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Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko Alamy Stock Photo
fresh strikes

Belarus will join Ukraine offensive 'only if attacked', Lukashenko says

A 79-year-old woman was killed in a Russian strike in Ukraine earlier today.

LAST UPDATE | 16 Feb 2023

PRESIDENT ALEXANDER LUKASHENKO has said Belarus would join the offensives in Ukraine “only if attacked” first by Kyiv’s army.

“I’m ready to fight together with the Russians from the territory of Belarus in one case only: if so much as one soldier from (Ukraine) comes to our territory with a gun to kill my people,” the veteran strongman told a rare press conference with foreign journalists in Minsk.

“This applies to our other neighbours,” Lukashenko said. “If they commit an aggression against Belarus, our response will be the most cruel. The most cruel.”

Minsk allowed the Kremlin to use the country as a launching pad for its military operation against Kyiv last February.

Belarus still hosts an undeclared number of Russian troops but Lukashenko has promised not to send his forces – estimated at between 60,000 and 70,000 – over the southern border to Ukraine.

Despite Lukashenko’s repeated promises, fears have been building that his troops could also intervene.

But the longtime leader said, ”I do not plan to send my people, my soldiers (there),” Lukashenko sad.

Fears have also grown that Belarus could announce a Russian-style mobilisation.

But he did say Minsk was testing some of its mobilisation abilities and was taking into account Russian blunders in their drive.

“It will not be tomorrow. But we need to be ready if anything,” he said.

Lukashenko is due to meet Putin tomorrow.

He said the pair would discuss a joint regional force announced in October, that also saw several thousand Russian servicemen arrive in the ex-Soviet nation.

Lukashenko said he had asked Putin for an extra Russian division that would fall under his leadership.

Allies ‘legally and morally’

Putin last month said he backed plans to set up joint military training centres with Belarus.

Lukashenko said the force is purely defensive.

The two countries also regularly carry out joint military exercises.

It is unknown how many Russian soldiers are stationed in Belarus.

Lukashenko, in power since 1994, defended his role a year ago, when Russian troops launched their offensive on Ukraine, including from Belarusian territory.

He echoed the Kremlin in saying that Russia was “forced” to do so and blamed Ukraine and the West for the conflict.

“Don’t forget that Russia is our ally, legally, morally,” he said.

Asked if he could somehow influence the Russian leader, he said: “If he believes he is right then you can’t convince him.”

Lukashenko also hit out at neighbouring Poland and Lithuania – EU members – for closing border crossings with Belarus and vowed retaliation.

“It is an economic provocation,” he said. “We are forced to respond.”

Warsaw closed the Bobrowniki border checkpoint last week, citing “growing tensions” with Belarus.

Today’s attacks

Earlier today, Russia again pummelled Ukraine with a barrage of cruise and other missiles, hitting targets from east to west.

Ukrainian authorities said one of the strikes killed a 79-year-old woman and injured at least seven other people.

Russian forces used a variety of missile types, firing 36 in all in a two-hour overnight bombardment, said Ukraine’s military chief, Valery Zaluzhny.

He said Ukrainian air defence batteries shot down 16 of them — a lower rate of success than against some previous Russian attacks.

Ukrainian authorities said targets in the north, west, south, east and centre of the country were struck.

The head of Ukraine’s presidential office, Andriy Yermak, said Russian forces “changed their tactics” for the strike, deploying what he described as “active reconnaissance” and “false targets”.

He gave no details. But Russian forces may be seeking ways to get past Ukrainian air defences that have been strengthened by Western-supplied weapons systems and have had high rates of success against previous Russian barrages of missiles and killer drones.

One of the overnight strikes caused casualties and destroyed homes in the eastern city of Pavlohrad, the regional governor said.

Governor Serhiy Lysak said a 79-year-old woman was killed and at least seven other people were wounded, including two who were later admitted to hospital.

The strike destroyed seven homes, damaged 30 others and sparked a fire at an industrial plant that emergency services put out within hours, the governor added.

A regional governor in western Ukraine, Maksym Kozitskyi, said a fire broke out at a “critical” infrastructure facility in the province of Lviv. He did not immediately offer details.

With reporting by Press Association and © AFP 2023

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