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Russia-Ukraine War: Latest News and Updates

Credit…Markus Schreiber/Associated Press

In the weeks earlier than Russia invaded Ukraine, it held joint navy drills with its neighbor and ally Belarus, massing tens of hundreds of troopers alongside the Ukrainian border whilst the 2 international locations’ leaders denied stories that the Kremlin was planning to go to conflict.

On Saturday, President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia met President Aleksandr G. Lukashenko of Belarus in St. Petersburg, promising weapons able to holding nuclear warheads which Mr. Lukashenko — dubbed “Europe’s last dictator” — stated would make his nation “ready for anything.”

Mr. Putin promised to ship the Iskander-M methods, which have a spread of about 300 miles and can carry each standard and nuclear warheads, “within months,” and additionally vowed to improve Belarusian Su-25 fighter jets, after Mr. Lukashenko requested the Russian chief to make its warplanes able to carrying nuclear weapons.

“We need to be ready for anything, even the use of serious weaponry to defend our fatherland from Brest to Vladivostok,” Mr. Lukashenko stated, referring to Belarus’ westernmost metropolis and Russia’s port within the Far East.

While the lads met, the Belarusian Armed Forces have been as soon as once more holding “mobilization” drills within the space bordering Kyiv, the Ukrainian capital, threatening to worsen tensions in an already risky area and prompting Ukraine to place its border guards on excessive alert.

“Units are being brought to higher levels of combat readiness, practical measures are being taken to accept conscripts, weapons and military equipment are being removed from storage,” a spokesman for the Ukrainian navy’s operational command stated in an announcement this month.

Ukrainian officers and Western observers suppose it’s extremely unlikely that Belarus, a former Soviet republic of 9.4 million people, will straight be part of the conflict presently, given the dangers of frightening social unrest at residence and undermining Mr. Lukashenko’s grip on energy. Morale amongst Belarusian troops has additionally been shaky, based on Pavel P. Latushko, a former senior Belarusian official who fled the nation.

Nevertheless, analysts consider Mr. Lukashenko, an autocrat beholden to the Kremlin, is desperately attempting to indicate his worth to Mr. Putin. He has proved a reliable pal ever since Mr. Putin bolstered his safety forces to assist him put down mass protests that adopted an implausible landslide victory in a contested presidential election in 2020.

The former director of a Soviet collective pig farm, Mr. Lukashenko has secured his maintain on Belarus over practically three a long time by maneuvering adroitly between East and West, taking part in both sides in opposition to the opposite. But within the aftermath of final year’s rebellion in opposition to him, he has develop into more and more depending on the Kremlin and docile to Mr. Putin.

Some analysts consider it’s only a matter of time earlier than stress from Mr. Putin forces Mr. Lukashenko to take extra direct motion within the conflict, pushing him into an existential dilemma. Joining the battle may undermine his assist at residence, but when he doesn’t do Mr. Putin’s bidding, the Russian chief may retaliate by taking steps to pressure him from office.

In the early levels of the conflict, Belarus allowed Mr. Putin to make use of its territory for Russian troops to stage a shock-and-awe operation to attempt to seize Kyiv. The plan failed spectacularly, however with Russia now slowed down in a grinding conflict of attrition in Ukraine’s east, Moscow would profit from any assist Mr. Lukashenko may present.

Mr. Lukashenko has proved himself a pliant pal. He has used Belarus’s 600-mile border with Ukraine to assist place wood “dummy tanks” within the woods, creating the phantasm of impending hazard; to replenish Russia’s arsenal; and to permit Moscow to stage missile strikes from inside Belarusian territory.

As a part of this weekend’s drills, the Belarusian military has dispatched 3,500 to 4,000 navy personnel close to the border, based on Oleksandr Motuzyanyk, a spokesman for Ukraine’s Defense Ministry. The whole Belarusian military has about 60,000 troops, he stated, though Mr. Lukashenko desires so as to add one other 20,000.

The Belarusian Defense Ministry said its particular operation forces would take part within the drills, which is able to happen within the nation’s southeastern Gomel area, whose border is simply 65 miles from Kyiv.

While Mr. Lukashenko has made it clear that his loyalties now relaxation firmly with Mr. Putin, he stays a mercurial chief, recognized for typically unpredictable conduct. Among different issues, he has touted ice hockey, vodka, saunas and tractor-driving as cures for Covid; despatched a fighter jet to intercept a European airliner carrying a distinguished dissident; and made his generals salute his teenage son.

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