March 24, 2023

Belarusian planes are now capable of carrying Russian nuclear weapons, Belarusian leader Alexander Lukashenko announced on Friday, an ominous sign six months after Russian President Vladimir Putin went to war in Ukraine.

His threatening statement came just days after he sent a happy Independence Day message to Ukraine, when he expressed his hope for “peaceful skies” in the country.

Lukashenko, a longtime ally of Putin, wants Ukrainians “to have the sky of peace, tolerance, courage, strength and success to return to a decent life.”

“I am convinced that today’s conflicts will not destroy the centuries-old sincere good-neighborly relations between the two peoples. Belarus will continue to support the maintenance of harmony and the development of friendly and mutually respectful ties at all levels,” Lukashenko says Wednesday marked the 31st anniversary of Ukraine’s independence from the Soviet Union and, perhaps coincidentally, the six-month mark of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine earlier this year.

Ukraine rejected the Belarusian leader’s “cynical” greeting at the outset.

“Lukashenko truly believes that the world will not notice his involvement in targeting [Ukraine]. That’s why he cynically wants ‘peaceful skies’ by shelling us,” Mihailo PodoljakSenior adviser to Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky said. “This bloody clown was recorded and there will be consequences.”

News that Belarusian Su-24 aircraft have been converted to carry Russian nuclear weapons coincides with Russia’s efforts to spread the image that Moscow is supporting Putin’s fighting forces in Ukraine. Putin issued an order earlier this week to increase Russia’s armed forces by 137,000, with a goal of bringing the total to 1.15 million. It is unclear whether Putin will rely on conscription or finding volunteers.

But if history and eyewitness accounts were any guide, it probably wouldn’t make a difference. Efforts to recruit more fighters for Ukraine early in the war did not go particularly well. Russia announced an effort to recruit tens of thousands of fighters from the Middle East, an effort that senior U.S. defense officials said at the time did not appear to be true.

According to reports, Russian military leaders have sometimes had to beat commanders and threaten them to sign contracts or face other consequences. a string of complaints Documents filed with the Russian military prosecutor’s office throughout the war, obtained by insiders.

“We’re really facing ‘lawlessness’ from the commander of the military unit – my girlfriend’s grandson came back injured and told how they were beaten by the commander, forcing them to sign a contract,” Gavrilyuk Elena Nikolaevna said, according to The Insider. “I ask you to expedite the investigation of the known facts, to identify those who fraudulently dispatched conscripts, and to try all men, regardless of their position, under wartime laws.”

Another complaint suggested that some military leaders in Russia simply forged signatures to force Russians into service.

“My son is serving in the Belgorod region and he has not been in touch since February 20. I have news that the commander will not release the conscripts and threaten to desert. In the army, everyone knows about it , they forced the children to sign contracts and it turned out who forged it,” another complaint reads.

Efforts and announcements like this to strengthen the Russian military may require significant Russian support if it is to actually bear fruit, said former U.S. ambassador to Ukraine Steven Pifer.

Do you think we’re just shooting? everything’s ready!

“It’s already the Russian army, they say 1 million people, most people say they’re maybe 800,000 people. Even if he does, it will take months, years … to train them,” Pifer Tell The Daily Beast. “Where is he going to get the equipment? A lot of equipment has been destroyed, and they are now bringing T-62 tanks, which in some cases are 40 to 60 years old and have run out of old reserves, And I don’t think they can produce a lot of modern stuff.”

Lukashenko’s announcement of the improved Su-24 in some respects appears to be an attempt to avoid criticism that Russia’s war effort is lagging behind, and Lukashenko and Putin are not just talking.

“Some time ago, Putin and I announced in St. Petersburg that we would refit Belarusian Su-24 aircraft so that they could carry nuclear weapons,” Lukashenko said, according to reports. RIA Novosti, citing Sputnik Belarus. “You think we’re just shooting? All ready!”

But even some Russian officials acknowledge that the war effort is slowing and are struggling to find excuses to explain criticism of why the effort is lagging. Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu claimed that war efforts were slowing down to avoid civilian casualties — a claim that was not true throughout the war, as Russian troops repeatedly attacked civilian buildings, from maternity Hospitals to shopping malls.

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