Russian President Vladimir Putin’s first visit to his ally Alexander Lukashenko in three years was accompanied by joint maneuvers by Russian and Belarusian army units on Monday. While the Belarusian president urged even closer military cooperation during his meeting with Putin, the Kremlin chief spoke of “very fruitful” consultations. Meanwhile, concerns are growing in Ukraine that attacks from Belarus are imminent.
The Russian Defense Ministry released footage of tank artillery exercises in a snowy landscape in Belarus on Monday. “From sunrise to sunset, there is not a moment of silence on the training fields in Belarus,” the ministry said.
Lukashenko: Do not send soldiers to Ukraine
The Ukrainian government recently expressed fears that a Russian offensive on Kyiv could come from Belarusian territory in the early months of 2023, after the neighboring country announced in October that it was entering into a joint military alliance with Russia. Thousands of Russian soldiers will be stationed in Belarus for this purpose. However, Lukashenko had repeatedly stated that he had no intention of sending soldiers to Ukraine.
Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov also denied that Putin traveled to Belarus to persuade Minsk to join the conflict in Ukraine. Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky said in his video message on Sunday that “protecting the border with Russia and Belarus” was a “firm priority”. “We are preparing for all possible defensive scenarios,” he added.
After Putin’s meeting with Lukashenko, the Russians announced continued military cooperation and even closer economic cooperation. According to reports, Belarusian aircrew will be trained for possible nuclear weapons missions.
Lukashenko: “We are open to dialogue with Europeans”
According to Putin, both Moscow and Minsk have successfully resisted Western sanctions and attempts to isolate Russia and Belarus. “We are coordinating our steps to minimize the impact of illegal restrictions on our economy,” Putin said. “And we do that quite convincingly and effectively.” “Russia and Belarus are open to dialogue with other states, including European ones,” Lukashenko said. At the same time, he called on Western countries to “listen to the voice of reason”.
Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, who had also traveled to Minsk, found harsher words for Ukraine’s Western allies. The “hysterical reaction” to the “military special operation,” as the invasion of Ukraine is called in Moscow’s official parlance, reinforced Russia’s view that the war was “absolutely necessary.” With the move, Moscow destroyed the “geopolitical games of the West” that wanted to make Ukraine a permanent threat to Russia, the state agency TASS quoted the Russian foreign minister as saying.
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