MINSK — Few people know Vladimir Putin quite as well as Alexander Lukashenko does.
The authoritarian leader of Belarus is a firm Kremlin ally and backer of what Putin refers to as the “special military operation” — what most of the world calls Russia’s war in Ukraine.
Since his full-scale invasion of Ukraine a year ago, Putin hasn’t sat down with Western journalists.
But Thursday in Minsk, Lukashenko took questions from a small group of foreign media, including the BBC.
“Last year you allowed your country to be used as a staging ground for Russia’s invasion,” I reminded Lukashenko. “Are you prepared to do so again?”
“Yes, I’m ready,” he replied. I’m ready to provide [territory] again. I’m also ready to wage war, alongside the Russians, from the territory of Belarus. But only if someone — even a single soldier — enters our territory from there (Ukraine) with weapons to kill my people.”
Military cooperation between Russia and Belarus has been on the increase, with joint drills and the formation of a joint military grouping.
But so far the Belarusian leader has avoided sending his troops into Ukraine to fight alongside Russian forces.
The UK, EU and the United States do not recognize Alexander Lukashenko as the legitimate president of Belarus. In 2020 Belarusians poured onto the streets to accuse him of stealing the country’s presidential election. The protests were brutally suppressed.
Lukashenko used Thursday’s event to blame the West for the war in Ukraine. He accused Western governments of fueling the conflict and engaged in a touch of Putinesque nuclear saber-rattling,
“If you continue this escalation, you will get nuclear weapons and Russia has more than anyone,” he said.
“So, you should stop this. If a nuclear war starts, Belarus will cease to exist. We need to sit down at the negotiating table, because nuclear war would wipe out the USA too. No one needs this.
Having facilitated the Russian invasion of Ukraine one year ago, the Belarusian leader now claims he can help negotiate peace.
Lukashenko suggested that next week would be a good time to start, with US President Joe Biden due to visit Poland.
I invite [President Biden] to Belarus,” Lukashenko said. “It’s not far from Warsaw, thirty minutes and he’ll be in Minsk. He could land his plane here. I will persuade the President of Russia to come. I invite him too to Minsk, as well as Biden. We will sit down and reach an agreement.
It is an invitation the US president is likely to decline. In this war Lukashenko is not seen as an honest broker. BBC