UPDATED: Lukashenko urges Russia-led CSTO military alliance to unite against West

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May 16 (Reuters) – Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko on Monday urged other members of a Russian-dominated military alliance to stand united, and accused the West of hoping to prolong the conflict in Ukraine to try to weaken Russia as much as possible.

Lukashenko, speaking at a summit of the leaders of the Collective Security Treaty Organisation (CSTO) in Moscow, said “hellish sanctions” against his country and Russia could have been avoided if the group had spoken with one voice.

“Without a united front, the collective West will build up pressure on the post-Soviet space,” Lukashenko said in televised opening remarks, addressing Russian President Vladimir Putin and the leaders of Armenia, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan.

Britain’s Ministry of Defence is reporting increased activity among Belarus’ armed forces, which it indicates is part of tactic to effectively prevent Ukrainian troops being sent to reinforce those battling for control of territory with Russia.

In its daily update, the ministry said Russian ally Belarus had “announced the deployment of special operations forces along the Ukraine border, as well as air defence, artillery and missile units to training ranges in the west of the country”.

“The presence of Belarusian forces near the border will likely fix Ukrainian troops, so they cannot deploy in support of operations in the Donbas,” it said.

However, the update said that despite previous speculation, Belarusian forces had not been directly involved in the conflict, with the country’s president and Putin ally Alexander Lukashenko “likely balancing support for Russia’s invasion with a desire to avoid direct military participation with the risk of Western sanctions, Ukrainian retaliation and possible dissatisfaction in the Belarusian military.”

Photo – Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko . EPA-EFE/YAUHEN YERCHAK

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