24 Feb 2022 12:34

Lukashenko says Russian forces still in Belarus after exercise at his initiative

MINSK. Feb 24 (Interfax) - Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko said that Russian forces are remaining in Belarus after a joint exercise at his initiative.

"Just to be clear: I personally offered Putin at our latest meeting in Moscow to keep a certain number of Russian forces in southern Belarus," the First Man's Pool Telegram channel close to the Belarusian presidential press service quoted Lukashenko as saying at a meeting with the military on Thursday.

"Why? I am not ashamed to say that we were not ready to protect the southern sector when Ukrainian army units, not just border guards, were deployed towards the border and began an exercise. We saw that, but we never had any forces stationed in that area. So, I proposed that a small portion [of Russian forces] stay on the southern border until we replace them with our units," Lukashenko said.

"Putin agreed. Please note what he told me: 'You are right, they should stay. This is another chance for crazed politicians in Ukraine to draw necessary conclusions. Perhaps, they will understand the need to sit down and decide to make peace. There should be no war between fraternal peoples'. This is what we agreed upon. We did not plan to wage some kind of war on Ukraine. Once again, he said we should do it so that the Ukrainians, the Ukrainian leadership and politicians, draw conclusions and understand the need to solve the problems at a negotiating table," Lukashenko said.

The presidents of Belarus and Russia spoke on the phone early on Thursday morning, and Putin briefed Lukashenko on the situation on the border with Ukraine and in Donbas.