Putin and Lukashenko hold talks on closer defence and economic ties

Russia’s President Vladimir Putin is holding talks in Moscow with his Belarus counterpart, Alexander Lukashenko, on expanding political, military, and economic ties between the two countries.

A strong supporter of Putin, Lukashenko arrived in the city on Wednesday for two days of meetings which included discussions on plans to deploy Russian nuclear weapons to Belarus.

Deploying these tactical weapons to Belarus would put them closer to potential targets in Ukraine and NATO members in Eastern and Central Europe.

Putin has said that the construction of storage facilities in Belarus for the weapons would be completed by 1 July.

Moscow has also helped modernise Belarusian warplanes to adapt them to carrying nuclear weapons and provided the country with Iskander short-range missiles that could be fitted with a nuclear warhead.

Crews started training in Russia this week.

The meeting between the two men took place within the framework of the so-called Supreme Council of the State Union.

In his speech, Lukashenko warned that if necessary, he would use everything in his power to protect his country.

Moscow used Belarusian territory as a staging ground for its invasion of neighbouring Ukraine and has maintained a contingent of troops and weapons there.

Lukashenko has been in power for nearly 29 years, cracking down on dissent and relying on Russian subsidies to run his country’s Soviet-style economy.

Moscow’s support helped him weather months of massive protests against his re-election in an August 2020 vote that was rejected by the opposition and the West as rigged.

On Thursday, Putin also met with the leaders of four Ukrainian regions that Moscow annexed in September.

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