Russia may have also made plans to invade its neighboring country and close ally Belarus, in addition to its ongoing invasion of Ukraine, the Ukrainian Intelligence Directorate (GUR) claimed Tuesday.
The report cites documents obtained by Ukraine's military intelligence service, which seem to depict Russian preparations to mobilize troops to invade and seize Belarusian territory.
While Russia's plans to invade countries have been proven in the past, such as the 2008 invasion of Georgia and the 2014 and current invasions of Ukraine, invading Belarus may seem odd. The Eastern European country is one of Russia's closest allies and relations between the two nations are very strong.
Further, unlike Ukraine, where President Volodymyr Zelensky has been vocal about his opposition to Russia for years, Belarus's President Alexander Lukashenko has much warmer views regarding Moscow and frequently meets with President Vladimir Putin. Russian also has equal status with Belarusian in the country, trade ties are strong and deals have been established to let citizens of both countries travel, work and study between them freely.
But it is with Lukashenko where this motivation – or rather, a pretext – to invade seems to lie.
Lukashenko was elected to a sixth term in office in the country's presidential elections on August 9, 2020, with more than 80% of the vote. However, the election has been widely panned internationally as being rigged, unfree and unfair – claims made by international monitors of every election Lukashenko has won aside from the first in 1994. In fact, his long-term grip on power in Minsk and authoritarian rule even resulted in him giving himself the nickname of "Europe's last dictator."
The election also sparked widespread protests throughout the country for the next 10 months, which also saw Lukashenko crack down on dissidents and see his administration accused of torture and other human rights violations against detainees.
But it seems Russia had anticipated these protests happening.
According to the documents presented by the GUR, Russia planned to invade and suppress these anti-Lukashenko protests. Further, the GUR argued that it also was planned under the pretext of avoiding Russian involvement in Europe or a large-scale conflict with NATO.
When asked, US defense officials said they didn't have anything to comment on possible Russian invasion plans for Belarus in 2020.
Belarus remains a key ally of Russia to this day and Russian troops have retreated into the country after they pulled out of the Kyiv and Chernihiv oblasts of Ukraine.
Many in Ukraine remain worried that Belarusian forces could at some point join the fight on Russia's side.