A train carrying Russian troops and equipment has arrived in Belarus amid concerns that Moscow could use its ally’s territory to attack Ukraine from the north.
The Belarusian defence ministry confirmed the arrival of the contingent on Friday and said President Alexander Lukashenko had visited a military base where Russian troops are already stationed.
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During the meeting, Lukashenko and an unnamed representative from the Russian army discussed the two countries’ joint military drills, it said.
Russian troops “are ready to carry out tasks as intended”, the representative said.
The developments came after Belarus, which has backed Russia over its war in Ukraine, said on Thursday that it will receive more weapons and equipment from its neighbour as the two continue to boost military cooperation.
The Belarusian defence ministry said the goal of creating a joint force was “strengthening the protection and defence of the Union State [of Russia and Belarus]”.
“Personnel, weapons, military and special equipment of the armed forces of the Russian Federation will continue to arrive in the Republic of Belarus,” the statement said.
The two countries are preparing for joint air force exercises, the ministry said, without providing any further details.
The Belarusian government has repeatedly said the country will not join Russia’s war in Ukraine.
But Moscow deployed thousands of forces to Belarusian territory under the pretext of military drills before launching its offensive and then funnelled troops into Ukraine when its invasion began on February 24.
According to Kyiv, Russia continues to use Belarusian airspace for drone and missile attacks.
Any new attack on Ukraine from Belarus would open a major new front in the war, which has killed tens of thousands of people.
Lukashenko has blamed Western nations for the war, accusing them of seeking confrontation with Russia and provoking the ongoing bloodshed.
The 67-year-old says Ukraine has the power to end the conflict by accepting Moscow’s demands – namely the loss of partly-occupied regions in eastern and southern Ukraine.