Monday

28th Nov 2022

Belarus seen preparing attack amid fears of nuclear escalation

  • Belarus president Alexander Lukashenko (l) with Russian president Vladimir Putin (Photo: Kremlin.ru)
Listen to article

Belarus was threatening to send paratroopers to Ukraine on Sunday, in a sign of how the Russian invasion may be dragging other countries into the war just four days after it began.

There was a tougher European Union response too, as EU Commission president Ursula von der Leyen announced plans to finance the purchase and delivery of weapons to Ukraine — the first time such a step had been taken.

Read and decide

Join EUobserver today

Become an expert on Europe

Get instant access to all articles — and 20 years of archives. 14-day free trial.

... or subscribe as a group

"This is a watershed moment," said von der Leyen.

"Another taboo has fallen," said EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell, who noted with some trepidation that Russia had put forces responsible for nuclear combat on alert.

Russian banks would also be unplugged from the SWIFT international-payments grid, Russian planes would be locked out of Europe, and media outlets Russia Today and Sputnik would be banned in the EU, they said.

Belarusian president Alexander Lukashenko had promised Ukrainian president Volodomyr Zelensky by phone Sunday that he would hold back on sending in his forces until the outcome of talks between Russian and Ukrainian officials that are expected near the River Pripyat, on the Belarusian border.

"We can only hope Lukashenko will stick to his word" and exercise restraint, Ukrainian foreign minister Dmytro Kuleba said in a press briefing from Kyiv on Facebook.

Hours earlier EU and US diplomats were warned that "[Belarusian] special operations forces are boarding planes" as part of a note sent by Alina Frolova, Ukraine's deputy defence minister, and seen by EUobserver. "An airborne landing is being prepared" for "Landing sites: Kyiv and Zhotimyr [in north-west Ukraine]," the note said.

EU diplomats in Minsk were trying to confirm if the Belarusian soldiers were really preparing to fly out, an EU source, who asked to remain anonymous, said.

But Belarusian president Alexander Lukashenko appeared to be laying the groundwork for intervention in Ukraine in a speech he gave in Minsk on Sunday.

"Is he [Zelensky] pushing me to embark on a special operation?" asked Lukashenko, who laced his speech with a litany of bogus accusations: that Ukrainians were beating up Belarusian people in Ukraine; and that Zelensky had trained "bandits from the self-exiled opposition" to attack Belarus.

The direct involvement by a third state in the war, if it went ahead, would mark the largest escalation since Russia invaded Ukraine on Thursday.

Putin, speaking in a TV statement Sunday, dialled up the tension further by threatening a nuclear response to what he described as Nato's "aggressive statements against our country."

"I order to move Russia's deterrence forces to a special regime of duty," said Putin, putting his nuclear forces in a state of combat readiness.

Reacting to Putin's words, Kuleba suggested that a tactical nuclear strike on Ukraine would be a global "catastrophe." Kuleba also said Putin's threat was designed to put pressure on Ukraine to surrender in the Pripyat talks.

"There's nothing bad in talking as such," Kuleba said. But he added that Ukraine "will not capitulate" and "will not give up a single inch" of its territory.

Nato has repeatedly vowed to stay out of the Ukraine war, but it's nonetheless sending extra troops to eastern allies to deter Russian aggression.

Nato and EU countries are also shipping arms to Ukraine via Poland, as heavy fighting continues in Kyiv and other cities.

Germany on Sunday announced it was sending anti-tank and anti-aircraft missiles to Ukraine, breaking a historical taboo on military intervention in a region associated with some of the Nazi era's worst crimes.

"We specifically need anti-tank, anti-air, anti-missile weapons. We need more air-to-air and ground-to-air missiles to counter the invaders," Ukraine's Kuleba said.

International legion

Alongside state-level intervention, international volunteer brigades to help the country also appeared to be forming, and Ukraine has created what Kuleba called an "international legion" for Europeans or other foreign fighters who wanted to take part in its "territorial defence."

