(Reuters) – The president of Belarus – Kremlin leader Vladimir Putin’s closest ally – said on Sunday his former Soviet state fully supports Russia in its military campaign in Ukraine as part of its long-standing commitment in favor of a “united state” with Moscow.

Alexander Lukashenko, in power since 1994 and accused in the West of human rights abuses, allowed Russian troops to use his country’s territory to invade Ukraine.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy said the Belarusian leader’s statement was a “signal” as his actions should be watched carefully. Some Ukrainian officials suggest that Belarus may soon become directly involved in the conflict.

Addressing a ceremony marking the anniversary of the liberation of Minsk by Soviet troops in World War II, Lukashenko said he had supported Putin’s campaign against Ukraine “from day one” in late February.

“Today we are criticized for being the only country in the world that supports Russia in its fight against Nazism. We support and will continue to support Russia,” a video from the state news agency showed. BelTA showing Lukashenko at the rally.

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“And those who criticize us, don’t they know that we have such a close union with the Russian Federation?… That we have practically a unified army. But you knew all that. We will stay together with fraternal Russia. “

Belarus has been committed to a “state of union” with Russia since the mid-1990s, but little progress has been made in implementing the plan, and last year Lukashenko insisted on the that his country should retain its “sovereignty”.

Lukashenko has, however, become increasingly dependent on the Kremlin since, with Russian backing and a security crackdown, he contained mass demonstrations by protesters accusing him of rigging his re-election in 2020.

Zelenskiy, quoted by Ukrainian media, told reporters in Kyiv that Lukashenko’s comments were a “dangerous” development.

“Lukashenko’s statement on a unified army with Russia is above all dangerous for the people of Belarus,” Zelenskiy said alongside the Australian prime minister.

“He must not draw Belarus into a war of Russian invasion against Ukraine. I believe that is a dangerous signal. And I believe that we will all see the results of this signal.”

A senior Ukrainian intelligence official said last week that the risk of a direct invasion of Ukraine by Belarusian troops was low.

But Lviv Mayor Andriy Sadoviy said over the weekend that the situation on the Belarusian border was unpredictable and that he had called a meeting of city officials to draw up contingency plans in the event of an escalation.

(Reporting by Ronald Popeski; editing by Diane Craft)

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