By IAN PHILLIPS
MINSK, Belarus (AP) — Belarus’ authoritarian President Alexander Lukashenko defended Russia’s invasion of Ukraine in an interview Thursday with The Associated Press, but he said he didn’t expect the 10-week-old conflict to “drag on this way.”
He also spoke out against the use of nuclear weapons in Ukraine but wouldn’t say if Russian President Vladimir Putin had plans to launch such a strike.
Lukashenko said Moscow, which launched the invasion of Ukraine on Feb. 24 — partly from his territory — had to act because Kyiv was “provoking Russia.”
“But I am not immersed in this problem enough to say whether it goes according to plan, like the Russians say, or like I feel it,” he said in the nearly 90-minute interview at Independence Palace in Minsk. “I want to stress one more time: I feel like this operation has dragged on.”
Lukashenko’s support of the war has prompted international criticism and sanctions against Minsk. Some Russian troops were sent from Belarusian territory into Ukraine, and Lukashenko has publicly stood by his longtime ally, who has pumped billions of dollars into shoring up his Soviet-style, state-controlled economy with cheap energy and loans.
But speaking to the AP, Lukashenko said he and his country stand for peace and repeatedly called for the end of the “war” — a term the Kremlin refuses to use, calling the invasion a “special military operation” instead.
“We categorically do not accept any war. We have done and are doing everything now so that there isn’t a war. Thanks to yours truly, me that is, negotiations between Ukraine and Russia have begun,” he said.
Lukashenko said using nuclear weapons in Ukraine was “unacceptable because it’s right next to us — we are not across the ocean like the United States.”
“It is also unacceptable because it might knock our terrestrial ball flying off the orbit to who knows where,” he said. “Whether or not Russia is capable of that — is a question you need to ask the Russian leadership.”
Russia “can’t by definition lose this war,” Lukashenko said, noting that Belarus is the only country standing by Moscow, while “as many as 50 states have joined forces” on Ukraine’s side.