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Belarus has begun checking the ‘combat readiness’ of equipment in long term storage, in a chilling echo of statements put out by Russia in the months before it invaded Ukraine.
Inspections ‘will determine the condition of the equipment and its readiness to carry out its tasks,’ the Ministry of Defence said on Monday as leader Alexander Lukashenko met with Vladimir Putin in Sochi.
Lukashenko, a close ally of Putin, has so-far kept his armed forces out of the fighting in Ukraine but did allow Belarusian territory to be used for attacks against Kyiv in the early days of the war.
As the war has dragged on and left Putin facing an uncertain future, Lukashenko is thought to have faced pressure to get his armed forces involved.
Belarus says it is checking the ‘combat readiness’ of military equipment in long-term storage, in echoes of Russian statements before the invasion of Ukraine (file image)
When the US first warned that Putin was massing his forces to invade Ukraine in early November, the Kremlin used the pretext of ‘combat readiness’ checks to dismiss the allegations as a provocation.
What followed was weeks of escalating tensions and repeated join military drills between Russia and Belarus, before Putin finally gave the order to attack on Feb. 24.
Belarus first announced its own ‘readiness checks’ earlier this month, saying they would involve ‘the movement of significant numbers of military vehicles’ while denying they posed a threat to any neighbouring nation.
Checks on its long-term military storage are thought to be part of the same exercise, perhaps prompted by problems Russia has suffered in Ukraine with old and poorly maintained kit.
British intelligence warned last week that troop manoeuvres in Belarus are likely designed to keep Ukrainian forces in the north of the country from deploying to the frontlines in Donbas, where most of the fighting is now taking place.
Kyiv has said it does not see any increased threat from Belarus, but that it is ‘ready’ to Minsk’s men if they decide to cross the border.
Minsk made the announcement on the same day leader Alexadner Lukashenko visited Putin at his Sochi resort for talks on the economy
Putin insisted that Russia’s economy is holding up well under Russian sanctions, while Lukashenko said the provided the opportunity for closer cooperation
‘We do not rule out that the Russian Federation could at some point use the territory of Belarus, the Armed Forces of the Republic of Belarus, against Ukraine,’ said Andriy Demchenko, spokesperson for Ukraine’s State Border Service, earlier this month.
‘Therefore, we are ready,’ he said, adding that the border with Belarus had been strengthened since Russia invaded Ukraine.
Russia launched the invasion after holding joint drills with Belarus which had allowed it to move more forces closer to the border.
Areas of Ukraine adjacent to Belarus came under Russian assault in the initial stage of the invasion but Russian attacks are now focused on Ukraine’s eastern and southeastern regions.
Putin today hosted Lukashenko in the Black Sea resort of Sochi, boasting that his economy is ‘withstanding the blow’ of Western sanctions.
‘The Russian economy withstands the sanctions blow, it withstands it very worthily,’ Putin said. ‘All the main macroeconomic indicators speak of this.’
At the same time, the Russian leader noted that ‘everything is not easy, everything that happens requires special attention and special efforts from the economic bloc of the government.’
Russia and Belarus held repeated joint ‘combat readiness’ drills in the run-up to the invasion of Ukraine, providing Moscow with a smoke-screen for its eventual invasion (file image)
Putin has repeatedly assured the public that Russia is coping well under the pressure, which many experts describe as unprecedented.
However, the ruble has briefly lost half its value at some point, prices for food and other goods spiked and even temporary shortages of sugar, sanitary products and some medications were reported.
Lukashenko said the sanctions had given both countries the impetus to focus on self-development, and that the elites of the West were deluded about the causes of their economic woes.
‘On the economy, thanks are really due to them (in the West) as they have given us such a push to our own development,’ Lukashenko told Putin.
‘What is happening over there is that they really underestimated it by reading their own media. They got inflation yet the truth is ‘Putin is to blame’, ‘Putin is to blame for everything’,’ Lukashenko said.