Belarusian president says his country must be involved in talks and that there can be no deal ‘behind Belarus’s back’.
Belarus President Alexander Lukashenko has said his country must be involved in negotiations to resolve the war in Ukraine and that he expected to hold talks with Russian President Vladimir Putin in the coming days.
“There can be no separate agreements behind Belarus’s back,” Lukashenko was quoted as saying by the Belarusian state news agency Belta on Thursday.
“Since you dragged us into this – principally Western countries – the position of Belarus naturally needs to be heard at these negotiations.”
Lukashenko repeatedly chose to use the word “war”, a term banned by Moscow, at a meeting with his security officials.
Foreign minister Vladimir Makei went further, saying that Lukashenko himself “must participate in the [final] meeting”.
Russia sent tens of thousands of troops into Ukraine on February 24 from both Russian and Belarusian territory in what it called a “special military operation” designed to demilitarise and “denazify” its neighbour.
Ukraine and Western governments reject that as a false pretext for a war of aggression that has forced more than 10 million people to flee their homes and destroyed cities and towns.
Ukrainian authorities say thousands of civilians have been killed and wounded.
Lukashenko has said Belarus’s armed forces are not taking part and will not take part in the conflict, and asserted on Thursday that Belarus had been unfairly labelled “an accomplice of the aggressor”.
However, the European Union, the United States and others have included Belarus in the sweeping sanctions imposed on Russia.
“We do not need this war,” Belta quoted Lukashenko as saying. “Because as a result of this conflict between two Slavic peoples, we are the ones who may suffer the most.”
He complained that Minsk is not a participant in rounds of peace talks between delegations from Kyiv and Moscow, which have been held in Belarus and Istanbul.
Belarus has allowed Russian troops to use the country bordering Ukraine as a rear base and has hosted three rounds of peace talks close to the border with Ukraine.
Lukashenko complained that last month’s talks in Istanbul were the result of “pressure from the west on Ukraine, not to go to Belarus at any cost”.
He said that Belarus was not insisting on talks being held on its territory, however.
“Let them hold talks there. The main thing is for there to be a result. Because, I stress again, war causes great harm to Belarus.”
Although Belarus now relies heavily on Russia for economic and military support, Lukashenko has at times in the past tried to distance himself from Moscow in favour of better relations with the EU.
In 2020, the Kremlin helped Lukashenko forcibly put down mass pro-democracy protests alleging fraud in an election that gave him a sixth consecutive term as president, and crush what was left of Belarus’s political opposition.