Few people know Vladimir Putin quite as well as Alexander Lukashenko does.
The authoritarian leader of Belarus is a firm Kremlin ally and backer of what Mr Putin refers to as the “special military operation” – what most of the world calls Russia’s war in Ukraine.
Since his full-scale invasion of Ukraine a year ago, Mr Putin hasn’t sat down with Western journalists.
But today in Minsk, Mr Lukashenko took questions from a small group of foreign media, including the BBC.
“Last year you allowed your country to be used as a staging ground for Russia’s invasion,” I reminded Mr Lukashenko. “Are you prepared to do so again?”
“Yes, I’m ready,” he replied. “I’m ready to provide [territory] again. I’m also ready to wage war, alongside the Russians, from the territory of Belarus. But only if someone – even a single soldier – enters our territory from there (Ukraine) with weapons to kill my people.”
Military co-operation between Russia and Belarus has been on the increase, with joint drills and the formation of a joint military grouping. But so far the Belarusian leader has avoided sending his troops into Ukraine to fight alongside Russian forces.
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The UK, EU and the United States do not recognise Alexander Lukashenko as the legitimate president of Belarus. In 2020 Belarusians poured on to the streets to accuse him of stealing the country’s presidential election. The protests were brutally suppressed.
Mr Lukashenko used Thursday’s event to blame the West for the war in Ukraine.
He accused Western governments of fuelling the conflict and engaged in a touch of Putinesque nuclear sabre-rattling,
“If you continue this escalation, you will get nuclear weapons and Russia has more than anyone,” he said.
“So, you should stop this. If a nuclear war starts, Belarus will cease to exist. We need to sit down at the negotiating table, because nuclear war will wipe out the USA too. No-one needs this.”