A second source close to the Ukrainian government told CNN that in addition to the Ukrainian intelligence, the Biden administration has also conveyed to the Ukrainian government that Belarus is preparing to join the Russian invasion.
So far, however, US officials have not seen Belarusian troops “being readied to move into Ukraine” or “that they are moving or are in Ukraine,” a senior US Defense official told reporters Monday, adding that the forces inside Ukraine are Russian.
A senior Biden administration official says the White House is watching actions taken by Belarus closely, and is prepared to levy more sanctions on the country amid reports that Belarusian forces could join Russia in its invasion of Ukraine.
In announcing the decision to suspend operations at the US Embassy in Belarus, US Secretary of State Antony Blinken cited the “unprovoked and unjustified attack by Russian military forces in Ukraine” but did not point to any intelligence regarding potential military action by Belarus. Non-emergency employees and family members will also be permitted to depart the US Embassy in Moscow, Blinken said.
‘If it becomes necessary’
Belarus President Aleksander Lukashenko said last week that Belarusian troops could join the invasion “if it becomes necessary.”
“Our troops are not participating in any way in this operation. We’re not going to justify ourselves here about our participation or non-participation in this conflict. I repeat once again. Our troops are not there but if it becomes necessary, if Belarus and Russia need them, they will be there,” Lukashenko said on tape from state news agency Belta’s YouTube channel.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky, meanwhile, appealed to Belarusians as “neighbors” on Sunday.
“Belarusians, this is a referendum for you as well. You decide who you are and whom to become. How you would look in you children’s eyes. How you’d look in each other’s eyes. In your neighbor’s eyes. And we are your neighbors,” he said.
Zelensky’s office said Lukashenko called the Ukrainian president Sunday to discuss Monday’s meeting.
“The politicians have agreed that the Ukrainian delegation will meet with the Russian delegation without preconditions on the Ukrainian-Belarusian border, near the Pripyat River,” Zelensky’s office said. “Aleksander Lukashenko has taken responsibility for ensuring that all planes, helicopters and missiles stationed on the Belarusian territory will remain on the ground during the Ukrainian delegation’s travel, meeting and return.”
Belarus announced Sunday that the country had renounced its non-nuclear status in a referendum that day. According to the Belarus Central Elections Commission, 78.63% of the eligible voting population took part in Sunday’s referendum, of which 65.16% voted in favor of approving a new constitution that will shed the country’s non-nuclear status and give Lukashenko the opportunity to run for two additional terms in office.
The new constitution could theoretically allow Russia to place nuclear weapons back in Belarus for the first time since the fall of the Soviet Union, when Belarus gave up its stockpile and became a nuclear free zone.
The amendments and additions to the constitution passed in Sunday’s referendum will come into effect in 10 days’ time, according to Lukashenko’s office.
CNN’s Hannah Ritchie, Josh Pennington and Ellie Kaufman contributed to this report.