Belarus to deploy special forces to southern border near Ukraine

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Russian President Putin and Belarusian President Lukashenko visit the Vostochny Cosmodrome

(Reuters) - Belarus will deploy special operations troops in three areas near its southern border with Ukraine, the armed forces said on Tuesday as President Alexander Lukashenko talked up the role of Russian-made missiles in boosting the country's defences.

A close ally of Russia, Belarus said in March that its armed forces were not taking part in what Moscow calls its "special operation" in Ukraine, but it did serve as a launchpad for Russia to send thousands of troops across the border on Feb. 24.

Minsk has complained for months about NATO countries amassing soldiers near its borders - Poland, Lithuania and Latvia are all members of the alliance - and is increasing the amount and intensity of its own military exercises in response.

"The United States and its allies continue to build up their military presence on the state borders of the Republic of Belarus," Chief of General Staff Viktor Gulevich said. "The established grouping has more than doubled in the past six months in quantity and quality."

Belarus is also deploying air defence, artillery and missile units for drills in the west, Gulevich said.

Lukashenko said Moscow had agreed to help Minsk produce missiles similar to the Iskander, which Russia has used in Ukraine, and that he wanted Belarus to continue using Russian-made S-400 and S-300 surface-to-air missile systems.

"We are realists, we understand that we will not be able to defeat NATO. But we can cause damage, especially to those territories from which we will be attacked," he said.

(Reporting by Reuters, Editing by William Maclean)

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