Belarus denies invasion fears as Lukashenko amasses joint force

Lukashenko claims Ukraine plotting to overthrow Belarus

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Belarus has started checking the eligibility of its citizens for military service, the country’s defence ministry has said, as concerns mount over a possible new assault of Russian forces from Belarusian territory. Vladimir Putin used Belarus’s border to launch Russia’s northwestern offensive on Ukraine in February.

Belarus’s strongman leader, Alexander Lukashenko, is a steadfast ally of the Kremlin and has retained his grip on power since 1994.

On Wednesday, Minsk’s defence ministry said that the evaluation of citizens’ eligibility for military service did not imply mobilisation.

It said in a statement: “The military registration and enlistment activities are strictly routine and are expected to be completed by the end of this year.”

Lukashenko said early last week that he had deployed troops in a joint force with Russian armed forces near the Ukrainian border.

He said Minsk considered there to be a threat to Belarus’ national security from Kyiv and had spoken with Putin on the issue.

The Belarus leader said on October 10: “Strikes on the territory of Belarus are not just being discussed in Ukraine today, but are also being planned.”

He did not provide any evidence on this point, according to Reuters.

He added: “Their owners are pushing them to start a war against Belarus to drag us there.”

Lukashenko said the former Soviet country had been “preparing for this for decades”, and will “respond” if “necessary”.

The first convoy of Russian soldiers arrived in Belarus five days later, but Belarus’ defence ministry said the troops were “exclusively to strengthen the protection and defence of the border”.

Around 9,000 Russian troops have been deployed to Belarus’ border with Ukraine.

But the move raised fears that Putin is hoping to launch a fresh offensive on Ukraine from Belarusian territory after a series of high-profile setbacks in the south and east of Ukraine.

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Svetlana Tikhanovskaya, the exiled Belarusian opposition leader who is one of Lukashenko’s most vocal critics, warned that “Lukashenko and Putin are dragging Belarus into a full-scale war against Ukraine”.

Speaking to NBC last week, Lukashenko insisted he would not deploy Belarus’ forces directly into Ukraine, but that Minsk was fully behind the Kremlin in the conflict.

He said: “We support Russia in every possible way. Our support lies in the fact that our Western borders with Poland and Lithuania were not violated, so Russian troops were not stabbed in the back via Belarus.

“That’s how it has been since the very beginning.”

He then conceded that Belarus has played a part in treating wounded Russian soldiers, as well as taking in Ukrainian refugees.

Lukashenko added: “But we are not killing anyone there, and we are not planning to kill anyone there. No one is asking us to do so.”

But Ukraine’s General Staff of the Armed Forces said on Tuesday that the “covert mobilisation of the Belarusian Armed Forces continues under the guise of training sessions”.

In a post on its Facebook account, Kyiv’s General Staff added: “According to available information, measures are being taken to train operators of anti-aircraft missile systems and tank crews.”

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