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Belarus says to hold joint 'defensive' air force drills with Russia, accusing Ukraine of 'provocation'

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)
This file photo shows military transport helicopters flying in the run-up to joint exercises between Russia and Belarus in 2021. (Via ITAR-TASS)

Belarus and Russia's air forces are to start joint drills to prepare for possible combat missions, around two weeks after a Ukrainian missile entered the Belarusian airspace in what Minks denounced as a "provocation."

The maneuvers are to start on Monday, with Pavel Muraveyko, first deputy state secretary of Belarusian Security Council, calling them "purely defensive in nature."

The official, however, added that the drills "will be a set of measures to prepare our and Russian aviation to carry out the relevant combat missions."

The exercises will last until February 1. They are to involve training for "aerial reconnaissance, deflecting airstrikes, air cover of important objects and communications," Muraveyko noted.

The remarks came amid Russia's war against Ukraine, which Moscow says it started in order to defend the pro-Russian population in the eastern Ukrainian regions of Luhansk and Donetsk against persecution by Kiev, and also to "de-Nazify" its neighbor.

Last week, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky alleged that his country had to be ready at its border with Belarus as the war raged on.

The Kremlin has denied that it has been pressuring Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko to play a more active role in the conflict in Ukraine. Minsk has also said it will not enter the war.

Elsewhere in his remarks, Muraveyko said the situation on the country's southern border with Ukraine was "not very calm," accusing Ukraine of "provoking" Belarus.

"We're maintaining restraint and patience, keeping our gunpowder dry," Muraveyko said, adding, "We have the necessary set of forces and means that will respond to any manifestations of aggression or a terrorist threat on our territory."

On December 29, Belarus' defense ministry said its air defense forces had shot down a Ukrainian S-300 surface-to-air missile near the village of Harbacha in the Brest region, near the Belarus-Ukraine border.

The Belarusian government then accused Ukraine of provoking a regional conflict, saying it was "unlikely" that the missile had entered the Belarusian airspace by accident.

"Kiev is striving to provoke a regional conflict by any means. An example of this is the recent incident with the destruction of the Ukrainian S-300 missile," Secretary of Belarus' Security Council Alexander Volfovich said at the time.

He added, "There is little reason to believe that it entered our airspace by accident. By all appearances, it seems some plan was being realized here."

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