Russia is “trying to concentrate” missile systems in southeastern Belarus for possible use against Ukraine, according to Ukraine’s deputy defence minister.

Despite Russia’s recent claims of a de-escalation surrounding Kyiv and the northern city of Chernihiv, the assessment comes as a surprise.

Also read: Russian oil, snubbed by Europe, comes at a discount to India: Report

“The enemy is not abandoning its plans to completely capture the Donetsk and Luhansk regions,” Hanna Maliar, Deputy Defense Minister, stated in televised remarks late Thursday.

“He is also encroaching on the Kharkiv region and trying to strengthen his position, to regroup troops.”

According to Maliar, the Ukrainian military has observed Russian missile systems being deployed near the Belarusian city of Gomel.

“The enemy is trying to concentrate them there, apparently due to plans to launch missile strikes or use them as a tool for blackmail and intimidation. Therefore, the territory of Belarus continues to be actively used by Russia to carry out aggression,” she said.

Also read: ‘It’s natural’: Why India won’t turn down discounted Russian oil

When asked if she expected further missile strikes on Ukrainian land, Maliar stated, “We have to be ready for this. The war continues. And it should be said that the enemy is not slowing down. Rocket attacks, their intensity is all the same as it was, sometimes even increasing.”

NATO’s supreme allied commander warned that Russian forces are not withdrawing, but rather relocating to sustain pressure on Kyiv and other cities. Russians may be regrouping in Belarus, according to Ukrainian and US sources.

According to the regional military governor, many towns in Ukraine’s eastern Luhansk area have been targeted by “heavy shelling” from Russian forces.

Also read: India talks friendship with Russia after terse oil exchange with UK

Severodonetsk, Rubizhne, Lysychansk, Kreminna, and Ivanivka were among the towns and cities hit, according to Serhii Haidai, the chairman of the Luhansk regional military administration.

“Two people died in Severodonetsk, residents of Lysychansk and Toshkivka were injured, four people were rescued,” he said.

“There is no centralized water supply in Rubizhne, Popasna, Severodonetsk, part of the Hirske community and in Lysychansk. Twenty-eight settlements remain without gas supply and 22 without electricity,” he added.