin, Macron added, had "reassured him about that."

Lukashenko had referred to a statement by NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg, according to which a possible German rejection of “nuclear sharing” could result in (American) nuclear weapons being transferred to other member states, including eastern ones.

In this case, Lukashenko announced that he would come to an understanding with Putin about the stationing of Russian nuclear weapons in Belarus, those that are "most effective".

As a "good householder" he "didn't destroy anything," he said of launching devices for Soviet ICBMs.

The United States stopped supporting the dismantling of 81 such devices in 1997 because of growing human rights abuses under Lukashenko.

But the facilities have been falling into disrepair for three decades.

Military expert Andrei Porotnikov from the Belarus Security Blog is convinced that Moscow has no interest in stationing nuclear weapons in Belarus.

Strategic weapons need extensive protection and distance from the enemy, he points out.

Therefore, Russia has stationed its land-based ICBMs far inland.

Belarus, on the other hand, no longer has the necessary "depth of space" - unlike at the time of the Warsaw Pact, when Poland and the GDR formed buffers.

Militarily, says Porotnikov, only tactical nuclear weapons would make sense, appropriately armed "Iskander" missiles.

Military options for Putin through Misk's dependency

However, this is likely to entail an upgrade of NATO, requiring large investments in infrastructure, long-term troop presence and political reliability.

However, Porotnikov emphasizes that Lukashenko is also considered unpredictable in Moscow, and the situation in Belarus is volatile.

In addition, it is to be expected that Lukashenko would "present Russian nuclear weapons in Belarus as his own" in order to gain leverage in his own struggle with the West.

That is not in the interests of the Kremlin, which wants to control Lukashenko.

Porotnikov therefore considers the move to be another “propaganda and political statement” by Lukashenko and believes that the military options that have arisen from his dependence are sufficient for Putin.

Because now, if necessary, like now for the maneuvers, Moscow brings mobile “Iskander” systems to Belarus and lets the strategic air force patrol the country.