The increased military activity has raised fears that Moscow could use its neighbor to mount a new ground offensive against Ukraine.
Belarus said joint air force drills with Russia on Monday are defensive in nature, but the drills come amid growing concerns that Moscow is pushing Minsk to join the war in Ukraine.
“The exercise is purely defensive in nature,” said Pavel Muraveyko, first deputy state secretary of the Belarusian Security Council, according to a post on the Belarusian Defense Ministry’s Telegram app on Sunday.
“It will be a set of measures to prepare our air force and that of Russia to carry out the relevant combat missions.”
The drills, which will continue until Feb. 1, will include training for “air reconnaissance, deflection of airstrikes, air cover of important objects and communications”, Muraveyko added.
The buildup of Russian troops in Belarus, combined with a flurry of military activity in the country, echoes developments just before Russia’s February 24 invasion of Ukraine, when Moscow used the country as a springboard to launch the attack.
The latest buildup has sparked fears in Kyiv and the West that Russia could use Belarus to mount a new ground offensive against Ukraine.
Ukraine has continually warned of possible attacks from Belarus, and President Volodymyr Zelenskyy said last week that the country must be ready on its border with Belarus.
The Kremlin has denied pressuring Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko to play a more active role in the conflict in Ukraine. Minsk declared that it would not go to war.
Since the start of the war, Belarus has conducted numerous military exercises, including full-scale, large-scale exercises in late August and a number of smaller exercises, either alone or jointly with Russia.
Along with Moscow, Minsk has also added weapons and military equipment to the drills.
Telegram’s unofficial military monitoring channels have reported a spate of fighter jets, helicopters and military transport planes coming into the country since the start of the year – eight fighters and four cargo planes on Sunday alone.
Reuters news agency was unable to verify the information. The Belarusian Defense Ministry said only that Russian Air Force “units” had arrived in Belarus.
“During the tactical flight exercise, all airfields and training grounds of the Belarusian Armed Forces Air Force and Air Defense Forces will be involved,” the ministry said in a statement.
Muraveyko said the situation on the country’s southern border – the border with Ukraine – was “not very calm” and that Ukraine had “provoked” Belarus.
“We maintain restraint and patience, keeping our gunpowder dry,” Muraveyko said. “We have the necessary set of forces and means to respond to any manifestation of aggression or terrorist threat on our territory.”
Last week, a Russian Foreign Ministry official, Aleksey Polishchuk, warned that if military exercises with Belarus were designed to prevent escalation, Moscow’s closest ally could join the effort to war if Ukraine “invaded”.