Belarus: Lukashenko leaves stage following press conference
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Vice President Kamala Harris said the ‘eyes of the world’ are on the Belarus border and the US is ‘looking at the tools it has’ after a day of rapid-fire developments led to fears of war breaking out on Europe’s eastern border.
Secretary of State Antony Blinken accused dictator Alexander Lukashenko of using migration as a political weapon against the EU as Vice President Harris condemned his ‘very troubling actions’ on Poland’s border.
Harris spoke about the situation at a press conference in Paris with French President Emmanuel Macron – after Russia conducted bombing exercises with Belarusian forces and built up troops along its border with Ukraine – prompting the US to assert its ‘ironclad’ commitment to Ukrainian security.
“On the issue of Belarus and what is happening at the border with Poland, we are very concerned about that and closely paying attention to it,” she said.
She also gave a warning to President Alexander Lukashenko’s government.
“The Lukashenko regime, I believe is engaged in very troubling activity. It is something that I discussed with President Macron, and the eyes of the world and its leaders are watching what is happening there,’”she said.
Defiant apparatchiks in Minsk hit back, as Defence Minister Viktor Khrenin accused western nations of trying to ‘initiate conflict’ using ‘ultimatums, threats and blackmail’ while vowing to ‘respond harshly to any attacks’, Daily Mail reports.
It comes after Russia and Belarus held snap paratrooper drills just 20 miles from a border crossing where thousands of migrants are gathered, saying it was to ‘test the readiness’ of their troops, at the same time as two Russian bombers flew close to the UK – with RAF Typhoons scrambled to escort them.
A ‘small’ detachment of British troops, thought to be from Royal Electrical Mechanical Engineers, were also deployed to the Polish border to help beef up the defences, the Ministry of Defence confirmed.
On the other hand, Russian President Vladimir Putin said in an interview aired on Saturday: “The United States and its allies in NATO are carrying out unplanned exercises in the Black Sea.
Not only is a powerful naval group involved in these exercises, but also aviation, including strategic aviation. This is a serious challenge for us,” he said in an interview with state broadcaster Vesti.
Mr Putin said that his defence ministry “had a proposal to hold its own unplanned exercises in the same waters.”
He added: “But I believe that this is inappropriate and there is no need to further escalate the situation there.”
The EU on Friday also said it was also concerned by Russian military activities close to Ukraine’s border.
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The bloc said it was monitoring the situation with partners including the US and the UK.
Putin brushed off the accusations, saying “he had not seen these alarmist statements yet.”
Separately, the US also warned that Putin could be preparing for an attack on eastern Ukraine after he was spotted massing thousands of troops, tanks and artillery pieces near the border.
Ukraine’s defence minister accused Russia of waging ‘hybrid warfare’ on Europe, saying Putin is ultimately responsible for the Polish border crisis.
However, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov dismissed those allegations, saying that Russia “doesn’t threaten anyone” while describing fears of an attack on Ukraine as a “hollow and unfounded attempt to incite tensions”.
Peskov also claimed that Russia needed to protect its security against “increasing provocations” near its borders.
He pointed at the US naval deployment to the Black Sea and increasingly frequent US and NATO intelligence flights.
Peskov said: “We take measures to ensure our security when our opponents take defiant action near our borders.
“We can’t stay indifferent to that; we must be on our guard.”
Poland has moved 15,000 troops to its border to help manage the unfolding crisis, while Ukraine has deployed 8,500 soldiers to the eastern border region where it has been fighting a years-long war with Russian-backed separatist rebels.
Russia’s defence ministry said the unannounced drill involved paratroopers from both countries dropping at the Gozhsky range, just 20 miles from where thousands of migrants are gathered at the Polish border, where they practiced capturing bridges as well as hunting down and destroying enemy patrols.
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