Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko has claimed there is “no way” his country would send troops into Ukraine unless it is attacked, amid fears Russia’s close ally will help to facilitate a spring offensive by Moscow.
“We are peaceful people. We know what war is and we don’t want war,” the authoritarian leader Lukashenko, who has close ties with Russian President Vladimir Putin, said at a press conference in Minsk on Thursday.
“There is no way we are going to send our troops to Ukraine unless you are going to commit aggression against Belarus,” Lukashenko said. “But don’t forget Russia is our ally, legally, morally and politically,” he added.
The Kremlin’s spokesperson, Dmitry Peskov, meanwhile announced that Putin will meet with Lukashenko in the Moscow region on Friday.
Belarus helped Russia launch its initial invasion of Ukraine last February, allowing the Kremlin’s troops to enter the country through the 1,000-kilometer (621-mile) Ukrainian-Belarusian border to the north of Kyiv.
Minsk has since claimed on numerous occasions that Ukrainian drones and missiles have entered its territory, sometimes without providing evidence.
There have been fears throughout the conflict that Belarus will again be used as a launching ground for another offensive, or that Lukashenko’s own troops will join the conflict, citing such episodes as provocation against its sovereignty. Tensions have been mounting at the border again in recent days as Ukraine braces for a renewed attack.
Lukashenko continued to say Thursday that Russia has “never asked” him to start a joint war in Ukraine.
A CNN team visited Belarus’s southwest border near northwest Ukraine earlier this week, accompanied by state border officials.
The CNN team were 100 meters (328 feet) away from the Ukrainian side, where they saw the Belarusian government’s fortification of the border area with barbed wire in a carefully orchestrated and tightly controlled press tour.
According to the CNN team on the ground, the Ukrainian side of the border is heavily barricaded with several layers of barbed wire and earth mounds to stop anyone from going through.
Belarusian officials told CNN the border crossing from their side in the small town of Dyvin is still functioning but that the Ukrainian side has closed the crossing.
Kyiv has closed all border crossings to Belarus, except to occasionally allow entry to Ukrainian refugees who are looking to return to their home country, out of concern Belarus could be used for a further invasion by Russia.
The CNN team could see a Ukrainian flag on Ukraine’s side of the border crossing and a red and white flag which is associated with the Belarusian opposition – a move Belarusian authorities called a “provocation.”
Formerly under Soviet control until declaring its sovereignty in 1990, Belarus remains one of Russia’s closest allies and has played a key role in its invasion of Ukraine – despite Lukashenko saying previously his country was “being dragged” into the war.
Russian troops launched the invasion on February 24, crossing into Ukraine from Belarus after months amassing along Ukraine’s border. In the first days of the assault, Russian Tu-22 “Backfire” bombers used Belarusian airspace to launch coordinated cruise missile attacks on targets within Ukraine. More recently, the two nations have engaged in joint military drills near the Belarus-Ukraine crossing.