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Russian President Vladimir Putin claimed Friday that western alliances in the wake of Moscow’s invasion of Ukraine are “pushing” Russia and Belarus to unite.
Belarusian President Aleksandr Lukashenko has thus far been able to keep Minsk’s direct involvement out of the war in Ukraine, but comments by Putin posted to the Kremlin’s website suggest this may not be the case for long.
“The unprecedented political and sanctions pressure from the so-called ‘collective West’ is pushing us to speed up the unification processes,” the Kremlin chief said according to Russian media outlet RIA. “After all, together it is easier to minimize the damage from illegal sanctions, it is easier to master the production of demanded products, develop new competencies and expand cooperation with friendly countries.”
Putin did not go into detail on what an extended alliance with Belarus would look like, but Ukrainian officials have been sounding the alarm that Russia is looking to bring Belarus into the war as the conflict drags on.
The Russian president’s comments come just days after NATO – a security alliance Putin has listed as his chief threat – announced it was not only expanding its membership by adding Sweden and Finland but was increasing its military presence throughout Europe.
Lukashenko has faced condemnation at home and abroad for his unwavering allegiance to Putin, and in the lead up to the war, allowed Russia to station thousands of its troops along its shared border with Ukraine.
Belarusian forces have not yet been active in the war in Ukraine, but missiles fired at Kyiv by Russian forces from within Belarus’ borders last week have many concerned that Minsk could become more directly involved.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenkyy warned Minsk against entering the war and promised there would be repercussion for acting as even a passive participant.
“Firstly, all pilots, dispatchers, mechanics, and other people who ensure the launch of missiles at Ukraine must understand: We will find you all,” Zelenskyy said during a Sunday night address.
“Each of you will be responsible for these strikes,” he added. “And if someone thinks that he will evade responsibility by saying that such was the order, you are mistaken.”
Putin announced over the weekend that Moscow will send Minsk nuclear-capable Iskander-M missiles and upgrade the country’s Sukhoi Su-25 fighter jets to enable them to carry nuclear weapons.
“We are very concerned about training flights by the U.S. and NATO airplanes, which practice carrying nuclear warheads and nuclear weapons,” Lukashenko said while meeting with his Russian counterpart, reported Defense News. “Therefore, I ask you to consider an equivalent response to these actions, without overdoing it.”
Ukrainian officials have also warned that Russia could carry out a false flag operation in Belarus and blame it on Kyiv in an attempt to instigate Minsk and drag it into the deadly conflict.