Alexander Lukashenko, the authoritarian leader of ex-Soviet Belarus, has congratulated Ukraine on its Independence Day, saying that “today’s contradictions” should not destroy long-term neighbourly ties with the pro-Western country.
Ukrainian officials and observers found his comments on Wednesday galling, given Belarus is one of Russia’s strongest supporters on the international stage.
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In an unexpected message on his website to mark the 31st anniversary of Ukraine’s independence from the Moscow-dominated Soviet Union, Lukashenko wished Ukrainians “peaceful skies, tolerance, courage, strength and success in restoring a decent life”.
Wednesday also marked six months since the start of Moscow’s military intervention in Ukraine, which Russia launched from several directions, including from Belarusian territory.
“I am convinced that today’s contradictions will not be able to destroy the centuries-old foundation of sincere good neighbourly ties between the peoples of our two countries,” Lukashenko, a close ally of Russian President Vladimir Putin, said.
“Belarus will continue to stand for the preservation of harmony, the development of friendly, mutually respectful contacts at all levels,” it added.
The guy who gave up his territory for Russians to attack us, congratulates Ukraine on independence day. I wish Belarus gets rid of you, the we will celebrate our independence together.https://t.co/iL1plWAuM3
— Nika Melkozerova (@NikaMelkozerova) August 24, 2022
His statement stood at odds with some of his recent declarations of support for Russia’s invasion of its neighbour.
In July, he described Belarus as “the only country in the world to support Russia in its fight against Nazism”, echoing a claim by Moscow that it is conducting a “special military operation” in Ukraine to cleanse it of ultranationalists.
Senior Ukrainian presidential aide Mykhailo Podolyak baulked at the greeting, writing on Twitter, “Lukashenko truly believes the world does not notice his participation in crimes against Ukraine. That is why he cynically wishes us a ‘peaceful sky’ while allowing deadly rockets to hit us.”
Tadeusz Giczan, a Belarusian journalist, tweeted, “[Lukashenko is] the same person who’s been allowing Russia to fire missiles at Ukraine from his territory for six months now. It’ll be hard to come up with anything more cynical today.”
Nika Melkozerova, editor of The New Voice of Ukraine, said, “The guy who gave up his territory for Russians to attack us, congratulates Ukraine on independence day. I wish Belarus gets rid of you, [then we] will celebrate our independence together.”
Belarus relies financially and politically on its close ally Russia.
Russian President Vladimir Putin backed Lukashenko, who has ruled Belarus for 30 years, when he faced an international backlash and Western sanctions for his crackdown on 2020 protests against his re-election for a sixth term.
Western countries have slapped Belarus with new sanctions this year for its role in Russia’s Ukraine offensive launched on February 24.
Before launching its offensive, Moscow deployed thousands of forces to Belarusian territory under the pretext of military drills and then sent troops into Ukraine when it launched its assault on February 24.