Russia and Belarus have begun joint military exercises, which have triggered fears in Kyiv and the West that Moscow could use its ally to launch a new ground offensive in Ukraine.
Russia used its neighbour Belarus as a springboard for its invasion of Ukraine last February.
The two allies will conduct air force drills from 16 January – 1 February using all Belarus military airfields and began joint army exercises involving a “mechanised brigade subdivision” today, the Belarusian defence ministry said.
Minsk says the air drills are defensive and it will not enter the war.
“We’re maintaining restraint and patience, keeping our gunpowder dry,” said Pavel Muraveyko, first deputy state secretary of Belarusian Security Council, according to a post on the Belarusian defence ministry’s Telegram app yesterday.
Muraveyko said the situation on the country’s southern border with Ukraine was “not very calm” and that Ukraine has been “provoking” Belarus.
“We are ready for any provocative actions on the part of Ukraine,” he said.
Moscow denies that it has been pressuring Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko to take a more active role in the conflict in Ukraine.
Ukraine has continuously warned of possible attacks from Belarus and President Volodymyr Zelensky said last week that the country must be ready at its border with Belarus.
Belarus has conducted numerous military exercises since the invasion began, both on its own and jointly with Russia.
Together with Moscow, Minsk has also been bolstering the drills with weaponry and military equipment.
Unofficial Telegram military monitoring channels have been reporting a series of fighters, helicopters and military transport planes coming to Belarus since the start of the year – eight fighters and four cargo planes yesterday alone.
Reuters was not able to verify the reports. The Belarusian defence ministry said only that “units” of Russia’s air forces have been arriving in Belarus.