Belarusian leader calls for deal on ending the conflict but says any peace agreement depends entirely on Kyiv.
Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko has said that Moscow, Kyiv and the latter’s Western allies must all agree to halt the war in Ukraine to avoid the “abyss of nuclear war.”
“We must stop, reach an agreement, end this mess, operation and war in Ukraine,” Lukashenko, a close ally of Russian President Vladimir Putin, told the AFP news agency on Thursday in the Belarusian capital, Minsk.
“Let’s stop and then we will figure out how to go on living … There’s no need to go further. Further lies the abyss of nuclear war. There’s no need to go there.”
Russian officials have said Moscow would only authorise the use of nuclear weapons in the event it was confronted with an “existential threat”.
But concerns were raised over their possible use in Ukraine early in the war after Putin put Russia’s nuclear deterrent forces on high alert on February 27 – three days after ordering the invasion.
Lukashenko says West ‘fomented’ war
Lukashenko, aged 67, pinned the blame for the war on the West, accusing it of seeking a conflict with Russia and provoking the ongoing bloodshed.
“You have fomented the war and are continuing it,” Lukashenko told AFP, saying the outcome could have been avoided if Moscow had been given the “security guarantees” it had sought from Western states.
“If Russia had not got ahead of you, members of NATO, you would have organised and struck a blow against it,” he added, echoing unsubstantiated claims made by Putin concerning the United States-led transatlantic security alliance.
Belarus, which shares a border with Ukraine, served as a staging ground for Russia’s invasion.
Moscow deployed thousands of forces to Belarusian territory under the pretext of military drills prior to launching its offensive and then funnelled troops into Ukraine when it launched its assault on February 24.
‘Everything depends on Ukraine’
Lukashenko, who has ruled Belarus for nearly 30 years, also insisted that Ukraine’s government can end the conflict if authorities re-start stalled peace talks with Moscow and accept its demands.
“Everything depends on Ukraine,” he said. “Right now, the peculiarity of the moment is that this war can be ended on more acceptable terms for Ukraine.”
Lukashenko urged Ukrainian authorities to “sit down at the negotiating table and agree that they will never threaten Russia.”
Face-to-face talks between Russian and Ukrainian negotiators held in Turkey in late March failed to produce any breakthrough on ending the war. Discussions between Moscow and Kyiv largely ground to a halt soon afterwards.
On Wednesday, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said it made no sense to resume discussions for the time being and accused Kyiv of having no “desire to discuss anything in earnest”. He also announced Moscow had widened its war aims beyond eastern Ukraine’s Donbas region.
In an apparent nod to those remarks, Lukashenko said Ukraine must now accept the loss of regions occupied by Russia in eastern and southern Ukraine as part of any deal to end the conflict.