Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko has announced that he and Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin have agreed to create a joint “regional grouping of troops” to thwart what Lukashenko claimed is a potential Ukrainian assault on Belarus.
"We need to figure out what else needs to be done to strengthen the security of our state, given the rapidly changing environment," he added, according to comments quoted by the state-run Belta news agency.
Lukashenko, who met with President Putin in St Petersburg, said he had been alerted through unofficial channels of a "Crimean Bridge 2" attack on Belarus, referring to Saturday’s explosion on a crucial bridge connecting Russia and Crimea.
"Ukraine is not just contemplating, but planning strikes on the territory of Belarus," he claimed without evidence, adding that Kyiv was being "pushed by their patrons to unleash a war against Belarus" and Russia at the same time.
But just how close is Belarus to Russia, and would the addition of its armed forces in the Ukraine conflict make a noticeable difference?
Here is everything you need to know.
Where is Belarus?
Belarus is a landlocked country in eastern Europe. The nation is bordered by Lithuania and Latvia to the north, Poland to the west and Ukraine to the South.
Its largest bordering country is Russia to the east, and the country was formerly a member of the Soviet Union. Belarus has remained close to Russia in political terms since the Union’s dissolution in 1991.
The two nations often engage in joint military activities and over the years there have been several treaties agreed upon between Belarus and Russia.
The country’s president is Alexander Lukashenko, who has served since 1994. This makes him the longest serving European leader.
In recent years, Lukashenko has been increasingly reliant on Russia for economic, political, and military support, and Russian forces used Belarus as a base when they invaded Ukraine in February.
How big is Belarus’ army?
There are currently 9.4 million people in Belarus. This makes the country the 20th most populous country in Europe.
According to GlobalFirepower.com, it is estimated that Belarus’ armed forces number around 45,00 in active personnel, with most soldiers being conscripts serving for a period of 18 months.
The country’s armed forces capabilities are ranked at 52 of 142 out of the countries considered for the annual GFP review.
There are thought to be around 290,000 reservists that could be called upon, with just over 5 million people (53% of the population) available, should the country ever need them.
It is thought Belarus’ air force is in control of just over 200 aircraft, though only 67 of these are believed to be dedicated attack craft. The land forces control 600 tanks, and 1,500 armoured vehicles.
Since Belarus is a landlocked country, it has no navy.
Does Belarus have nuclear weapons?
After the Soviet Union fell in 1991, Belarus had 81 single-warhead missiles stationed on its territory. By 1996, these had all been transferred to Russia, after Belarus joined the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) in 1992.
Officially, Belarus does not have nuclear weapons, but in June 2022, President Putin stated that Russia will transfer nuclear-capable short-range missile systems to its ally in the coming months.
He said Iskander-M systems “can fire ballistic and cruise missiles, both conventional and nuclear types”. The systems have a range of up to 500km (310 miles).
In response to a query from Lukashenko, Putin indicated that Russia would assist in modifying Belarusian Su-25 aircraft to carry nuclear weapons