A dispute between Ukraine and Belarus flared up over the weekend after Belarus’s State Border Service accused a Ukrainian military helicopter of breaching Belarus’ airspace on Dec. 4, which Kyiv denied.
The State Border Service of Belarus told state-owned media outlet BELTA that a Ukrainian Mi-8 military helicopter, flying at a height of 100 meters, went a kilometer deep into Belarusian airspace.
On Dec. 5, Belarus officially handed a note of protest to Ukraine’s military attaché in Minsk. The same day, the Belarusian Border Service publicly warned about “extremely harsh” consequences if its border were violated again.
The accusations come as Ukraine is facing Russia’s looming large-scale invasion, which Ukraine’s military intelligence says might escalate in early 2022. German newspaper Bild quoted NATO sources saying that the invasion might involve Belarus to surround Kyiv.
Russia and Belarus held a massive military exercise in September. On Dec. 2, Belarus said it would hold another round of military drills with Russia but didn’t specify the date.
To support their claim about border violation, Belarusian officials shared a video of a Mi-8 helicopter flying over what appears to be a border crossing checkpoint. It is not clear from the video what markings are on the helicopter, or whether it indeed crossed the border.
Belarus’ claims “do not reflect reality,” Andrii Demchenko, an assistant to the head of Ukraine’s State Border Service, told news outlet Ukrainska Pravda.
He said that while military aviation was being used in the border area as part of Operation Polissya, no aircraft crossed the boundary between the two countries.
Operation Polissya is a joint training exercise held by several Ukrainian border protection and law enforcement agencies to prepare for a potential storming of the country’s border by Middle Eastern refugees from Belarus.
Since July, Belarusian authorities have allowed thousands of people from the Middle East to come to Belarus and cross the country’s borders with Poland, Lithuania, and Latvia. Many of them have tried to break through by force. NATO countries believe it’s a form of hybrid warfare aimed at provoking chaos in Europe and blackmailing the European Union into lifting existing sanctions against Belarus.