UPDATED: Belarus’s Lukashenko warns Ukraine, deploys troops with Russia

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Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko said on Monday he had ordered troops to deploy with Russian forces near Ukraine in response to what he said was a clear threat to Belarus from Kyiv and its backers in the West.

The remarks from Lukashenko, who has held power in Belarus since 1994, indicate a potential further escalation of the war in Ukraine, possibly with a combined Russian-Belarus joint force in the north of Ukraine.

“Strikes on the territory of Belarus are not just being discussed in Ukraine today, but are also being planned,” Lukashenko said at a meeting on security, without providing evidence for the assertion. “Their owners are pushing them to start a war against Belarus to drag us there.”

“We have been preparing for this for decades. If necessary, we will respond,” Lukashenko said, adding that he had spoken to Russian President Vladimir Putin about the situation while at a meeting in St Petersburg.

Lukashenko said he had agreed with Putin to deploy a regional military group, and had started pulling forces together two days ago, apparently after an attack on Russia’s road and rail bridge to Crimea early on Saturday.

Lukashenko said that a warning was delivered to Belarus through unofficial channels that Ukraine planned “Crimean Bridge 2”, though he did not give details.

“My answer was simple: ‘Tell the president of Ukraine and the other lunatics: if they touch one metre of our territory then the Crimean Bridge will seem to them like a walk in the park’.”

Belarus’s army has about 60,000 people. Earlier this year, Belarus deployed 6 battalion-tactical groups, totaling several thousand people, to the border areas. On Sunday, the head of Belarus’s border guards accused Ukraine of provocations at the border.

Russian forces used Belarus as a staging post for their Feb. 24 invasion of Ukraine, sending troops and equipment into northern Ukraine from bases in Belarus.

In Other Developments:

CONFLICT

* At least five people were killed and 12 wounded in Russian missile strikes on Kyiv, police in the Ukrainian capital said.

* President Volodymyr Zelenskiy accused Russia of trying to wipe his country “off the face of the earth” and his defence ministry vowed revenge for the attacks. Its top general, Valeriy Zaluzhnyi, said Ukraine had shot down at least 41 Russian missiles of some 75 launched.

* Ukrainian Prime Minister Denys Shmygal said 11 infrastructure facilities in eight regions and in the capital of Kyiv were damaged in the latest flurry of Russian strikes.

* A loud explosion was heard on Monday morning in Russia’s Belgorod region, close to the border with Ukraine, two witnesses told Reuters.

* Russian shelling destroyed an apartment building in the latest attack on civilian infrastructure in the southeastern city of Zaporizhzhia, Ukrainian officials said, a day after a similar strike killed at least 13 people and wounded more than 70. Russia denies targeting civilians.

* Russian troops are coming closer to the strategically important eastern town of Bakhmut, having advanced up to 2 km (1.24 miles)towards the town over the past week, a British intelligence update said.

* The external power supply to the Russian-occupied Zaporizhzhia nuclear plant was restored, Ukraine’s state nuclear company Energoatom and the U.N.’s nuclear watchdog said.

ECONOMY, DIPLOMACY

* The White House said it would continue to arm Ukraine but declined direct comment on the explosion that damaged Russia’s road-and-rail bridge to Crimea.

* Ukraine’s economy shrank an estimated 30% in the first three quarters of 2022 from the same period in 2021, with bad harvest weather compounding the impact of the war, the economy ministry said.

* The Kremlin praised OPEC+ for agreeing production cuts that had successfully countered the “mayhem” sown by the United States in global energy markets.

* China’s Foreign Ministry called for de-escalation in Ukraine after explosions rocked several cities including Kyiv.

QUOTES

* “They (Russians) want panic and chaos, they want to destroy our energy system,” Zelenskiy said in a video post that showed him outside his presidential office. “The second target is people. Such a time and such targets were specially chosen to cause as much damage as possible.”

Photo: Belarus MOD

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