By RFE RL
(RFE/RL) — Belarusian leader Alyaksandr Lukashenka said Russian President Vladimir Putin is not trying to push Belarus into joining the war in Ukraine and vowed that Minsk’s forces would never take part in the war unless Ukrainian troops crossed the border into Belarus.
“To involve Belarus…what will that give? Nothing,” Lukashenka said in an online interview with a pro-Russian Ukrainian journalist published by state news agency BelTA on August 17. “If you Ukrainians do not cross our border, we will never participate in this war.”
While Belarus has not sent forces to fight in Ukraine, it has allowed Russia to use its territory as a staging ground for the full-scale invasion Moscow launched in February 2022, and Lukashenka has backed Russia’s war and met with Putin frequently.
He vowed in the interview to “always help Russia,” adding that they “are our allies.”
Lukashenka showed his loyalty in late June when he took part in talks to end a mutiny by the private Wagner mercenary group, claiming he helped halt the revolt by agreeing with Wagner leader Yevgeny Prigozhin and Putin to host Wagner troops in Belarus.
The authoritarian leader also said that there had been direct contacts between Ukraine and Belarus, including as recently as a few months ago, but Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy put a stop to them.
The topics discussed included Belarus’s potential involvement in the war, the potential use of nuclear weapons, and Wagner Group mercenaries.
“These questions accumulated. But we had these contacts, we talked. We don’t mind. And there are still proposals to continue this dialogue.”
There has been no confirmation from Ukraine that these talks took place.
Lukashenka said he believes Russia has achieved its goals in what Moscow calls its “special military operation” and said the two sides should sit at the negotiating table and be ready to discuss all issues, including the future of Crimea, which he said Russia would never relinquish, and other Ukrainian territories that Moscow claims.
“Negotiations should begin without preconditions. This is a classic of any diplomacy…. We need to sit down at the negotiating table and discuss everything. And Crimea, and Kherson, Zaporizhzhya, Donetsk,and Luhansk,” he said.
Kyiv says peace talks are only possible if Russia stops attacking and withdraws.
Zelenskiy has touted a peace initiative, which includes 10 principles that Kyiv wants to serve as the basis for peace. Among them, according to observers, is a demand for the territorial integrity and sovereignty of Ukraine.
The president’s chief of staff said last week that it was the only peace proposal discussed at a meeting hosted by Saudi Arabia on August 6. Officials from around 40 countries, including China the United States, and European countries, took part in the talks.
Before launching the invasion, Russia claimed its security was under threat from Ukraine’s stated desire to join NATO. It also claimed that it had to protect native Russian-speakers, especially those in eastern Ukraine, from what Putin said were “neo-Nazis” and ultranationalists in power in Kyiv.
The democratically elected government of Ukraine and its Western allies have rejected Russia’s claims that Kyiv is led by neo-Nazis as nonsense and said that the war is nothing more than an attempt by Putin to grab Ukrainian territory.
Lukashenka also reiterated that Belarus would use tactical nuclear weapons in the event of aggression by Ukrainian forces.
“There can be only one threat — aggression against our country. If aggression against our country starts from Poland, Lithuania, Latvia, we will respond instantly with everything we have,” he said.
Putin said in June that Russia would begin deploying tactical nuclear warheads in Belarus as soon as the storage facilities were prepared and would maintain control over the use of the weapons.