Belarusian president Alexander Lukashenko insisted on Tuesday that Belarus would not take part in the ongoing Russo-Ukrainian War, although he claimed that Belarusian air defenses had shot down a missile fired into Belarusian territory from Ukraine.
The Ukrainian government accused Russia of firing the missile, describing it as a “false flag” attack intended to create the appearance of Ukrainian aggression against Belarus and draw Minsk into the war. While Belarus allowed Russian troops into its territory in January and February for alleged “training exercises”—later revealed as a cover for the deployment of Russian troops in preparation for the invasion—the Belarusian military has not formally taken part in the conflict, and some reports have indicated that mutinies among the Belarusian rank and file prevented Lukashenko’s government from deploying the military into Ukraine.
“I warned you that they would push us into this operation, into this war,” Lukashenko told a group of Belarusian soldiers, apparently referring to the Ukrainian government. “There’s nothing for us to do there, and we haven’t been invited.”
“I want to emphasize again … we are not going to become involved in this operation that Russia is conducting in Ukraine,” Lukashenko said. However, Lukashenko warned Kyiv that Belarus would act to defend the security of its citizens.
Belarusian air defenses reportedly intercepted the missile over the Pripyat region in southern Belarus. Pripyat is adjacent to the Chernobyl nuclear power plant and mostly falls within the uninhabited “exclusion zone” created by the Soviet Union in 1986 after a partial nuclear meltdown.
In his remarks, Lukashenko suggested that the missile attack had been launched from Ukraine in order to provoke Minsk into intervening in the conflict. “But we’re not such fools,” Lukashenko said. “If we respond, we’ll respond properly, so that everyone feels it. For now, we’re putting up with it.”
It is not clear why Kyiv would seek to provoke a Belarusian ground invasion, although Minsk has cooperated extensively with Moscow throughout its “special military operation” in Ukraine. Russian troops invaded Ukraine from Belarus, Russian missiles have been fired into Ukraine from the country, and Russian planes have launched airstrikes on Ukraine from Belarusian bases.
The Ukrainian government has objected to Minsk’s role in the Russian invasion, but it has not indicated that it would take military action against the country.
Trevor Filseth is a current and foreign affairs writer for the National Interest.