Tensions are mounting at the border between Ukraine and Moscow-allied Belarus, as officials in Kyiv warn of a Russian spring offensive amid ramped-up military attacks from the Kremlin.
In rare access since Russia’s invasion of Ukraine last year, a CNN team visited Belarus’s southwest border near northwest Ukraine, accompanied by state border officials.
Ukraine shares a 1,000-kilometer frontier with Belarus, a country that has played a key role in aiding Russia’s attack.
CNN’s Frederik Pleitgen and his team were 100 meters 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.”
Russia used the territory of Belarus as one of its launch pads for the invasion of Ukraine in 2022. Joint military drills over the last year between Belarus and Russia have contributed to concerns that Belarusian troops could join Russia’s forces in Ukraine.
Earlier this month, the Belarusian defense ministry said a two-week joint air force exercise between Belarus and Russia, which took place from January 16 to February 1, had concluded.
Separately, the ministry announced the start of a week of joint military drills with Russia for the combined command of their regional grouping of forces. The ministry said it is in preparation for the joint Union Shield 2023 exercises the two countries will hold in Russia in September.
Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko has repeatedly dismissed speculation that his troops would directly join the fighting across the border, but in December, Ukraine warned it does “not rule out” a “deliberate provocation” from Russia after Minsk said the wreckage of a Ukrainian missile landed on its territory.