Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko says he did not expect Russia’s offensive in Ukraine to last so long and claimed he is doing “everything” to stop the more than two-month-long war.
Lukashenko defended Russia’s self-described “special military operation” on Thursday and accused Kyiv of “provoking” Moscow but said he had not thought the former’s campaign would “drag on this way”.
“But I am not immersed in this problem enough to say whether it goes according to plan, like the Russians say, or like I feel it. I want to stress one more time, I feel like this operation has dragged on,” Lukashenko told The Associated Press news agency.
He insisted that Belarus, which shares a border with Ukraine and is a staunch ally of Moscow, is pushing for a peace agreement between the two sides.
“We categorically do not accept any war. We have done and are doing everything now so that there isn’t a war. Thanks to yours truly, me that is, negotiations between Ukraine and Russia have begun,” Lukashenko said.
“But why is Ukraine, on whose territory a war in effect is ongoing … why is Ukraine not interested in these negotiations?”
Use of nuclear weapons ‘unacceptable’
Lukashenko also said it would be “unacceptable” to use nuclear weapons but added he could not say if Russia has such plans.
“Not only is the use of nuclear weapons unacceptable because it’s right next to us – we are not across the ocean like the United States. It is also unacceptable because it might knock our terrestrial ball flying off the orbit to who knows where,” Lukashenko said.
“Whether or not Russia is capable of that – is a question you need to ask the Russian leadership.”
Russia deployed forces to Belarusian territory under the pretext of military drills prior to launching its invasion and then funnelled troops into Ukraine when it began the offensive on February 24.
Lukashenko publicly supported the move, alleging at a meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin in early March that Ukraine planned to attack Belarus and Moscow’s offensive prevented that.
He said he brought a map to show Putin from where the alleged attack was supposed to take place but offered no other evidence to support the claim.
‘We do not threaten anyone’
Thursday’s interview came after Belarus’s military announced snap drills earlier this week that raised concerns in Ukraine. However, Lukashenko said the exercises posed no threat.
“We do not threaten anyone and we are not going to threaten and will not do it,” he said.
“Moreover, we can’t threaten. We know who opposes us so to unleash some kind of a conflict, some kind of war here … is absolutely not in the interests of the Belarusian state. So the West can sleep peacefully.”
On Wednesday, a spokesperson for Ukraine’s state border service said Kyiv had not ruled out the possibility that Moscow could yet utilise Belarus’s military as part of its offensive.
Andriy Demchenko said Ukraine was “ready” for any such mobilisation by its neighbour’s military.