Kyiv had already received "many hundreds" of volunteer requests, Kuleba said. "Every embassy and every consulate of Ukraine will help. Their access to Ukraine will be facilitated," he said.

Sunday's new EU measures will mark the third wave of sanctions on Russia in almost as many days. But there is still debate on how many Russian banks to strike out of SWIFT — and about how to keep Russian oil and gas imports flowing amid spiralling energy prices that hurt ordinary consumers in Europe.

"Some [EU] countries are trying to create loopholes so they can take some measures with their left hand, but keep on trading with Putin with their other hand," Kuleba said.

"Stop earning money soaked in our blood," the foreign minister said. Kuleba called for a "full oil and gas embargo" on Russia. "That oil and gas now contains Ukrainian blood," he said.

Lukashenko spoke on Sunday after holding a constitutional referendum that entrenched his grip on power and deepened Russia ties. His indirect support for Putin's war was already leading to extra EU sanctions on Belarus, von der Leyen said Sunday.

Were Belarusian paratroopers to join the fighting, then massive Russia-type EU sanctions on Belarus would also be discussed, diplomatic sources said.

Opinion

Putin and the threat of a tactical nuclear attack

Nato could be in a position to experience nuclear deterrence in an entirely unexpected form, requiring skilled diplomacy and even a willingness for some compromise, however bitter, to avoid disaster.

Russian beachhead Belarus hit with sanctions

Belarus will not be able to import dual-use goods and certain advanced technology from the EU that might contribute to its military, technological, defence and security systems.

News in Brief

  1. 'Pro-Kremlin group' in EU Parliament cyberattack
  2. Ukraine will decide on any peace talks, Borrell says
  3. Germany blocks sale of chip factory to Chinese subsidiary
  4. Strikes and protests over cost-of-living grip Greece, Belgium
  5. Liberal MEPs want Musk quizzed in parliament
  6. Bulgarian policeman shot dead at Turkish border
  7. 89 people allowed to disembark in Italy, aid group says
  8. UN chief tells world: Cooperate on climate or perish

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. Nordic Council of MinistersCOP27: Food systems transformation for climate action
  2. Nordic Council of MinistersThe Nordic Region and the African Union urge the COP27 to talk about gender equality
  3. International Sustainable Finance CentreJoin CEE Sustainable Finance Summit, 15 – 19 May 2023, high-level event for finance & business
  4. Friedrich Naumann Foundation European DialogueGender x Geopolitics: Shaping an Inclusive Foreign Security Policy for Europe
  5. Obama FoundationThe Obama Foundation Opens Applications for its Leaders Program in Europe
  6. EFBWW – EFBH – FETBBA lot more needs to be done to better protect construction workers from asbestos

Latest News

  1. Legal scholars: Prosecuting Putin 'legally problematic'
  2. A missed opportunity in Kazakhstan
  3. EU's Hungary funds, China, energy, and Frontex This WEEK
  4. Sweden says 'no' to EU asylum relocation pledges
  5. The 'proof' problem with EU sanctions — and how to fix it
  6. The EU gas cap: will the bottle ever be 'uncorked'?
  7. Enough talk, only rights can eliminate patriarchal violence
  8. Swedish EU presidency: 'Ukraine, Ukraine, Ukraine'

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. European Committee of the RegionsRe-Watch EURegions Week 2022
  2. UNESDA - Soft Drinks EuropeCall for EU action – SMEs in the beverage industry call for fairer access to recycled material
  3. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic prime ministers: “We will deepen co-operation on defence”
  4. EFBWW – EFBH – FETBBConstruction workers can check wages and working conditions in 36 countries
  5. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic and Canadian ministers join forces to combat harmful content online
  6. European Centre for Press and Media FreedomEuropean Anti-SLAPP Conference 2022

Join EUobserver

Support quality EU news

Join us