Belarus fills top posts, inspects troops’ combat readiness
Russia’s close ally names a new foreign minister and air force chief, while announcing a snap military inspection.
Russia’s close ally Belarus has named a new foreign minister and air force chief while announcing a snap military inspection, the latest in a burst of exercises that have prompted concern from neighbouring Ukraine.
Belarus’s President Alexander Lukashenko named Sergei Aleinik to head the foreign ministry on Tuesday, replacing Vladimir Makei, who died suddenly at the age of 64 last month. Officials have still not stated the cause of Makei’s death.
Andrei Lukyanovich, previously deputy commander of the air force, was promoted to lead the air force and air defence units, the state news agency Belta said, after his predecessor was removed on grounds of age last month.
Belarus has said it will not enter the war in Ukraine, but Lukashenko allowed Russia to invade northern Ukraine from Belarusian territory on February 24 and in October ordered troops to deploy with Russian forces near the Ukrainian border.
A flurry of Belarusian military action, including a counterterrorism exercise last week, has kept Ukraine guessing about Minsk’s intentions and raised concerns in Kyiv that it might join the war on Russia’s side. Russia and Belarus are formally part of a “union state” and are closely allied economically and militarily.
Western military analysts say Belarus’s small army lacks the strength and combat experience to make a decisive difference, but the risk that it might intervene from the north is a burdensome distraction for Ukraine as it focuses on fighting Russian forces in the south and east.
As part of the exercise announced on Tuesday, Belarusian troops will have to move quickly to “designated areas” and set up bridge crossings over the Neman and Berezina rivers in western and eastern Belarus, the defence ministry said.
“During this period, it is planned to move military equipment and personnel, and to temporarily restrict the movement of citizens (transport) along certain public roads and sections of terrain,” it said.
Meanwhile, air raid sirens wailed across Ukraine on Tuesday after warnings by the country’s leaders that Russia could launch a new wave of missile and drone strikes, but there were no immediate reports of attacks.
Russia has carried out several waves of attacks on Ukrainian energy infrastructure since October, causing power outages across the country.
Several minutes after the first air raid alerts were issued on Tuesday, there had been no reports of missiles being fired at Ukraine.
Ukrainian media said the alerts may have been triggered by MiG fighter jets that took off from Ryazan, near Russia’s border with Ukraine, and flew towards Belarus.