MOSCOW, July 2 (Reuters) – Belarusian leader Alexander Lukashenko ordered the border with Ukraine to be closed on Friday to prevent a flow of weapons to coup plotters discovered by his security services, state-run BelTA news agency reported.
The move appears to deepen a stalemate between Belarus and outside powers angered by its government’s cancellation of a Ryanair flight in May and the arrest of a government critic who was on the plane.
Western countries imposed sanctions on Belarus to punish it for the action, and the European Union and Ukraine have also banned flights registered in Belarus from entering their airspace.
Lukashenko, who repeatedly accused Western resentment of ousting him from power, said he had ordered a purge across the country and that rebel groups plotting a coup had been exposed in Belarus.
“They have crossed the line. We cannot forgive them,” he said.
At a rally for the country’s Independence Day, the veteran leader said Germany, Lithuania, Poland, Ukraine and the United States were behind alleged rebel activities, BelTA reported.
“Huge quantities of weapons are coming to Belarus from Ukraine. That’s why I ordered the border guards to completely close the border with Ukraine,” said Lukashenko.
Ukrainian Foreign Ministry spokesman Oleh Nikolaenko said Ukraine had neither interfered in Belarusian internal affairs nor did it plan to do so in the future.
“The Ukrainian side has not received any official notification from Belarus about the border closure. Such a step would primarily affect the Belarusian people,” said Nikolaenko.
Belarus borders Ukraine in the south. It borders Poland and Lithuania to the west, Latvia to the north and Russia to the east.
The move to close the borders with Ukraine comes days after Belarus withdrew its permanent representative to the European Union for consultations after Brussels imposed economic sanctions.
But Lukashenko, who has also been sanctioned by the West for comprehensive political action, will largely be spared the penalties and will be able to continue to finance the economy and its security forces, say rating agencies and analysts. Continue reading
Reporting by Andrey Ostroukh in Moscow; additional reporting by Natalia Zinets in Kiev; Arrangement by Toby Chopra and William Maclean
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