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Russia and Ukraine to hold talks: Why Kyiv initially rejected Belarus as host nation

Will there be a ceasefire soon in Ukraine? Questions are swirling as Russia and Ukraine announced that they will meet for talks near the Pripyat River in Belarus.

President Volodymyr Zelenskyy on Sunday made the announcement that Ukraine would hold talks with Russia at its border with Belarus — near the Chernobyl exclusion zone — after his call with Belarus leader Alexander Lukashenko.

The decision was a reversal from Zelenskyy’s earlier stance where he refused to hold talks with Russia on the territory of Belarus, stating that some Russian troops were stationed there before invading on Ukraine’s northern border.

We take a look at why Zelenskyy refused to hold talks in Belarus, the close ties that Lukashenko shares with Vladimir Putin and all the latest updates regarding the meet.

Belarus-Ukraine ties

As Slavic nations, both Belarus and Ukraine share closely related cultures and are predominantly inhabited by the East Slavic ethnic groups of Belarusians and Ukrainians respectively, along with a mixture of Russians.

However, their ties witnessed a deterioration in 2020 and since then both countries have shared strained relations.

Lukashenko’s close ties with Putin

Another reason for the strained ties between Ukraine and Belarus is Vladimir Putin’s proximity to Alexander Lukashenko.

As the conflict began, Belarusian president Alexander Lukashenko said his country’s military could step in to aid Russia if needed.

Lukashenko also said he would speak to Putin about strengthening the western flank.

Russia and Belarus share very close ties with Russia accounting for 47.9 per cent of the Belarusian foreign trade in 2020. The two countries are in a so-called Union State, with Russia discounting gas supplies for Belarus and a further $630 million in loans for Belarus.

In the current situation, Lukashenko has extended his support to Russia, urging Ukrainians to “stop” their confrontation with Russia – and abandon their US “masters.”

“Stop! Shoo away these masters from over the ocean. They won’t bring you any happiness. As soon as they can’t use you any more, they will dump you at the junkyard of history,” said the 67-year-old addressing Belarusian top brass, as per an Al Jazeera report.

Moreover, right before the invasion, he sat next to Putin observing military drills and launches of ballistic and cruise missiles from the giant screens in the Russian defence ministry’s Moscow headquarters.

For those wondering, what benefits does Lukashenko derive from his support to Putin, Ihar Tyshkevich, a Belarusian expert based in Kyiv, told Al Jazeera, “This is a matter of money. When talking about the dangers {of war}, he can always negotiate some funds either for updating the military or simply for financial support.”

Moreover, by backing Putin, Lukashenko believes that it will help him stay in power for a longer period.

Olga Dryndova, editor of Belarus-Analysen at the University of Bremen’s Research Center for East European Studies in Germany told TIME: “I think the most alarming thing we now understand is that we’re not quite sure whether Belarus could be considered as a sovereign state in terms of control on its own territory, especially in terms of military control.”

Peace talks

On 27 February, President Volodymyr Zelenskyy said Ukraine was ready for peace talks with Russia but not in neighbouring Belarus, an ally of Moscow which used it as a staging ground for its multipronged invasion.

He listed the cities of Warsaw, Bratislava, Istanbul, Budapest or Baku as alternative venues.

He said other locations were also possible but stressed Ukraine does not accept Russia’s selection of Belarus.

“Any other city in a country from whose territory missiles do not fly would suit us,” Zelenskyy said.

Earlier, the Kremlin said a Russian delegation had arrived in the Belarusian city of Gomel for talks and was waiting for the Ukrainian officials.

Zelenskyy, later announced a change in decision and talks are scheduled to be held at 9 am GMT.

Latest reports showed that the Ukrainian delegation arrived by helicopter at the Belarus border to participate in peace talks with Russia.

Reuters reported the Ukraine president’s office saying its main goal of talks with Russia is an immediate ceasefire and withdrawal of Russian troops.

It is left to be seen if the talks can put an end to the attacks and if peace can be brought to the region.

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