Ukraine says Russia wants to drag Belarus into war, warns of invasion plan

LVIV, Ukraine, March 11 (Reuters) — Ukraine said Belarus could be planning to invade its territory on Friday and accused Russia of trying to drag its ally into the war by staging air attacks on Belarus from Ukrainian air space.

Belarus has served as a staging post for Russian troops, missiles and aircraft, both before and after Russia launched its invasion of Ukraine on Feb. 24, but it has not deployed its own forces in active battle.

Ukraine’s military accused Russian aircraft of firing at Belarusian border villages from Ukrainian air space on Friday to provide an excuse for an offensive.

“This is a PROVOCATION! The goal is to involve the Armed Forces of the Republic of Belarus in the war with Ukraine!” Ukraine’s Air Force Command said in an online statement.

The Kremlin did not immediately respond to a request for comment on the Air Force Command’s statement.

The alleged attacks took place as Belarusian leader Alexander Lukashenko was meeting Russian President Vladimir Putin in Moscow, according to Ukraine’s State Centre for Strategic Communications.

The result of this meeting could be an attack by Belarus across Ukraine’s northern border, the center said in statement.

“According to preliminary data, Belarusian troops may be drawn into an invasion on March 11 at 21:00 (1900 GMT),” it said.

Last week, Lukashenko, a close Kremlin ally, said Belarusian armed forces were not taking part and would not take part in what Russia calls its “special military operation” in Ukraine.

Ukrainian senior officials said Russia was doing everything possible to draw Belarus into the conflict, after failing in what Western countries say was an initial plan for a lightning assault on the capital.

“We also understand that the Belarusian government has been doing everything possible to avoid joining this war,” Ukrainian deputy interior minister Yevheniy Yenin said on national television on Friday.

There was no immediate comment on the allegations from Belarus.

Ukraine’s top security official Oleksiy Danilov said Ukraine had so far shown restraint towards Belarus, despite Russia using it as a launchpad for attacks on Ukraine. But he warned on Friday if “one fighter crosses our border, we will fight back.”

Meanwhile Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy struck a more conciliatory note in a speech to the government of neighboring Poland, which also shares a border with Belarus.

“I really want these words to be heard by our common neighbors – Belarusians. Peace between relatives, peace between neighbors, peace between brothers, we must achieve this with them too. And we definitely will,” Zelenskiy said.