(Kyiv) Vladimir Putin traveled to Belarus on Monday for talks with President Alexander Lukashenko, his ally in the war with Ukraine, after a drone attack on Kyiv caused power cuts.
“Russia and Belarus are open to dialogue with other states, including European ones,” assured Mr. Lukashenko at the start of this meeting, according to images broadcast on Russian television.
However, he called on Westerners to “listen to the voice of reason” and called for closer cooperation with Moscow in view of the current “difficult times”.
Mr. Putin spoke to him about issues of economic cooperation between the two countries, before the broadcast was interrupted.
This summit between the Russian and Belarusian heads of state comes at a time when the Ukrainian authorities say they fear in the first months of 2023 the possibility of a Russian offensive on Kyiv which would be launched from Belarusian territory, repeating the scenario of the start of the invasion on February 24.
Adding to concerns, the Russian military said on Monday it would take part in “tactical” maneuvers in Belarus, after the announcement in October of the formation of a joint force of several thousand men.
Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov, however, denied that Mr Putin had gone to Belarus to convince Minsk to directly participate in the conflict in Ukraine, calling the allegations “stupid” and “baseless”.
Kyiv suffered a new massive assault from drones sent by Russia overnight from Sunday to Monday. According to local authorities, 23 of these devices were seen in the sky of the capital, 18 of which were neutralized by anti-aircraft defense.
Local authorities reported that “several infrastructures and houses” had been “damaged” and at least three people injured.
According to the national operator Ukrenergo, power cuts were introduced in Kyiv and in 10 regions in the face of a “difficult” situation on the network after these strikes.
No water, no electricity
“I first heard an anti-aircraft warning siren howl in the street. For the first time, it scared me,” Natalia Dobrovolska, 68, who lives in a neighborhood in western Kyiv, told AFP.
His building was shaken around 4:30 a.m. by a “very strong explosion” followed by two others, before new explosions an hour later. Then the electricity was cut off.
Igor, a 35-year-old photo editor who lives in the northwest of the capital, was also suddenly awakened: “We heard a loud explosion and saw a fire through the window,” he said. .
“Now we have almost no mobile network, no electricity and no water,” he adds.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky assured that Moscow had received “a new batch” of 250 drones from Iran. At a European summit in Riga, he demanded Norwegian NASAMS missile batteries, German Leopard tanks, Swedish Archer artillery systems and French Caesar guns.
Moscow, for its part, assured that it had shot down four American-made HARM anti-radar missiles over the Russian region of Belgorod, on the border with Ukraine, an area regularly targeted by Ukrainian forces.
Russia has also indicated that several of its warships will take part in maneuvers with the Chinese navy this week, amid efforts by Moscow and Beijing to consolidate their ties with the West.
Fears of an attack
Vladimir Putin’s trip to Belarus is his first in that country in three years. Mr. Lukashenko goes regularly to Russia, in particular to advance the project of a greater union between the two states.
This meeting also comes at a time when the Ukrainian army is monitoring the Belarusian border in particular, for fear of a possible attack on the capital in early 2023.
While Minsk troops are not taking a direct part in Moscow’s war, the Russian army is using Belarusian territory to bomb neighboring Ukraine, according to Kyiv.
The Russian Ministry of Defense released images of maneuvers in Belarus on Monday showing soldiers with tanks and practicing artillery fire in a snow-covered landscape.
“From dawn to dusk, there is not a single second of silence on the training grounds of Belarus,” the ministry boasted in a statement.
In his Sunday evening speech, the Ukrainian head of state assured that the situation on the northern border was a “constant priority”.
“We are preparing for all possible defense scenarios,” added Volodymyr Zelensky, adding that he had discussed this subject during a meeting with the commanders of the Ukrainian forces.