Belarus stepping up its aggressive rhetoric, to form 100,000-150,000 strong volunteer military force

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A senior Ukrainian presidential aide said on Tuesday Belarus was stepping up “aggressive and militaristic rhetoric” ahead of the first anniversary of Russia’s invasion, but that Kyiv saw no imminent threat from its northern neighbour.

The official, Mykhailo Podolyak, made the comments to Reuters after Belarus said Ukraine had massed a significant grouping of troops near their mutual border and warned of a security threat.

“We do not see any logistics action in Belarus aimed at forming a strike force. Nor do we see the accumulation of equipment needed for a ground offensive,” Podolyak told Reuters.

“Official Minsk is unwaveringly supporting Russia on the information side. Nevertheless, we have the northern direction (facing Belarus) under special control.”

Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko said on Monday he had ordered the formation of a new volunteer territorial defence so everyone knows how to “handle weapons” and be ready to respond to an act of aggression and keep public order in peacetime.

“The situation is not easy. I have said more than once: every man – and not only a man – should be able to at least handle weapons,” Lukashenko said at the meeting of his Security Council.

“At least in order to protect his family, if needed, his home, his own piece of land and – if necessary – his country.”

Lukashenko, who allowed Russia to use Belarus to send troops into Ukraine a year ago, has often said his army would fight only if Belarus was attacked. He has also said the “experience” in Ukraine necessitates additional defence.

“In case of an act of aggression, the response will be fast, harsh and appropriate,” Lukashenko said on Monday.

Defence Minister Viktor Khrenin said the territorial defence force will have 100,000-150,000 volunteers, or more if needed. The paramilitary formation will be ideally in every village and town.

The country’s professional army has about 48,000 troops and some 12,000 state border troops, according to the 2022 International Institute for Strategic Studies’ Military Balance.

A pariah in the West, Lukashenko, Europe’s longest-serving ruler who has led Belarus for 28 years, depends on Russia politically and economically, and Russian President Vladimir Putin’s support helped him survive mass pro-democracy protests in 2020.

The dependence has fanned fears in Kyiv that Putin would pressure Lukashenko to join a fresh ground offensive and open a new front in Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

“The elements of the Cold War: arms race and nuclear blackmail by the leaders of individual Western states have returned to the contemporary international agenda,” Lukashenko said on Monday.

The European Union, the United States and others have imposed billions of dollars’ worth of sanctions on the ex-Soviet state over its support for Russia’s war against Ukraine.

On Monday, U.S. President Joe Biden made a surprise visit to Kyiv to send a message of “enduring support” for Ukraine and announce further military aid for the army of Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy.

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