Fresh off major joint war games two weeks ago, Russia and Belarus are now issuing parallel statements warning Ukraine against pursuing a path to NATO membership or hosting NATO forces and bases, agreeing that for both countries it would be a "red line". Belarusian leader Alexander Lukashenko and Russian President Vladimir Putin just met in a summit in Sochi.
First, Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko alleged the United States has established training centers across Ukraine that are tantamount to full military bases. He indicated this was focus of direct discussions with Putin at the Sochi meeting.
"It's clear we need to react to this...(We) agreed that we need to take some kind of measures in response," Lukashenko said according to RIA news agency. Crucially, the recent 'Zapad-2021' exercises this month saw Russian and Belarus troops focus the war games on a scenario of expelling a NATO invasion.
Lukashenko's words prompted follow-up by the Kremlin on Monday, which confirmed that Putin agrees that any NATO expansion of military infrastructure inside Ukraine would indeed be a "red line" - as Reuters relates of the strong statements:
The Kremlin warned on Monday that any expansion of NATO military infrastructure in Ukraine would cross one of President Vladimir Putin's "red lines", and Belarus said it had agreed to take action with Moscow to counter growing NATO activity.
International reporters specifically asked Russian officials about Lukashenko's threat of joint "action", to which the Kremlin responded: "These are actions that ensure the security of the two of our states."
"President Putin has repeatedly noted the issue of the potential broadening of NATO infrastructure on Ukrainian territory, and (he) has said this would cross those red lines that he has spoken about before," the Kremlin clarified.
Moscow & Minsk's "red line" is NATO moving into Ukraine, the Kremlin said today. Both Russia and Belarus have apparently agreed to “take action” to secure the security of both countries if Kiev welcomes "infrastructure" from the US-led military bloc. https://t.co/YQxuPWOn3d— Bryan MacDonald (@27khv) September 27, 2021
During March and April of this year, Russia was accused of building up its forces in Crimea and along its border with Ukraine, sparking fears of an impending invasion which grabbed world headlines for a month, until the troops were withdrawn.
Russia said it was merely 'repositioning' troops at the end of large-scale exercises, and pointed out it's free to move any military assets within its sovereign borders anytime it wants. It set off a crisis and a flurry of diplomatic activity in Europe as Ukraine's allies sought to defuse the crisis. Moscow had called Ukraine the aggressor, charging that Kiev was engaged in its own military build-up leading to heightened attacks on pro-Russian breakaway regions and separatist forces in Eastern Ukraine.