President Aleksandr G. Lukashenko of Belarus appeared to tread a careful line on Thursday, saying he would continue hosting Russian soldiers in his country but would only join Russia’s war against Ukraine if Belarus were to come under attack.
Mr. Lukashenko, who was to meet with President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia in Moscow on Friday, has been surrounded by speculation that Belarus would be pressed into providing more support for Moscow’s war.
He told journalists in Minsk before his trip that he was “ready to wage war, alongside the Russians, from the territory of Belarus” — with one major caveat.
“But only if someone — even a single soldier — enters our territory from there with weapons to kill my people,” he said in response to a question from the BBC, referring to Ukraine.
Friday’s meeting would cover topics related to the “strategic partnership” and “integration” between the two allied nations, the Kremlin said on Thursday, without providing additional details or the timing of the meeting.
Mr. Lukashenko — who relies on Russia for financial, fuel and security assistance to maintain his grip on power — allowed Russian forces to use Belarusian territory as a staging ground for the invasion and to train soldiers and ferry supplies. But so far he has resisted getting involved in the conflict directly.
The possibility of such direct involvement has appeared to decrease lately.
Ukrainian officials and military analysts have said in recent weeks that satellite intelligence suggests the country does not face an immediate threat of invasion by ground forces from Belarus, downgrading earlier fears that Russia or its Belarusian allies may try a new attack on Kyiv from the north.
And the underwhelming performance of Russia’s eastern offensive thus far has left many analysts skeptical of its ability to mount a large-scale attack on a new front.
President Volodymyr Zelensky of Ukraine said in an interview with the BBC on Thursday that he hoped Belarus would not join the war.
“If it does, we will fight and we will survive,” he said. He added that allowing Russia to again use its territory to stage an invasion would be a “huge mistake.”
Mr. Lukashenko — who has met with Mr. Putin at least six times since the war began — remains vulnerable to pressure from Moscow. He has been almost wholly reliant on Russia since the Kremlin helped him crush street protests in August 2020, after he claimed an improbable landslide victory in a contested election.
Corralled by Western sanctions, Mr. Lukashenko depends on subsidized Russian oil and gas supplies, preferential access to the Russian market and Russian security assistance to maintain his 28-year rule.
“Are we able to defend our independence and sovereignty without Russia?” Mr. Lukashenko said during his last personal meeting with Mr. Putin in December. “No, we are not.”