Putin Establishes Joint Military Training Centers With Belarus
President Vladimir Putin on Tuesday signed a decree ordering the establishment of joint military training centers with Belarus, in a potential sign that Russia's 'Union State' ally under Alexander Lukashenko is preparing to join the Ukraine invasion, which is soon to hit its one year mark by the end of February.
"In a decree published Tuesday, Putin tasked the defense and foreign ministers to conduct talks with Belarus and sign an agreement to establish the facilities," the AFP reports. "The document did not specify where they would be based."
Currently, Moscow and Minsk are participating in joint air force drills which are scheduled to last until Feb. 1st, and there's been an increase in Russian top level official visits to Belarus of late.
Putin had made a rare visit to Belarus on Dec.19, where he met with President Lukashenko in Minsk, and the two discussed the formation of a "unified defense space" - but no details were offered in terms of operational details involved in implementing such a plan.
Ukraine has meanwhile continued to fear that the Kremlin's next escalation and potential large-scale mobilization could involve the formal entry of Belarus into the war. Lukashenko had at the start of the invasion allowed Russian troops to use his territory as a launching pad.
Last week there were reports that Kiev offered Belarus a 'non-aggression' pact, which is without doubt geared toward preventing a feared Belarusian cross-border offensive. This also came amid claims that Russia is launching drones against Ukraine's energy infrastructure from Belarus.
Lukashenko had confirmed Ukraine's offer last week:
"On the one hand, they ask us not to fight Ukraine under any circumstances, not to move our forces there. They offer us to sign a non-aggression pact," Lukashenko told officials in a meeting in Minsk, according to the Belta state news agency. On the other hand, Ukraine has been training and arming people to fight Belarus, he added.
⚡️Pictures from today’s joint air drills between Belarus and the Russian federation, somewhere in southern Belarus. pic.twitter.com/VJTb2UnAcU— War Monitor (@WarMonitors) January 31, 2023
He again denied that there are any plans to send Belarusian troops into Ukraine, but he's also remained a staunch defender of Putin's order for Russia to invade, and has called out the "completely insane" actions of nearby NATO countries such as Poland and Lithuania.