Belarus says troops deployed alongside Russian forces is ‘purely defensive’

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Minsk said Tuesday that a contingent of Belarusian troops deploying alongside Russian forces was a “purely defensive” grouping whose aim was to defend the borders of the ex-Soviet republic closely aligned with Russia.

“We emphasize once again that the tasks of the Regional Grouping of Forces are purely defensive. And all activities carried out at the moment are aimed at providing a sufficient response to actions near our borders,” Belarusian Defense Minister Viktor Khrenin was cited as saying in a statement.

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Earlier this week Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko, who is a close personal ally to Russian leader Vladimir Putin, announced the countries had deployed forces together but did not specify where.

He said the formation of these troops coincided with an explosion on a bridge linking Crimea to Russia - a blast that Moscow has blamed on Ukraine.

The deployment has raised fears that Belarusian troops could join Russian forces in their struggling mission to capture and hold territory in east Ukraine.

However, the head of Belarus, Security Council Alexander Volfovich said Tuesday those concerns were unwarranted and said Western countries were considering attacking Belarus on that pretext.

“In the West, unfortunately, the opinion is being implanted that the Belarusian army may enter into a special military operation on the territory of Ukraine,” he was cited as saying by the defense ministry.

“European countries are already openly considering possible options for aggression against our country. In the highest echelons of power in Ukraine, the possibility of striking at Belarus is also being discussed,” he added.

Belarus relies financially and politically on its key ally Russia.

Lukashenko allowed Russian troops into the country under the pretext of military exercises in the months before Moscow launched its military operation in Ukraine.

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