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MOSCOW – Russia on Thursday sent two nuclear-capable strategic bombers on a training mission over Belarus for a second day in a row, showing Moscow’s support for its ally amid a migration dispute at the Polish border.

The Belarusian Defense Ministry said that two Russian Tu-160 strategic bombers trained to bomb the Ruzany firing range, located in Belarus about 60 kilometers (just over 37 miles) east of the border with Poland. As part of the joint training, Belarusian fighter jets simulated an interception, the ministry said.

These missions marked the second time in two days that Russia has sent its nuclear-capable bombers into the skies of Belarus.

A pair of Russian long-range Tu-22M3 bombers carried out a similar patrol on Wednesday, and Belarusian air defense forces trained to intercept them.

The Belarusian Defense Ministry said such Russian bomber flights would be carried out regularly.

Russia has strongly supported Belarus amid a tense standoff this week as thousands of migrants and refugees, mostly from the Middle East, gathered on the Belarusian side of the border with Poland in the hope of crossing into Western Europe.

The European Union accused Authoritarian Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko urging illegal border crossings as a “hybrid attack” to retaliate against EU sanctions against his government for its crackdown on internal dissent after Lukashenko’s contested re-election in 2020.

Belarus denies the claims but said it will no longer prevent refugees and migrants from trying to enter the EU.

The Belarusian Defense Ministry on Thursday accused Poland of an “unprecedented” military build-up at the border, saying migration control did not justify the concentration of 15,000 troops backed by tanks, air defense and other weapons.

“It is more like forming a group of strike forces,” the ministry said, adding that the strengthening of the Polish army prompted Belarus to respond with actions “both independently and within the framework of existing agreements with our strategic ally “, a reference to Russia.

Russia and Belarus have a union agreement providing for close political and military ties. Lukashenko stressed the need to strengthen military cooperation in the face of what he described as aggressive actions by NATO allies.

Lukashenko on Thursday called Russian bomber flights a necessary response to tensions on the Belarus-Poland border.

“Let them scream and squeal. Yes, they are nuclear capable bombers, but we have no other choice,” said the president, in office since 1994.

Retired Colonel General Leonid Ivashov, former head of the Russian Defense Ministry’s foreign cooperation department, said the Russian bomber flights over Belarus were aimed at demonstrating Moscow’s support for its ally in the middle growing tensions.

“Military exercises and bomber flights are part of joint action training,” Ivashov said, quoted by the Interfax news agency. “It is necessary to avoid a possible military conflict which could degenerate into a great war. It is necessary to demonstrate our preparation.”

Amid tensions on the Belarus-Poland border, Russia has strongly supported Belarus, accusing the West of destabilizing the Middle East and therefore bearing responsibility for migrants and refugees seeking safety in Europe.

At the same time, Moscow angrily dismissed Poland’s claim that Russia has helped foment both a humanitarian and a political situation.

Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov noted the thousands of troops deployed across the Polish-Belarusian border and said “this is a cause of deep concern for all sober people in Europe. “.

Asked about German Chancellor Merkel’s request to Russian President Vladimir Putin to exert influence over Belarus, Peskov replied that “Russia, like all other countries, is trying to help resolve the situation.” He said Putin kept in touch with Lukashenko, but did not specify.

Russia’s national carrier Aeroflot has responded to reports that the EU is considering sanctions against the airline for its alleged involvement in the transfer of refugees and migrants to Belarus. Aeroflot strongly rejected the request.

“Information on Aeroflot’s participation or assistance in organizing the mass transport of migrants to the territory of Belarus does not correspond to reality,” the airline said in a statement.

Aeroflot noted that it does not operate any scheduled or charter flights to Iraq or Syria and has no flights between Istanbul and Minsk.

Asked about reports of possible EU sanctions against Aeroflot, Kremlin spokesman Peskov stressed the airline’s refusal to knowingly transport asylum seekers to Europe.

“Hopefully such crazy ideas only exist in these media hoaxes,” he said on a conference call with reporters.

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