The commander of a Ukrainian territorial defense unit stationed near the border, told The Times: “I want to advise the Belarusians not to come here,

“We really hope that they have their heads screwed on right.

“If they come to our land, they will die, just like the Russians died.”

These developments come amid ongoing fighting in eastern Ukraine between Russian-backed separatists and Ukrainian forces, which has resulted in thousands of deaths and the displacement of 1.4 million people.

On Friday, Russia announced that its troops had seized the fiercely contested salt-mining town of Soledar, which would represent a significant gain for the Kremlin following a series of setbacks in its ongoing war in Ukraine,

However, Ukrainian authorities insist that the conflict for the town is ongoing. Moscow has portrayed the battles for Soledar and the nearby Bakhmut as crucial in the attempt to capture the entire eastern region of Donbas, and also as a means to weaken Ukrainian forces and prevent them from conducting counterattacks in other areas.

However, this strategy also has its drawbacks, as Ukraine has argued that their fierce defense of these eastern towns has helped to bog down Russian forces. Western officials and analysts have stated that the towns’ significance, after months of intense fighting, is more symbolic than strategic.

Since invading Ukraine on February 24, Russia has been focused on gaining full control of Donbas, which is made up of the Donetsk and Luhansk provinces and has been the site of a separatist insurgency backed by Russia since 2014. Russia has captured most of Luhansk, around half of Donetsk remains under Ukrainian control.

The Institute for the Study of War, a think tank in Washington, said the fall of Soledar wouldn’t mark “an operationally significant development and is unlikely to presage an imminent Russian encirclement of Bakhmut.”

The institute said Russian information operations have “overexaggerated the importance of Soledar,” a small settlement.

And it argued that the long and difficult battle has contributed to the exhaustion of Russian forces.

White House National Security Council spokesman John Kirby on Thursday also downplayed the significance of potential Russian gains in the area.

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