The president of Belarus, who is Russian President Vladimir Putin’s closest ally, said yesterday that his country — a former Soviet republic — fully supports Russia and its military operation in Ukraine as part of its longstanding commitment to a ” unified state” with Moscow.
Alexander Lukashenko, in power since 1994 and accused in the West of human rights abuses, has allowed Russian military forces to use areas of his country for their invasion of Ukraine.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky said the Belarusian leader’s statement was an “indication” that his actions should be closely watched. Some Ukrainian officials hint that Belarus is likely to become directly involved in the war.
Speaking at a ceremony marking the anniversary of the liberation of Minsk from Soviet forces during World War II, Lukashenko said he fully supported President Putin’s operation against Ukraine “from the first day of its launch.” at the end of February.
“Today, we are criticized because we are the only country in the world that supports Russia in its fight against Nazism. We support and will continue to support Russia,” Lukashenko said at the event, according to a video shown by the state-run BelTA news agency.
“And those who criticize us know that we have such a close union with the Russian Federation? … That we practically have a unified army. But you know all this. We will stand together with our sister Russia.”
Belarus has been committed to a “union of states” with Russia since the mid-1990s, but little progress has been made in implementing the plan and last year Lukashenko insisted his country must retain its “sovereignty”.
However, Lukashenko has since increased his dependence on the Kremlin as, with Russian support and a police crackdown, he managed to control mass protests by protesters who accused him of rigging the 2020 re-election.
According to Ukrainian media that broadcast President Zelensky’s statements from Kyiv, Lukashenko’s comments are a “dangerous” development.
“Lukashenko’s statement about a unified army with Russia is most of all dangerous for the people of Belarus,” Zelensky said alongside the Australian prime minister.
“He himself should not drag Belarus into a Russian war of aggression against Ukraine. I believe this is a dangerous sign. I believe we will see the results of this sign.”
A senior Ukrainian intelligence official last week said the risk of an immediate invasion of Belarusian troops into Ukraine was low.
But Lviv Mayor Andriy Sandovy said over the weekend that the situation on the border with Belarus was unpredictable, and he called a meeting with city officials to draw up contingency plans in case the situation escalated.