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Belarus warns of joint response with Russia to Ukraine’s drills with US, NATO

US Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-MN) (L) talks with Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) during a rally with fellow Democrats before voting on H.R. 1, or the People Act, on the East Steps of the US Capitol on March 08, 2019 in Washington, DC. (AFP photo)
Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko

Belarus has voice concerned over Ukraine’s military exercises with the United States and other NATO countries near its borders, warning of a joint response with Russia to the drills.

Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko announced the warning at a meeting with officials in the presidential palace in the capital Minsk on Monday, without providing any details of the response.

“Close attention should be paid to the Ukrainian section, to what we are going to do there. You see, they are dragging NATO troops there, to Ukraine. Under the guise of training centers, they are actually creating bases. The United States is creating bases in Ukraine. It is clear that we need to react to this," Lukashenko said, adding that he has discussed the situation in Ukraine with Russian President Vladimir Putin several times.

"The Russian president and I have held and are holding consultations on this issue and have agreed that some action should be taken there. Otherwise, tomorrow we will have an unacceptable situation right on the border between Belarus and Russia,” he said.

Ukraine began joint military exercises with the US and other NATO countries last week, amid increased activity of the Western military alliance near Russia’s borders.

The Kremlin also warned on Monday that the expansion of NATO military infrastructure in Ukraine crossed a red line for Putin. 

Relations between Moscow and Kiev have been strained since conflict erupted in Ukraine’s eastern Donbass region between Ukrainian government forces and ethnic Russians in 2014. The US, the European Union, and Ukraine claim that Russia has a hand in the conflict. Moscow strongly rejects the allegation.

The joint military drills in western Ukraine come as Russia and Belarus have also recently held military exercises mainly focused on launching a counteroffensive against enemy forces, with Russia’s Northern Fleet and Air Force practicing repelling an attack near its border with Norway.

Elsewhere in his remarks, Lukashenko blamed the West for “a looming humanitarian catastrophe” this winter after migrants were left stranded and freezing on the Belarusian-Polish border.

Lukashenko said Belarus had treated the migrants well and has provided them firewood and warm clothes.

“But they would freeze in winter," he said, adding "In short: it's a humanitarian catastrophe on the border."

This comes as three migrants have died on the Polish side of the border and one more just inside Belarus this month. A fifth death - of an Iraqi man on Poland's side of the border, from a suspected heart attack- was reported on Friday. 

Tensions have increased between the West and Belarus over the past months. The West has been at odds with Belarus since the presidential election in August last year, which Lukashenko won. His main political opponent, Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya, rejected the official results of the vote and claimed there had been voter fraud, without providing any evidence. Western governments came out in her support, repeating the allegations of vote-rigging, also without proof.

The US and the European Union have already imposed a raft of sanctions on Belarusian companies and officials over the voter fraud allegations, which Belarus has rejected as baseless.

Belarus and its EU neighbors have also traded blame over the plight of migrants. The EU has accused Minsk of encouraging migrants, mainly from Iraq and Afghanistan, to cross the borders in retaliation for the sanctions.

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