Russian President Vladimir Putin visited Belarus on Monday accompanied by his defense and foreign ministers, raising fears in Kyiv that he intends to pressure his former Soviet ally into joining a new ground offensive that will open up a new front against Ukraine.
Putin, whose forces have retreated in northern, northeastern and southern Ukraine since the February invasion, is playing an overt role in the war. He traveled to his operations headquarters on Friday to seek advice from military leaders.
His trip for talks with Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko was his first to Minsk since 2019 — before the COVID-19 pandemic and the wave of pro-democracy protests in 2020 that Lukashenko crushed with strong Kremlin support.
Russian forces used Belarus as a launching pad for their failed assault on the Ukrainian capital, Kyiv, in February, and there has been Russian and Belarusian military activity there for months.
Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov told Russian news agencies that Belarus is Russia’s “number one ally”, but suggestions that Moscow aims to pressure Minsk into joining what it calls its “special military operation” were “stupid and baseless fabrications”.
And the commander of the Ukrainian joint forces, Serhiy Naif, had said that he believed that the talks would focus on “new aggression against Ukraine and a broader participation of the Belarusian Armed Forces in the operation against Ukraine, in particular, in our opinion also on the ground.”
The general in the Ukrainian chef, Valeriy Zaluzhny, declared the top rank in the Economist that the Russians preparaited 200,000 new soldiers for an offensive attack that struck the end of the world, or even the end of Bielorus since January, with more probablement in spring.
Moscow and Minsk have established a joint military unit in Belarus and have conducted numerous exercises. Three Russian fighter jets and an airborne early warning and surveillance aircraft were deployed to Belarus last week.
But Lukashenko, a pariah from the West who relies heavily on Moscow’s support, has said repeatedly that Belarus will not enter the war in Ukraine. Foreign diplomats say sending Belarusian troops would be unpopular at home.
Sanctions affected exports
Already, Western sanctions have made it difficult for Belarus to ship potash fertilizer, its biggest export, through Baltic ports.
Western military analysts say Lukashenko’s small army lacks the strength and combat experience to make a significant difference – but forcing Ukraine to send troops to its north could make it more vulnerable to Russian attacks elsewhere.
The Pentagon said on December 13 that it does not see “any type of imminent cross-border activity from Belarus at this time.”
Lukashenko said he and Putin would discuss long-term efforts to integrate the two former Soviet republics into a supranational union. The Belarusian opposition sees the talks as a means of annexing a creeping Russian.
The Belarusian state news agency, Bilta, said it would take questions from the journalists after their interviews.
And at a government meeting after talks with Putin were announced, Lukashenko unexpectedly said any renunciation of sovereignty would be a betrayal of the Belarusian people.
Especially after such large-scale negotiations, everyone will say, “That’s it, there are no authorities in Belarus anymore, the Russians are already walking around and running the country,” Lukashenko said.
“I especially want to emphasize this once again: no one but us runs Belarus. »