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  • Writer's pictureThe San Juan Daily Star

Putin visits Belarus as Ukraine warns of a renewed threat

By Anatoly Kurmanaev

President Vladimir Putin visited his Belarusian counterpart Alexander Lukashenko on Monday, making his first trip to Russia’s closest ally in three years as fears grow in Kyiv that Moscow is preparing to launch a new offensive in Ukraine from Belarus.

Lukashenko greeted and hugged Putin after the Russian leader bounced down the steps of his aircraft in Minsk, the capital of Belarus, signaling the importance of the relationship for both men.

“Belarus is not merely our good neighbor, with whom we are working, taking into account each other’s interests over the past decades,” Putin said later as the two leaders sat down for talks, according to Tass, the Russian state news agency. “But Belarus is definitely our ally in the most direct sense of this word.”

The two men have met at least six times since Russia launched its full-scale invasion of Ukraine in February, using Belarus as a staging ground for its abortive assault on Kyiv, the Ukrainian capital. But those meetings were all outside of Belarus, with most taking place in Russia.

Lukashenko said strengthening relations between the two countries was “a natural response to the changing situation in the world,” according to remarks reported by the state news agency Belta.

“A break in visits to Minsk has not prevented us from staying in constant contact,” Lukashenko said. “Even our so-called Western partners were very concerned about our frequent meetings.”

Lukashenko — who relies on Moscow for financial, fuel and security assistance to maintain his 28-year grip on power — has insisted that economic matters were to be the focus of the talks, although he acknowledged the two leaders would not avoid discussing military and security matters.

While Lukashenko has allowed Moscow to use his territory to launch missiles and bombing runs against Ukraine, he has so far resisted pressure from the Kremlin to contribute his own troops to the war effort.

Monday’s meeting follows repeated warnings from Ukraine in recent days that Russian forces could be preparing a new offensive from Belarus aimed either at making another effort to seize Kyiv, only around 55 miles from the Belarusian border, or at disrupting the flow of Western arms into Ukraine from Poland.

Kremlin spokesperson Dmitry Peskov has played down such speculation, telling reporters on Monday morning that reports of Belarus’ potential involvement in the invasion were “totally stupid, groundless fabrications.”

He similarly dismissed warnings from the United States at the start of the year that Russia was planning to invade Ukraine, insisting that Moscow had sent troops to Belarus only for training exercises.

The meeting between Putin and Lukashenko comes as Russia has experienced a series of setbacks on the battlefield. Many military experts believe that Russia’s military has been so badly battered by nearly 10 months of war that it is no condition to launch a new offensive from Belarus, with or without the participation of Belarusian troops.

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