Russian President Vladimir Putin
The Kremlin has reiterated that any expansion of NATO military infrastructure in Ukraine would cross one of President Vladimir Putin’s "red lines" as Belarus’s authoritarian ruler Alyaksandr Lukashenka accused Washington of using training centers as a guise for setting up bases for the Western military alliance.
Ukraine, which is not a NATO member but has long sought closer ties with the West and its militaries, immediately rejected the statements saying it would determine its own security policy and that Moscow should worry only about issues inside of Russia’s borders.
The latest flare-up in frayed relations among the nations started on September 27 when Lukashenka said the United States is "building up bases" in Ukraine and that he and Putin have "agreed we must do something about it."
Lukashenka, who has been hit with several rounds of sanctions from the U.S. and several other Western nations for his brutal crackdown on dissent at home after the opposition accused him of rigging a presidential election in August 2020, did not specify what Moscow and Minsk would do, other than to say the actions would "ensure the security of the two of our states."
Russia staunchly opposes the idea of NATO membership for Ukraine and Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov added that Putin has repeatedly noted the issue of the potential broadening of NATO infrastructure on Ukrainian territory "would cross red lines."
Speaking in Kyiv, Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba sharply rejected the notion of a Russian "red line" outside of its own borders.
"Putin’s ‘red lines’ are limited to Russia’s borders," he tweeted.
"On our side of the Ukrainian-Russian border we can figure out ourselves what to do in the interests of the Ukrainian people, as well as Ukraine’s and Europe’s security."
Meanwhile, the Ukrainian Foreign Ministry rejected Lukashenka’s “baseless insinuations,” and stressed that Ukraine “has never interfered and will not interfere in the affairs of neighboring Belarus.”
"Preserving Belarus’s sovereignty and independence, not becoming an appendage of Russia, is something that Minsk should really think about,” the spokesman, Oleh Nikolenko, told the UNIAN news agency.
Tensions have run high since Russia annexed Ukraine’s Crimean Peninsula in 2014 and then tightened its grip by staging a referendum dismissed as illegal by most of the international community.
The Kremlin earlier this year amassed more than 100,000 troops on Ukraine’s border and in the occupied territory of Crimea in what the United States called an act of intimidation against Kyiv.
The military buildup came as Ukrainian forces battle Moscow-backed fighters in two eastern regions in a low-intensity war that has killed more than 13,200 since 2014.
The Kremlin has denied any involvement in the fighting, even though there is substantial evidence of Russian fighters and arms crossing into Ukraine.
Ukraine began joint military exercises with the United States and other NATO member troops last week, while Russia and Belarus held large-scale drills that alarmed the West.
With reporting by Reuters, TASS, and BelTA