MOSCOW – The Belarusian Defense Minister has extended military exercises with Russian forces that were scheduled to end Sunday, and announced the formation of a joint working group “to respond if necessary.”
Defense Minister Viktor Khrinin said that the Russian and Belarusian military leaders will “continue to check” the readiness of the joint forces, noting the “increased military activity” near the Belarusian border and the “exacerbation of the situation” in eastern Ukraine.
The announcement that Russian forces would not return to the base as planned contrasts with the country’s previous assertion that no Russian soldiers or pieces of equipment remained after the exercises. And before the exercises began ten days ago, Western military analysts warned that it could be a cover for an offensive force to invade Ukraine from the north and possibly encircle the capital, Kiev.
The focus of the ongoing inspections will be the same as the recently completed exercises: “to ensure an appropriate response and de-escalation of military preparations for patients near our common border,” Khrinin said.
Just four days ago, Belarusian Foreign Minister Vladimir Makei told the Washington Post: “Not a single (Russian) soldier, not a single piece of military equipment will remain in Belarus after these exercises.”
Even before the exercises began 10 days ago, Western military analysts warned that it could be a cover for an offensive force to invade Ukraine from the north and possibly encircle its capital, Kiev.
According to NATO, there are about 30,000 Russian soldiers in Belarus as well as significant military equipment including S-400 missiles, stationed in the south of the country. The first indication that Russian forces may not leave after the exercise came on Saturday, when Belarusian General Alexander Volvovich told reporters that all the tasks of the exercise had been fulfilled but that “the exercise may continue. When and how will be decided by the chief inspector.”
Khrinin said that neighboring countries were “pumped” with Western weapons and that Europe was deliberately heading toward war.