Belarus: Lukashenko discusses mobilisation to harvest potatoes
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A convoy of Russian forces has arrived in Belarus, sparking fears of the country opening a second front in the invasion of Ukraine – although Express.co.uk has been told that such an attack could be a “disaster”. Belarus’ ministry of defence has claimed the Russian forces have only moved to the region to “strengthen the protection” of its border with Ukraine. The move has raised fears further after Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko said Minsk and Moscow are deploying a joint military task force in reaction to increasing tension at its borders, throwing accusations of “sabotage” at Poland, Lithuania and Ukraine.
The claim of Belarusian sovereignty being under threat from its neighbours echoes the rhetoric used by Vladimir Putin in the build up to his invasion of Ukraine – but a Ukrainian Armed Forces captain told Express.co.uk the move would be a mistake, and expressed confidence in Ukraine’s ability to deal with any Belarusian aggression.
The Belarusian defence ministry claimed the Russian forces were in the country “exclusively to strengthen the protection and defence of the border” with Ukraine. However, the move has heightened fears that Belarus may join the war in Ukraine, as the invasion is lasting far longer than Putin anticipated and reports increasingly emerge of his frustration at his inability to claim the country as his own.
Belarus relies on Russia from both a financial and political perspective, after Moscow help Lukashenko suppress protests trying to overthrow his dictatorship, following a highly disputed election victory in 2020. The country was also used as a landing stage for Russian troops, who launched the invasion of Ukraine after amassing at its border.
Victor Tregubov, Captain in the Ukrainian Armed Forces and columnist, used this initial wave as an example of why an additional front from Belarus would not be such a problem.
He told Express.co.uk: “From my perspective, for now, it’s unlikely first of all, because the previous attack from the left hand side with Russian troops was massive but absolutely ineffective. It was a disaster for the Russian Army.”
Russia’s initial plan had reportedly been to rapidly seize Kyiv and hold the country to ransom – but the effort failed, prompting Moscow to relocate the focus of its attack to the east. Here it has had some more success – but remains mired by logistical challenges, a stalwart resistance from Ukrainian troops and, more recently, an effective counter offensive by Kyiv’s forces.
Mr Tregubov added of the initial invasion: “And during that time, it was in much better circumstances, with much better preparations, and with much worse preparations from the Ukrainian army.”
The captain explained that the Ukrainian army at the start of the war was in a “worse state than it is now”
He said: “The first attempt was a disaster, and the second one couldn’t possibly be any better.”
Mr Tregubov did say there may be some potential for a joint Russian-Belarrusian offensive to cut off Ukraine’s supply lines from the West if they were successful – but insisted this was “highly unlikely because there are no good roads and the landscape is all forests – and forests in winter is not the way to go”.
In a possible effort to justify an escalation of military action, Lukashenko accused Poland, Lithuania and Ukraine of training Belarusian radicals “to carry out sabotage, terrorist attacks and to organise a military mutiny in the country”.
State news agency Belta quoted the President as adding: “I’ve said already that today Ukraine is not just discussing but planning strikes on the territory of Belarus.”
In the days leading up to what Russian continues to refer to as its “special military operation”, Putin claimed his country was under threat from Ukraine, insisting the invasion was a “peacekeeping operation”.
Last Friday Putin again repeated the idea that Russia had been under threat from Ukraine, telling a security summit in the Kazakh capital of Astana: “What is happening today is unpleasant, to put it mildly.
“But we would have had all this a little later, only under worse conditions for us, that’s all. So my actions are correct and timely.”
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy accused Russia of “trying to directly draw Belarus into this war” at a G7 meeting on Tuesday, calling for an international observers’ mission to be placed on the Ukraine-Belarus border.
Belarus is not the only country to become increasingly embroiled in the conflict. The Pentagon announced today it will be imposing sanctions on Iran – already one of the most sanctioned countries in the world – as evidence has emerged of the country supplying drones and missiles to Russian forces.
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Iranian-supplied drones have seen increased use in Ukraine in recent weeks, with 43 of the so-called “kamikaze drones” being launched across the country on Monday, according to US officials, with some of them exploding in the capital, Kyiv. Two senior Iranian officials and two Iranian diplomats told Reuters of plans to supply the invading Russians with even more drones, as well as surface-to-surface missiles.
Missile and drone strikes have been crucial to a brutal series of airstrikes by Russia in recent weeks, primarily targeting Ukrainian infrastructure in the Kyiv, Dnipro and Sumy regions – causing electricity to cut out entirely for hundreds of towns and villages. A hospital, a kindergarten and other buildings in the town of Nikopol, across the river from the Russian-occupied Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant, were also targeted.
Meanwhile, in a further escalation of already fraught dialogue between Russia and the West, a Russian government official claimed today that the EU’s military training for Ukrainian forces and arms deliveries to Kyiv make the bloc a party to the conflict.
Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova told a press briefing in Moscow: “Almost €107 million are allocated for this venture. This step goes along with the supply of lethal weapons to the Kyiv regime, qualitatively increases the involvement of the European Union, making it, of course, a party to the conflict”
The EU Council on Monday agreed to set up a military assistance mission to further support the Ukrainian armed forces – a mission that, according to EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell, will start in November.
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