By Michael Kern of OilPrice.com
Russia is training Belarussian pilots to fly combat jets with “special warhead” capabilities, Belarusian state-controlled media announced during Russian President Vladimir Putin’s visit to the country on Monday, his first in three years.
The meeting comes amid heightened concerns that Russia is planning a new assault on Ukraine, possibly from Belarusian territory, despite the fact that Belarus President Aleksandr Lukashenko late last week declared his country was not a puppet of Putin’s.
Late on Monday, Belarus’ official news agency BeITA, stated that an agreement had been reached over training for Belarussian army aircraft, “which have already been refitted to carry and possibly use air-launched ammunition with special warheads”.
To sweeten the deal, Putin has appointed Belarus head of the Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO) beginning in January 2023.
“Taking into account the situation evolving along the border perimeter, we discussed some important details of cooperation in the sphere of military security. I thank you, Vladimir Vladimirovich [Putin] for our finding mutual understanding and support [...],” Lukashenko was quoted as saying.
What worries Ukraine and Western officials most, however, was Lukashenko’s statement that “Today we've commissioned an S-400 [air defense missile] complex that you have handed over to Belarus. And most importantly the Iskander complex, which you've also handed over to us after promising it half a year ago.”
Lukashenko continued: “You've just touched upon a very sensitive matter (we are not its authors) concerning the training of our crews [for the aircraft] capable of carrying special weapons and special ammunition. I have to tell you that we've prepared the aircraft. It turned out we've had such aircraft since the Soviet times. We tested them in the Russian Federation. We are now working with Russians to train the crews able to fly these aircraft that carry special ammunition.”
Lukashenko appeared to be suggesting that the training and the “special warheads” were not directed at Ukraine and were not meant to pose a threat to Ukraine.
The Belarusian leader’s statements of thanks to Putin come after his assertions last week that his country remains completely sovereign from Russia.