Lukashenko held hostage by Putin – could pay back with offensive

Lukashenko threatens Ukraine with ‘complete destruction’

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Fears are rising among Ukrainian officials of a potential Belarusian offensive in the country’s northwestern region, as troops continue to build up along the border. According to independent Belarusian media, Belarusian brigades crossed a pontoon bridge over the Neman river as part of a “combat readiness inspection” and conducted military exercises at the border with Ukraine. Vladimir Putin is meeting his Belarusian counterpart in the capital Minsk, which has sparked fears he may pressure Lukashenko to take a more active role in the war and send troops into Ukraine. Ukrainian joint forces commander Serhiy Nayev claimed the talks include plans for “further aggression” against Ukraine and Belarus’ increased participation in the conflict. 

Speaking to Express.co.uk, Franak Viačorka, Senior Advisor to Belarus Opposition leader Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya, said Lukashenko is being “held hostage” by Putin, who plans to launch further assaults on Ukraine and could demand assistance from the Belarusian military as “payback” for the support given in previous years.

In 2020, Lukashenko was rocked by the largest anti-government protests Belarus has seen in recent history, which Belarusian police crushed with violence. 

While the international community condemned cases of torture and the rigged voting process, Putin is suspected to have offered military assistance to help Lukashenko quash civil unrest and gain a sixth term in power.

The Russian leader now believes the Belarusian leader owes him a favour, Mr Viačorka explained: “Putin is asking Lukashenko to pay back.

“And Lukashenko pays his debts to Putin by giving infrastructure, [Belarusian] land, tanks and aircraft to the Russian army.”

However, a direct Belarusian offensive on northwestern Ukraine is “highly unlikely” due to their growing anti-war stance, said Mr Viačorka, who believes Belarus will be used as a “launching pad” to send Russian forces to the battlefront.

“Belarusian are very anti-war, very pro-Ukraine in contrast to Russians who don’t see the cues. It’s a very different reality. Belarusians are very European.”

Only 23 percent of Belarusians support Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, according to Chatham House data posted in July, down from 28 percent in March. 

He added: “Putin will be using Belarusian resources, arms, weapons, missiles” from the Soviet era, which are “crucial for the Russian army”.

In the early days of the war, Putin sent troops to Belarus to conduct military offensives in northwestern Ukraine and the capital Kyiv. The threat of a new offensive has revived concerns in Ukraine, with President Volodymyr Zelensky describing the situation on Ukraine’s border with Russia and Belarus as a “constant priority.”

“We are preparing for all possible defence scenarios,” President Zelensky said, adding that the border situation was discussed at a meeting with his military commanders.

The potential new attack comes as Ukraine’s top general, Valery Zaluzhniy, warned that Russia was preparing 200,000 fresh troops for a major offensive that could come from the East, South or even from Belarus as early as January, but more likely in spring.

In a bid to counter a possible fresh Russian assault in the new year, the Ukrainian President has called on western leaders to meet in Latvia to ramp up the supply of a wide range of weapons systems to his country.

“Whatever the rocket worshippers from Moscow are counting on, it still won’t change the balance of power in this war,” he said.

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In another call for more weapons, Major General Andrii Kovalchuk said he could “foresee” that Russian forces may try to invade Ukraine from all fronts – the north, the east and the south – possibly on February 24 – a year after Putin launched the “special military operation”.

He told Sky News: “We foresee such options, such scenarios. We are preparing for it. We live with the thought that they will attack again. This is our task.”

In a statement, Lukashenko appeared to reject claims that Belarus is Russia’s puppet in the war, saying: “I would like to emphasise 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.”

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