Belarussian President Alexander Lukashenko (Aliaksandr Ryhoravič Lukašenka) warns that NATO is trying to “drown” Eastern Europe in blood, but insists he doesn’t want war with Ukraine.
Russia has sent thousands of troops into Belarus, but the country’s authoritarian leader said Friday there will only be war if “aggression is committed against Belarus” or “our ally Russia.”
“If our country faces aggression, there will be hundreds of thousands of Russian soldiers here, who will defend this sacred land together with hundreds of thousands of Belarusians,” President Alexander Lukashenko said in a national address.
The Russian troops, as well as two battalions of S-400 surface-to-air missile systems, Sukhoi Su-35 fighter jets, and a Pantsir missile system, according to the Russian defense ministry, are ostensibly in the country to perform joint drills next month.
The worry is that those forces, plus the more than 100,000 Russian soldiers gathered around Ukraine, will be launched against Ukraine if Russia doesn’t succeed in its demands to reshape European security relationships and give it a sphere of influence over its former empire in Eastern Europe.
The United State has been issuing increasingly alarmed warnings about Russia’s intentions and is keeping a close eye on the deployments in Belarus.
“They’re along the entire Belarus border,” U.S. President Joe Biden told journalists earlier this week.
Russian President Vladimir Putin and Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko shake hands during a joint news conference in Moscow, Russia February 18, 2022
U.S. State Department spokesman Ned Price said on Thursday that “tens of thousands” of Russian troops were “flooding into what should be a sovereign, independent country — that is Belarus — in [a] position that would allow Russia to move swiftly from multiple directions in Ukraine should it so choose.”
Belarus and especially Lukashenko are completely dependent on Russia. Russian President Vladimir Putin is one of Lukashenko’s few allies and helped him ride out a massive wave of protests following fraudulent presidential elections in 2020.
“The Kremlin uses Lukashenko’s weak position for its own political purposes — to extend its influence,” exiled opposition leader Svetlana Tikhanovskaya stated. “Currently, Lukashenko is weaker than ever.”
She said Lukashenko “wants to show his loyalty” to Putin by allowing the deployment of troops, and accused him of trying to create foreign threats — in Friday’s speech he attacked the West, Poland, and Lithuania for posing a danger to his country.
“[State] propaganda works hard to intimidate Belarusians, but no one takes Lukashenko’s words seriously,” she said.
Despite worries over Putin’s intentions, which Biden said are “a little bit like reading tea leaves,” Lukashenko insisted he doesn’t want war, saying, “God forbid I fight against” Ukraine.
But he warned that the West is seeking “to drown the Russian-Ukrainian brotherhood, our Slavic brotherhood, in blood,” adding, “But we will return Ukraine to the bosom of Slavs. We will definitely do it.”
Despite Tikhanovskaya’s criticism and Western worries that he’s Putin’s puppet, Lukashenko faces little domestic opposition to his tight alliance with Russia. On Thursday, human-rights watchdogs said there were 1,000 political prisoners in the country.
“This shameful milestone reflects [an] ongoing crackdown of the Lukashenko regime against his population. In addition, many thousands of protesters have fled the country to avoid persecution,” the EU’s diplomatic service said in a statement.