The United States believes Russia could use joint military exercises inside Belarus to cover an invasion of Ukraine from the north, according to a senior Foreign Ministry official.
Why it's important: New deployments to the Belarus-Ukraine border in the coming weeks - in addition to the 100,000 Russian troops already encircling Ukraine from the north, east and south - could allow Russia to open a new front less than 100 miles from the Ukrainian capital, Kiev.
- It will also place Russian troops close to the borders of NATO members Poland, Lithuania and Latvia.
What they say: “I think what we should be concerned about is not whether it increases intent [to attack Kyiv], but whether it increases the ability and their ability to launch this invasion of Ukraine with an intention to overthrow the government, the senior Foreign Ministry official told reporters.
- "What I know about the Kremlin, and what I know about President Putin, is that he is an opportunist and he creates opportunities," the official stressed.
- "And so it's incredibly important that when we see that kind of movement, and when there's a concrete change in capabilities, that we recognize it and call it what it is."
Link: Belarus's dictator Alexander Lukashenko has held on to power for the past year and a half, thanks to Russian support, after his repression of nationwide protests led to Western sanctions and international isolation.
- "We know that Putin is not providing that support for free. It is clear that Russia is devouring Lukashenko's vulnerability and he is convening some of the accumulated IOUs," the official said.
- The official suggested that Lukashenko may not even be part of the decision-making process on how Russian troops use Belarusian territory, and that he has sacrificed his claim as "guarantor of Belarus's sovereignty and independence" for the past 27 years in a desperate period. bid to stay in power.
- Russia continues to deny that it plans to invade Ukraine, while threatening unspecified action if the United States and NATO do not agree to a set of demands, including excluding NATO membership from Ukraine.
The big picture: The new warning about Belarus is the latest example of the Biden administration sounding the alarm about the possibility of an impending Russian invasion.
- White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki told reporters on Tuesday that the United States believes "this is an extremely dangerous situation. We are now at a time when Russia can launch an attack at any time."
What's next: Foreign Minister Antony Blinken plans to travel to Kiev and Berlin this week before heading to Geneva on Friday for a meeting with his Russian counterpart.