Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko, days after reigniting concerns he could commit his army to support Russian forces in Ukraine, has warned against forcing his key ally “into a corner”, saying Russia has nuclear weapons for a reason.
In extracts of an interview with United States-based broadcaster NBC that were released on Friday by Belarus’s state news agency, Lukashenko said, “The most important thing is, don’t drive your interlocutor and even your opponent into a corner. So you mustn’t cross those lines – those red lines, as the Russians say. You can’t cross them.”
In recent weeks, there has been growing concern that Russian President Vladimir Putin may resort to nuclear weapons since a series of defeats for his forces in Ukraine swung the momentum of the war in Kyiv’s favour.
“As for nuclear weapons, any weapon is a weapon created for something,” Lukashenko, who has ruled Belarus since 1994, was quoted as saying.
“Russia has clearly outlined its position: God forbid there will be an attack on the territory of the Russian Federation; in that event, Russia can use all types of weapons if necessary,” he added.
Lukashenko has no say in Putin’s military decisions but his comments served to underline the heightened tensions as the war nears the end of its eighth month.
Last month, Putin unilaterally proclaimed four Ukrainian regions as part of Russia, a move overwhelmingly condemned this week by the United Nations General Assembly, and has said he will defend Russia’s “territorial integrity” by all means, including nuclear weapons if necessary.
Lukashenko said separately he had placed Belarus in what he called a state of heightened “terrorism” alert because of tensions on its borders.
He linked that move to his announcement on Monday that he had ordered Belarusian troops to deploy with Russian forces near Belarus’s southern border with Ukraine.
Belarus relies financially and politically on its key ally Russia. In late February, Lukashenko allowed Russia to use his country’s territory as one of the launchpads for its invasion of neighbouring Ukraine.
Its latest troop movements have raised concern in Kyiv and the West that Lukashenko may be about to send Belarusian troops to back Russia’s faltering war effort.
Political analysts have said that is an unappealing option for him but that he may not be in a position to refuse if Putin demands it.
The Russian president’s support helped Lukashenko survive mass pro-democracy protests in 2020. Lukashenko crushed the demonstrations and all leading opposition figures have been jailed or forced to flee abroad.
Lukashenko also claimed this week that Ukraine was plotting to attack Belarus, cautioning it against assaulting “even one metre of our territory with their dirty hands”. His defence minister, Viktor Khrenin, also warned Ukraine not to provoke Belarus, saying, “We don’t want to fight” and stressing a day later, however, that the joint force is for defence.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy responded by saying his country was not planning military actions against Belarus and accused Russia of “trying to directly draw Belarus into this war”.