- Kyiv sees Putin pushing Lukashenko to open a new war front
- Lukashenko ruled it out but relied heavily on Moscow
- Putin has taken a larger public role in the bogged down Ukraine war
(Reuters) – Russian President Vladimir Putin and his Belarusian counterpart and close ally hailed the benefits of cooperation after Putin visited Minsk for the first time since 2019 and made no mention of the war in neighboring Ukraine at a joint news conference.
Russian forces used Belarus as a launching pad for their failed assault on the Ukrainian capital Kyiv in February, and there has been Russian and Belarusian military activity there for months.
And the commander of the Ukrainian joint forces, Serhiy Naev, had said that he believed that the Minsk talks would deal with “further aggression against Ukraine and the broader participation of the Belarusian armed forces in the operation against Ukraine, in particular, in our opinion, also on the ground.”
But none of the journalists invited to speak asked Putin or Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko — who has repeatedly said his country would not be drawn into Ukraine — about the war.
They, in turn, devoted their answers to the close economic and defense alignment between their two former Soviet states – already formally allied in a somewhat vague ‘union’ – and to the excitement of Sunday’s soccer World Cup final in Qatar.
Largely driven into imprisonment, exile or silence, the political opposition in Belarus fears a creeping Russian annexation or “assimilation” of its much smaller Slavic neighbor. Both Putin and Lukashenko have been battling to dismiss the idea.
“Russia has no interest in assimilating anyone,” Putin said. “There is simply no point in this.”
Lukashenko, who at one point called Putin an “older brother”, praised Russia as a friend who had “reached out to us”, providing Belarus with oil and gas at cut prices.
“Russia can manage without us, but we cannot (manage) without Russia,” he said.
The veteran Belarusian leader said the two countries had agreed on a new price for Russian gas supplies, but declined to set a price before his government discussed it.
Written by Tom Palmforth and Kevin Levy; Editing by Tomasz Janowski and Mark Heinrich
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