Russia-Ukraine war latest: Alexander Lukashenko issues warning as Belarus readies army | World | News

Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko said Ukraine is “provoking Russia“, in a strong attack on Kyiv on Thursday. The authoritarian regime leader added that his country has done “everything now so that there isn’t a war”.

It comes as Belarusian armed forces began sudden large-scale drills to test their combat readiness.

Belarus is a close ally of Russia, which invaded Ukraine in late February immediately after holding joint drills with Minsk which had allowed it to move more forces closer to the Ukrainian border. Russia calls its actions in Ukraine a “special military operation”.

In a statement, the Belarusian ministry said: “It is planned that the (combat readiness) test will involve the movement of significant numbers of military vehicles, which can slow down traffic on public roads.”

The ministry said the exercise posed no threat to its neighbours or the European community in general.

President Lukashenko spoke to his Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin on Tuesday and the two discussed the Russian operation in Ukraine, among other issues, according to official statements.

Areas of Ukraine adjacent to Belarus, including its capital Kyiv, came under Russian assault in the initial stage of the invasion, but now Russia has focused its attacks on Ukraine’s eastern and southeastern regions.

The UK Ministry of Defence announced in the early hours of Thursday that Belarusian troops had been deployed “from garrison to the field” in a military exercise in line with seasonal training. But the British Intelligence claimed Russia may “inflate” Belarusian military moves in order to trick Ukrainian forces into moving to northern areas of the country and away from Donbas.

They wrote: “Belarusian land forces have been observed deploying from garrison to the field for exercises.

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“This is in line with seasonal norms as Belarus enters the culmination of its Winter Training cycle in the month of May.

“Russia will likely seek to inflate the threat posed to Ukraine by these exercises in order to fix Ukrainian forces in the North, preventing them from being committed to the battle for the Donbas.

“Deviation from normal exercise activity that could pose a threat to allies and partners is not currently anticipated.”

Russian forces were battling for control of the last Ukrainian stronghold in the besieged city of Mariupol, Ukrainian officials said, while the EU proposed its toughest sanctions yet against Moscow, with a phased oil embargo.

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Oil prices jumped on the proposed EU ban on Russian oil imports, which needs approval by member states. The Kremlin said it was looking into various options in response. Germany said prices could go up considerably.

The Czech Republic and Bulgaria will seek exemptions from the ban, while Hungary and Slovakia say they need a three-year transition.

US President Joe Biden said he would speak with leaders from the G7 advanced economies this week about more sanctions.

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