(Reuters) – The president of Belarus – a close ally of Kremlin leader Vladimir Putin – said on Sunday that his former Soviet state stood by Russia’s full military presence in Ukraine as part of its long-standing commitment to a “union state” with Moscow. .
Alexander Lukashenko, who has been in power since 1994 and is accused in the West of human rights abuses, has allowed Russian troops to use his country’s territory to invade Ukraine.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky said the Belarusian leader’s remarks were a “signal” that his actions should be carefully monitored. Some Ukrainian officials have suggested that Belarus could soon be directly involved in the conflict.
Speaking at a ceremony marking the anniversary of the independence of Minsk by Soviet troops on World War II, Lukashenko said he had thrown his weight behind Putin’s campaign against Ukraine “from day one” in late February.
“Today, we are being criticized for being the only country in the world to support Russia in its fight against Nazism. We support Russia and will continue to do so,” Lukashenko told the rally in a video from the state-run Belta News Agency.
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“And those who criticize us, don’t they know that we have such a close union with the Russian Federation? … that we have virtually a unified army. But you know all this. We will stay together with fraternal Russia.”
Belarus has been committed to a “union state” with Russia since the mid-1990s, but little progress has been made in implementing the plan, and last year Lukashenko insisted his country must retain its “sovereignty.”
Lukashenko, however, has become increasingly dependent on the Kremlin, with Russian support and a security crackdown, prompting widespread protests by protesters accusing him of rigging his re-election in 2020.
Citing Ukrainian media, Zelensky told reporters in Kiev that Lukashenko’s comments were a “dangerous” development.
“Lukashenko’s remarks about an army uniting with Russia are, above all, dangerous for the Belarusian people,” said Jelensky, along with the prime minister of Australia.
“He must not drag Belarus into Russia’s war of aggression against Ukraine. I believe this is a dangerous signal. And I believe we will all see the results of this signal.”
A senior Ukrainian intelligence official said last week that the risk of a direct attack on Ukraine by Belarusian troops was low.
But the mayor of Lviv, Andrei Sadov, said over the weekend that the situation on the Belarusian border was unpredictable and he called a meeting of city officials to work out emergency plans for an extension.
(Reporting by Ronald Popeski; Editing by Diane Kraft)
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