(FreedomWire.org) – The U.S. has expressed concern at Russia’s military presence in Belarus and the prospect that it would again use its neighbor to stage attacks on Ukraine.
The comments from White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre came on Monday when Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko held a meeting in Minsk with his Russian counterpart, Vladimir Putin.
“We have long been concerned by Belarus’s role in Russia’s aggression,” Jean-Pierre said, referring to the support Lukashenko has offered Putin in allowing Belarusian territory to be used as a staging ground for attacks into Ukraine, which borders both countries.
“We continue to monitor Russia’s force posture closely,” she said, adding that the U.S. would “remain in close contact with Ukraine” over its defense from Russian aggression.
Before the visit, which was Putin’s first to Belarus since 2019, there had been speculation the Russian leader would pressure Lukashenko to send troops to Ukraine. Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov dismissed the reports “as totally stupid, groundless fabrications.”
During the meeting, Putin said Russia and Belarus were “united by a common history and spiritual values” adding that they were the “closest allies and strategic partners.”
Exiled Belarusian opposition leader, Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya, condemned the meeting, and tweeted that Belarus and its independence are “not for sale.”
While Lukashenko has previously spoken about a joint force of Russian and Belarusian troops, experts have cast doubt on that happening. There has been military activity in Belarus for months and Moscow did use the country as a launch pad for its attack on Kyiv in February.
Belarusian Hajun, a watchdog that monitors the movement of Russian troops, said Russia had transferred at least 50 Ural military trucks to Belarus on December 16. There are also reports that Russia has deployed military aircraft to Belarus, including those capable of carrying Kinzhal ballistic missiles.
Putin announced he would consider training Belarusian combat aviation crew to use “munitions with special warheads,” according to Russian agency Interfax.
Ukraine’s deputy interior minister, Yevhen Yenin, told the BBC on Monday that Kyiv was “building up” defense lines “all across the border with Russia and with Belarus.”
Although both leaders discussed a united defense space, “Belarus’ participation in Putin’s war against Ukraine remains unlikely,” according to the U.S.-based Institute for the Study of War (ISW).
It added that Lukashenko “likely deflected” Putin’s efforts to coerce Minsk into further integration with Moscow. Putin said on Monday that Russia “has no interest in absorbing anyone,” although this was rejected by U.S. State Department spokesman Ned Price “as the height of irony.”
“We have seen the Lukashenko regime essentially cede its sovereignty […] to Russia,” Price said.
Dionis Cenusa, a risk analyst at the Lithuanian think tank, the Eastern Europe Studies Center (EESC), said Putin is using cooperation with Belarus “to spread the perception that Russia is totally isolated.”
“This works well for some segments of the Russian public when it comes to the narrative about the civilizational choice of the Pan-Slavic nations against the collective West,” he told Newsweek.
“It is almost impossible to rule out any scenario when it comes to the war in Ukraine,” he said. “However, the participation of Belarus in the war will require a reason to break the previous resistance of the Belarusian army.
“The deliberate or accidental event would have to take place on the border with Ukraine to somehow justify the military activation of Belarus against Ukraine.
“But most likely, Russia may try to use Belarusian territory to repeatedly attack from the north in the direction of Kyiv.”