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Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy looked to temper escalating tensions with his northern neighbor Tuesday and said Belarus’ involvement in Russia’s war could be avoided.
“We believe that Belarus will not get involved in this war. There are and will be provocations,” he said during a round table according to Interfax.
“There are a lot of people of different caliber who have brought suffering to Ukraine. We understand that this is not the decision of the Belarusian people,” he added.
Zelenskyy’s comments come as tensions between Kyiv and Minsk have escalated after Russian missiles were fired at western and northern Ukrainian targets last month from within Belarus’ borders.
Ukraine has accused Russia of attempting to draw Belarus into the war as intense fighting continues more than four months after Russian President Vladimir Putin ordered the invasion.
Belarusian President Aleksandr Lukashenko has largely been able to keep his country out of any direct involvement in the war. Though he faced international ire earlier this year when he allowed Moscow to build up its forces along Belarus’ shared border with Ukraine in the lead-up to the invasion.
Belarus also served as a home base for Russian troops following their withdrawal from northern Ukraine in March.
Zelenskyy called on the Belarusian people to reject Minsk’s involvement in the war to stop the conflict from escalating further.
“We believe that the Belarusian people should do everything not to get involved in this war,” he said. “The responsibility should be on people who see what is happening.
“We cannot remain silent and say that not we, but it is that the Russian Federation is firing these shots from our territory,” Zelenskyy said.
But Lukashenko’s unwavering support for Putin could limit the ability Belarusian’s ability to affect the outcome.
Lukashenko has increasingly relied on Putin following his help to contain the mass protests that broke out after his 2020 re-election which many believed was rigged.
The Belarusian president renewed his support for the Kremlin on Sunday when he said Minsk has backed Moscow’s invasion of Ukraine “from the very first day.”
“Today, we are being criticized for being the only country in the world to support Russia in its fight against Nazism. We support and will continue to support Russia,” he told Belarusian news outlets according to Reuters.
“And those who criticize us, do they not know that we have such a close union with the Russian Federation?” he added. “We have practically a unified army. We will remain together with fraternal Russia.”