Putin Embraced By Lukashenko In Rare State Visit As Fears Mount Belarus Could Join Offensive
Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko said the situation in neighboring Ukraine is “escalating” just before receiving a rare in-country visit by his Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin. In statements published by the presidential press service, Lukashenko sought to refute rumors and allegations that Moscow is essentially running the country. This as Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov and Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu were already in Minsk on Monday just ahead of Putin’s arrival in Minsk.
While still under Western sanctions over Belarus’ role in assisting Russia as a staging ground for the Ukraine invasion, Lukashenko has struck a fiercely defiant tone, saying “I would like to emphasize this feature once again: no one, except us, governs Belarus.” He added: “We must always proceed from the fact that we are a sovereign state and independent.”
On deep ties with Russia as part of the ‘Union State’ Lukashenko said Belarus will “never be enemies” with the country. “This is the state closest to us, the peoples closest to us,” he explained . “I think that as long as we are in power, we will adhere to this trend. If it were otherwise, it would be like in Ukraine.”
The two countries do indeed seem to be signaling escalation in Ukraine, given their militaries launched huge joint drills in Belarus involving tank and infantry maneuvers, and artillery and sniper exercises.
“From the morning until the evening twilight – there is not a single second of silence at the training grounds of Belarus,” the Belarusian defense ministry said in releasing footage.
This has sparked fears in Kiev and among its Western backers that Belarusian forces could directly enter the Ukraine conflict in support of the Russian defense ministry.
Last February, a major Russian military build-up on Belarusian soil ostensibly for “training exercises” turned out to be the precursor to major invasion. While there were conflicting reports at the time that Belarusian ground units had entered Ukraine, this turned out to be premature, as Belarus limited its participation to playing host to Russian forces as a logistics and staging ground of sorts.
All eyes will be on the potential for a huge announcement by Putin and Lukashenko, given the timing of the official trip…
Lukashenko personally meets Putin at the airport in Minsk.
Putin visited Belarus for the first time since June 2019.
Presumably, he arrived to persuade Lukashenko about direct involvement in the war pic.twitter.com/jSW6EN8vIz
— Anton Gerashchenko (@Gerashchenko_en) December 19, 2022
It will mark Putin’s first state visit to Belarus in three years, as The Hill has noted. If Belarus is about to enter the war, it could be the result of several of Moscow’s “red lines” having been cross.
As AFP has reported Monday, Ukraine has once again launched attacks on a border city and region inside Russia proper. “In fighting that has spilled over into Russian regions bordering Ukraine, one person was killed, and others were wounded Sunday in Belgorod following attacks that the local authorities blamed on Kyiv.”
#Belarus On December 16, another echelon with around 50 Ural trucks arrived in Belarus from #Russia. This is in addition to 30 trucks that were delivered a few days earlier. Russia is definitely moving military equipment to Belarus. pic.twitter.com/LJzgBzx4mQ
— Hanna Liubakova (@HannaLiubakova) December 19, 2022
“Governor Vyacheslav Gladkov said Ukrainian strikes left around 14,000 people without power in a district of the Belgorod region,” the report indicated.
Another among Moscow’s red lines is the potential for Washington to provide Ukraine with Patriot anti-air defense missiles. The White House is said to be finalizing plans, however, could be stalling the decision especially given the latest maneuvering between Russian and Belarus.