Belarus is getting ready to deploy troops to help Russia with its invasion of Ukraine, a U.S. official told reporters on Sunday evening.
Russian President Vladimir Putin and Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko are allies, and the troops could leave Belarus for Ukraine as early as Monday, the official told The Washington Post. "It's very clear Minsk is now an extension of the Kremlin," the official added.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky said he spoke to Lukashenko for the first time in two years on Sunday night, and was assured that "troops from Belarus will not go to Ukraine." Earlier in the day, Lukashenko declared that Russia doesn't need soldiers or weapons from Belarus, because "they have enough ammunition, and cartridges, and machine guns, and enough people to solve the problems that Russia wants to solve."
Lukashenko is known as "Europe's last dictator," and has been in power since 1994. Most of the international community agrees that he rigs elections to ensure he will win, and in 2020, protesters took to the streets, accusing Lukashenko of stealing the presidential election; thousands were arrested and beaten.
On Sunday, a referendum was held in Belarus, and Russian state media reports that 65.2 percent of voters approved changing the constitution so the country can have nuclear weapons on its soil. This would give Russia the opportunity to deploy nuclear weapons to Belarus, and is "a sign of Lukashenko's utter dependence on Moscow to stay in power," Politico's Sergei Kuznetsov writes.
Kuznetsov said Lukashenko "had traditionally tried to maneuver between Russia and the West to maintain some freedom of action, but the brutal crackdown following the 2020 election left him vulnerable and isolated." European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen on Sunday said Lukashenko's regime is "a collaborator" with the Kremlin, and because it is "complicit in this vicious attack against Ukraine," Lukashenko and Belarus will be hit with "a new package of sanctions."