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Putin lands in Belarus for talks amid fears of another assault on Ukraine

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  • Kyiv sees Putin pushing Lukashenko to open a new war front
  • Lukashenko has ruled this out but is deeply dependent on Moscow
  • Putin plays a more public role in Ukraine’s faltering war

Dec 19 (Reuters) – Russian President Vladimir Putin visited Belarus on Monday with his defense and foreign ministers, stoking fears in kyiv that he intends to pressure his former Soviet ally to that he join a new ground offensive which would open a new front against Ukraine. .

Putin, whose troops have been pushed back in northern, eastern and southern Ukraine since his invasion in February, is playing a more public role in the war. He went to his headquarters on Friday to survey military commanders.

His trip for talks with Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko was his first to Minsk since 2019 – before the COVID pandemic and a wave of pro-democracy protests in 2020 that Lukashenko crushed with strong Kremlin support.

Russian forces used Belarus as a launching pad for their failed attack on the Ukrainian capital Kyiv in February, and there was Russian and Belarusian military activity there for months.

Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov told Russian news that Belarusian agencies were Russia’s “number one ally” but that Moscow’s proposals to pressure Minsk into joining what she calls his “special military operation” were “stupid and baseless fabrications”.

Ukrainian Joint Forces Commander Serhiy Nayev said he believed the talks would focus on “further aggression against Ukraine and the broader involvement of Belarusian armed forces in the operation against Ukraine, in particular , in our opinion, also on the ground”.

Ukraine’s top general Valery Zaluzhniy told The Economist last week that Russia was preparing 200,000 fresh troops for a major offensive that could come from the east, south or even Belarus as early as January, but more likely in spring.

Moscow and Minsk set up a joint military unit in Belarus and held numerous exercises. Three Russian fighter jets and an airborne early warning and control aircraft were deployed to Belarus last week.

But Lukashenko, a Western outcast who relies heavily on support from Moscow, has repeatedly said Belarus will not enter the war in Ukraine. Foreign diplomats say the commitment of Belarusian troops would be deeply unpopular at home.


Already, Western sanctions have made it difficult for Belarus to ship potash fertilizer, its main export, through Baltic ports.

Western military analysts say Lukashenko’s small army lacks the strength and combat experience to make much of a difference – but by forcing Ukraine to commit forces to its north could make it more exposed to Russian assault elsewhere.

The Pentagon said Dec. 2. 13 that he did not see “any type of imminent cross-border activity on the part of Belarus at this time”.

Putin’s visit was announced on Friday after a surprise announcement on December 13. 3 Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu’s trip to Belarus, where he signed an agreement with his Belarusian counterpart, the details of which have not been disclosed.

Adding to the ominous background music, Belarusian Foreign Minister Vladimir Makei, one of the few officials in Lukashenko’s government with connections to the West, died suddenly last month. No official cause of death has been announced.

His successor, Sergei Aleinik, met Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov on Monday.

Lukashenko said he and Putin would discuss a long-term effort to integrate their respective former Soviet republics into a supranational Union state. The talks are seen by the Belarusian opposition as a vehicle for creeping Russian annexation.

The Belarusian state news agency, BelTA, said it would take questions from reporters after their interviews.

At a government meeting after talks with Putin were announced, Lukashenko unexpectedly said any ceding of sovereignty would be a betrayal of the Belarusian people.

“Especially after these large-scale negotiations, everyone will say, ‘That’s it, there are no more authorities in Belarus, the Russians are already walking around and running the country,'” Lukashenko said.

“I want to stress this in particular again: no one but us is running Belarus.”

He said he would discuss economic cooperation, energy supply, defense and security with Putin.

Russian agencies quoted Peskov as saying “no one is pressuring anyone to fit in.”

Written by Tom Balmforth and Kevin Liffey; Editing by Tomasz Janowski and Mark Heinrich

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