US raises concerns about Russian troop movements to Belarus

The Biden administration is watching with concern Russian troop movements to Belarus, which they fear could be used to attack Ukraine from the north, a senior State Department official said on Tuesday.

The official said the Russian troop movements, which are being described by Moscow and Minsk as joint military drills, failed to adhere to “normal” procedures for notifying European states about the so-called exercises more than a month in advance and inviting international observers.

The alarm comes as U.S. officials are heightening rhetoric that Russia could imminently launch an invasion of Ukraine even as President Biden’s top diplomats have been carrying out intensive diplomacy with Russia to try and walk it back from the brink of war.

The senior State Department official criticized the exercises as “insufficiently notified” and that what “it represents is an increased capability for Russia to launch this attack — increased opportunity, increased avenues” to launch an invasion of Ukraine.

Russian President Vladimir Putin is considered the only patron of the isolated Belarusian leader Alexander Lukashenko, whose ruling government is under sanctions by the U.S. and allies in Europe related to an intensive campaign of political and civic repression.

The longtime Belarusian leader — who maintained his grip on power following the 2020 elections in the country despite widespread criticisms of fraud, mass protests and sanctions — carried out ever-more repressive and erratic actions against critics and dissidents.

This includes the funneling of refugee and asylum-seekers from the Middle East to Europe’s border in an effort to pressure them to relieve sanctions, and the forced landing of a commercial airline flying between Greece and Lithuania allegedly to arrest a media critic.  

“There are many troubling things happening in Belarus right now and there can be no doubt about Belarus’s role as an increasingly destabilizing actor in the region,” the senior State Department official said, and further raised concern about efforts by Lukashenko to allow Russian-nuclear forces to station themselves in the country.  

The official said that a proposed changes to Belarus’s constitution, with a referendum on the changes expected in February, “may indicate Belarus plans to allow both Russian conventional and nuclear forces to be stationed on this territory.” 

The official added that Lukashenko began the discussion about nuclear weapons in Belarus in November, and that while the longtime strongman “routinely says incredibly hyperobolic, unfounded, thoughts as they happen to cross his mind … when a leader like Lukashenko starts talking about nuclear weapons, we should all pay attention.” 

Tags Belarus Joe Biden Russia Ukraine Vladimir Putin

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