Updated at 17:46,10-07-2018

Belarusian Volunteers Join Ukraine Conflict On Both Sides

Vadzim Smok, BelarusDigest

Earlier this month Belarusian media published a story on the Belarusian military unit Pahonia, which is training in the Valyń region of Ukraine in order to join Ukrainian army.

Fighters do not reveal their names, fearing KGB pressure, but Ukraine officials say many Belarusians contact them to join the unit.

Some Belarusians were also detected on the other side of the conflict. They did not form any special unit and try to remain secret too, since Belarus KGB hs already initiated a number of criminal cases against them for mercenary.

At the same time it seems that Belarus urgently takes lessons from Ukraine conflict, trying to retain full control of situation domestically ahead of 2015 presidential elections.

This month the government upgraded the anti-terrorist legislation, while Lukashenkas speeches get increasingly loaded with security issues. He urges to strengthen Belarusian sovereignty on the basis of strong economy and international authority.

Belarusians Ready to Fight for Ukraine

Since the outbreak of hostilities in Ukraine, some Belarusian citizens seek to personally join the military conflict in Ukraine. Ukrainian TV channels showed stories about Belarusian unit in Valyń region of Ukraine.

The unit has a name Pahonia and trains Belarusians who want to combat with separatists. According to head of Valyń City Council Sergey Guź, this is an initiative of Right Alliance youth organisation, which cooperated with Belarusian oppositional youth for many years.

All volunteers are younger than 30 and many are actively work with Belarusian NGOs. Belarusians do not reveal their names to prevent repressions at home. Malady Front oppositional organisation confirmed that some of its members went to Ukraine. After we announced the unit formation, about 50 people showed contacted us to join it. Sure, Belarus KGB are among them, and we will think of how to deal with it, Sergey Guź said.

In an interview to Rosbalt news agency, an anonymous Pahonia fighter explained that they cross the Belarus-Ukraine border legally, and if questioned on their return home on border they tell they work in Kiev.

We dont tell it to anyone, people would not understand that. Only closest relatives know that we went to war, Pahonia the fighter said.

Belarusian combatants say they decided to help the Ukrainians in their fight against Russia because Belarus can face the same threat in future:

When Georgians said that Ukraine will be the next, nobody believed them. Lukashenka is quite smart, but Moscow will do away with him sooner or later. And we hope our Ukrainian brothers will help us just as we help them now. We are not paid any money here.

Aide to Minister of Internal Affairs of Ukraine Anton Herashchenko confirmed that there indeed are Belarus citizens who want to fight against terrorists in Ukraine. Ukrainian legislation does not allow to use foreign units, but they can easily get Ukrainian citizenship.

Earlier, Semion Semenchenko, the leader of Donbas volunteer battalion reported that 15 Belarusians joined them to fight with pro-Russian forces.

DNR Combatants Face KGB Pressure

As Belarus remains a divided nation over the Russia-EU divide, it is no wonder that Belarus nationals appeared on the other side of the conflict as well.

Earlier this month Ukrainian security service reported that it detained a citizen of Belarus. Allegedly, he came to Odessa together with Russians by the order of Russian intelligence to destabilise situation in the region. They established contacts with local radical groups, distributed leaflets and inspired anti-government protests.

In May, Ukrainian Security Service detained Belarus citizen Alieh Šabalin, who was accused of preparing a terrorist act. However, except for individual cases, no organised units of Belarusians on the side of separatists have ever appeared.

Natallia Krasoŭskaja became perhaps the most famous Belarusian in the pro-Russian camp. A few videos with her appeared online, where she claims she originates from Barysaŭ, Minsk region, and on 5 May came to Ukraine to support the separatists.

She showed her Belarusian passport and addressed Lukashenka, saying that Belarusians back Donetsk Popular Republic.

However, Belarusian authorities seem not to appreciate such pro-Russian patriotism. As Krasoŭskaja informed later, Belarus KGB called her mother to inform that they filed a criminal case against her. She added that other Belarus nationals in DNR army also got information that criminal cases were opened against them.

Securitisation of Lukashenkas Rhetoric

It seems that Belarus is trying to urgently learn lessons from the Ukraine conflict. This month the government amended anti-terrorist legislation, including financing of terrorism, increased punishment for recruitment of mercenaries as well as for training in order to participate in terrorist actions.

On 22 April link Lukashenka in his annual address to Belarusian nation ordered Belarusian security services to closely control those who promotes the Russian issue in Belarus and immediately stop such talks whoever starts them. And as the cases with DNR fighters from Belarus show, KGB indeed fulfil this order.

Publicly though, Lukashenka continues to keep a balance to avoid unambiguous and clear positions on any side of the conflict. His rhetoric mainly involves urges to stop the military actions and restore Slavic unity.

Speaking at the Kupalle annual festival in his native village Aleksandryja on 6 July, Lukashenka stated that Slavic unity fractured seriously, and we should do our best to settle peace in Ukraine. He used similar words on 10 July at the opening of Slavic Fair cultural festival in Viciebsk.

By the way, at the opening ceremony Ukrainian ambassador to Belarus Mikhail Ezhel read a letter of greeting form Ukraine president Poroshenko.

At the same time, Lukashenka increasingly raises the issues of national security in his talks with Belarus officials. The weak are abused, and the strong are respected in the new geopolitical reality, so we must be strong politically, and even more economically, he said at the meeting with Belarusian diplomats.

Thus, Belarus leadership continues its double game externally while trying to retain full control of situation domestically.

The fear of combatants, who may come back home as the agents of foreign influence, forces Belarusian authorities to tighten security measures.

Before the 2015 presidential elections, Lukashenka will hardly allow any liberalisation, as the environment remains highly insecure.