| 29 May 2024, Wednesday |

Lukashenko blames Ukraine for war, warns Belarus will join fight if attacked

Alexander Lukashenko, the authoritarian leader of Belarus, accused Ukraine on Thursday for inciting Russia’s full-scale invasion last year while maintaining that Belarus was “a peaceful nation” despite allowing its territory to be used as a staging area for the conflict.

Yet Lukashenko appeared to once again oppose any temptation from Russia to send his own soldiers into Ukraine, saying that he would only do so if his country was attacked in his customarily cryptic statements at a news conference in Minsk.

In comments that he dressed up as a stern warning to Ukraine and other Western nations, Lukashenko said: “I am ready to fight together with the Russians from the territory of Belarus only in one case: if at least one soldier sets foot in Belarus to kill my people.”

“If they commit aggression against Belarus, the answer will be immediate,” he said. “The war will acquire a completely different scale.”

Lukashenko’s question and answer session with journalists took place a day before he was due in Moscow for a meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin, and his remarks may have been strategically designed to adjust expectations and preempt a request that Lukashenko deploy his own forces in Ukraine.

A year ago, Russian forces in Belarus invaded Ukraine from the north in what was ultimately a disastrous attempt to capture Kyiv, the Ukrainian capital. Those troops were repulsed and later fled back into Belarus.

Since then, as Russia suffered a string of battlefield defeats and heavy casualties necessitating reinforcements, Lukashenko has not offered to send his troops to join the war, despite professions in Moscow and Minsk of growing military cooperation between the countries, including exercises that have led to more Russian troops stationed in Belarus.

Lukashenko’s government has faced a battery of Western sanctions since August 2020, when he claimed to have won a new term in elections widely deemed as fraudulent. Belarus is heavily dependent on Russia for economic aid and security assistance, but Lukashenko so far has proven unwilling to sacrifice his own soldiers to help Putin achieve his goals in Ukraine, including the illegal annexation of four Ukrainian territories.

On Thursday, Lukashenko parroted the Kremlin in blaming Kyiv and the West for the war, saying that Ukraine had provoked the offensive.

“It’s not an invasion; the Ukrainian authorities provoked this operation,” Lukashenko said. “Had they reached an agreement with Russia there would have been no war.”

“There was no invasion,” Lukashenko continued. “I believe this is the protection of the interests of Russia and those people, Russian people, who live there.”

In recent weeks, Kyiv officials have warned that Russia could once again attack from Belarus, possibly further west in an attempt to block the transport of weapons being sent to Ukraine by the United States and other NATO countries.

  • The Washington Post