There was no six-meter table at the meeting in the Kremlin between Putin and Lukashenko, and it is no coincidence that the two leaders chose to start talks separated only by a low table. The images speak for themselves: Overlaying the snapshots with the one-on-one shots with Macron and Schulz, the greater and shorter political distance between Putin and his interlocutors shines through. The choice of tables is the work of Dmitry Peskov, who is not only a spokesman for the Kremlin, but also one of the president’s most important advisers.
The difference in furniture wants to emphasize the concept that France and Germany are enemies, Belarus is a valuable ally and, above all, anti-Covid measures have nothing to do with this. Not surprisingly, on the Belarusian border in northern Ukraine, Putin has placed 30,000 fighters, along with tanks, surface-to-air missile systems and Sukhoi supersonic fighters, to attempt a possible invasion and reach Kiev in less than three hours.
Belarusian Foreign Minister Vladimir Makei said that at the end of the exercises, all Russian soldiers will leave the country. Initially, operations were supposed to end today, February 20, but have been extended for another week.
Putin and Lukashenko discussed a possible joint response to what they described as “Western aggression.” “After years of delays and misunderstandings, serious progress has been made in integrating the economic, political and military systems of the two countries,” Lukashenko explained. For his part, Putin stressed the close alliance, which he spoke of “continuous and virtuous coordination of our positions.” Assurances ratified by the joint supervision yesterday of the new operations of the Russian Strategic Deterrence Forces.
These are large-scale nuclear exercises to test ballistic and cruise missiles. The Aerospace Forces, the Southern Military District and the Strategic Missile Forces are participating in the exercises. All this while the ships and submarines of the Northern and Black Sea fleets launched hypersonic Kalibr cruise missiles and Zircon missiles at sea and land targets.
On paper, Belarus and Russia began very close cooperation, including military, in the late 1990s, when then-Kremlin chief Boris Yeltsin agreed with Lukashenko to form a so-called union state. An agreement that Lukashenko believed could even lead to Minsk domination of Moscow, given the weakness of Yeltsin, tormented by health problems. But since Putin replaced him in the Kremlin in 2000, Lukashenko has been reinstated.
The two leaders’ summit also helped generate new signs of tension: France and Germany recommended their citizens leave Kiev, and Germany’s national airline Lufthansa (Switzerland-style) will cancel flights to Kiev from Monday. Germany had already advised the Germans to leave the country a week ago, but the message has now been paraphrased more forcefully: “Tensions between Russia and Ukraine have increased further in light of the massive presence and movements of Russian military units. Close to the Ukrainian border,” warned Foreign Minister Annalina Barbuk. French counterpart Jean-Yves Le Drian adds that “those in the Kharkiv, Lugansk, Donetsk and Dnipro regions are invited to leave the regions without delay.” NATO also closed its offices in Kiev, evacuating personnel to Lviv (where the Canadian embassy is located), 70 kilometers from the border with Poland. Foreigners are fleeing Kiev, even if the situation in the capital seems more than acceptable. Everyday life is not like the life of a city in imminent attack. Shops and restaurants are full, and there are massive traffic jams on the highways surrounding the city because of those who have to go to work.
President Zelensky also clings to this near-normal, calling a clarifying meeting with Putin. Speaking at the Munich Security Conference, however, he reiterated that he was ready to protect the country “with or without the help of our partners. Ukraine wants peace, and Europe too, Russia claims it does not want to interfere, there are those who lie.” On the sidelines of his speech, he launched consultations on the “Budapest Memorandum”, denouncing the suspension of work. The agreement, signed in 1994, was supposed to guarantee Ukraine’s security in return for giving up its nuclear capabilities.
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