MOSCOW (Reuters) – Belarusian leader Alexander Lukashenko said on Thursday he needed Russian nuclear-capable bombers to help him navigate a migrant crisis at the Poland-Belarus border after two Russian Tu-160 planes rehearsed bombing runs in a training exercise.
It was the second day running that Russia had sent strategic bomber planes to overfly Belarus in a show of support for its close ally Minsk, which the European Union has accused of mounting a “hybrid attack” by pushing migrants from the Middle East, Afghanistan and Africa across the border into Poland.
“We have to constantly monitor the situation at the border. Let them squeak, let them shout. Yes, these are bombers capable of carrying nuclear weapons. But we have no other option. We must see what they are doing there beyond the borders,” Lukashenko said.
In comments published by Belarus state media, Lukashenko also said, without providing evidence, that attempts were being made to transfer weapons to the migrants, in what he described as a provocation. It was not clear who he was accusing of doing this.
The remarks fit a pattern of similar statements by the Belarus leader in recent days in which he has warned of the possibility of a military conflict while stressing that Minsk does not want that to happen.
In a statement, the Belarus defence ministry said that in response to a build-up of Polish military forces near the border it would be obliged it to take “appropriate response measures”, both independently and together with its strategic ally, Russia.
“We will not rattle our sabres like our neighbours. The system that has been created to respond to such attacks allows us to do everything to protect the sovereignty and independence of the country,” it said.
(Reporting by Maxim Rodionov; writing by Mark Trevelyan; Editing by Andrew Osborn)