ASTANA, Kazakhstan – Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko has a warning to the West: Don’t push Russian President Vladimir Putin into a corner.
Russia has nuclear weapons for a reason, and crossing Putin’s “red lines” in Ukraine would be a mistake, the Kremlin strongman and close ally said in an exclusive interview on Friday.
“If you corner a person or a country, there is only one way out – forward,” Lukashenko told NBC’s Keir Simmons on the sidelines of a regional summit of post-Soviet leaders in Astana, the capital of Kazakhstan. “That’s why you can’t cross red lines, you can’t cross them.”
When asked whether his Russian counterpart was willing to use nuclear weapons in Ukraine, Lukashenko took an apocalyptic tone, but also downplayed the possibility of using nuclear weapons as unnecessary and suicidal.
“If, God forbid, there is an attack on the territory of the Russian Federation, Russia can use all kinds of weapons if necessary,” he said. “Never, never has President Putin or the Russian leadership set a target to use nuclear weapons in Ukraine.”
Lukashenko instead pointed to this week’s massive barrage of Russian missile strikes on civilian and critical infrastructure in Ukraine as an example of what Moscow is willing to do if pushed into a corner.
The attacks, in which cruise missiles destroyed buildings, bridges and power stations and killed civilians, were presented by the Russian government in retaliation for last weekend’s explosion that damaged a key bridge to annexed Crimea.
“You probably noticed that was powerful, but it’s not everything,” Lukashenko said of the Russian response. “Russia, and I’m sure of it, has state-of-the-art weapons. And you don’t need nuclear weapons. Russia will manage without them.”
The Kremlin has fueled growing nuclear fear as the military retreats to the battlefield and unrest grows at home. Putin last month declared the annexation of four Ukrainian regions and suggested he was ready to protect that area by any means necessary.
Commentators on Russian state television have sometimes openly suggested Moscow use nuclear weapons to strengthen its hold on these newly claimed territories, often nodding to the formal principles of the country’s nuclear doctrine – that it reserves the right to use nuclear weapons in response. direct attacks on its territory.
But the Belarusian leader suggested instead that the nuclear tension was politically motivated by the West and Ukraine, and that Russia has no interest in escalating the conflict to the level of a nuclear exchange – however limited.
“This would mean the end of our planet,” Lukashenko said.
“If nuclear weapons are used even by one country, it will start a chain reaction. Russia understands that all too well. And no one, I want to underline this, I am sure from President Putin himself, no one has set a target to use nuclear weapons.”
Instead, Lukashenko said, “we should look for ways to find a peaceful solution to this conflict. It would be beneficial for everyone, including the US.”