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Putin says Russia-Belarus drills to go on as ally hints at new weapons

In an image distributed by Russian state owned agency Sputnik, Russian President Vladimir Putin (left) and Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko shake hands before their meeting at the Palace of Independence in Minsk on Monday, Dec. 19, 2022. (Konstantin Zavrazhin/Sputnik/AFP/Getty Images/TNS)
December 20, 2022

President Vladimir Putin said Russia will continue military drills with Belarus as his Belarusian counterpart hinted at potential deployment of new weaponry in his country.

Belarus has been testing aircraft in Russia that are “capable of carrying special weapons,” President Alexander Lukashenko told reporters at a joint news conference with Putin in Minsk late Monday. “We are now, together with the Russians, preparing crews capable of operating these aircraft, supporting specific armaments.”

Lukashenko gave no indication of what sort of weapons he meant. Putin said Russia would hold “regular joint exercises” with Belarus and ensure deliveries of weapons as well as joint production of military equipment.

Russia used the cover of its largest military exercises in years in neighboring Belarus to amass forces ahead of Putin’s Feb. 24 invasion of Ukraine, even as he repeatedly denied that he intended to go to war.

Ukrainian officials warned this month that Russia may be preparing the ground for a major winter escalation of the fighting including another possible attempt to invade Kyiv. Ukraine’s army commander in chief Valerii Zaluzhnyi told The Economist there was “no doubt” Russia would try to capture the capital as soon as January with fresh troops now in training.

Lukashenko said after the discussions with Putin that Russian S-400 air-defense systems and Iskander short-range missiles were deployed on Belarusian territory.

The announcements on weapons took place at the end of Putin’s first visit to Belarus since June 2019. Lukashenko has repeatedly traveled to Russia for talks since Putin began the war.

He allowed Russian forces to enter Ukraine from Belarus in their failed attempt to seize Kyiv early in the invasion and has consistently supported Putin over the military operation, while holding back from sending his own military to join the fight.

The U.S. and the European Union have sanctioned Lukashenko’s regime for aiding Russia in the war.

Hours before Putin arrived in Belarus, Ukraine reported fresh Russian drone attacks that damaged critical infrastructure in Kyiv.

Belarus, which shares more than 1,000 kilometers (620 miles) of its southern border with Ukraine, announced Monday it had completed snap checks of its military readiness ordered by Lukashenko last week.

Russia recently moved MiG-31K fighter jets to Belarus, according to Belarusian Hajun, a team of analysts monitoring military activities in the country using open-source data and local witness accounts.

Putin’s visit was also the first since the Belarusian leader’s brutal crackdown on protesters after disputed presidential elections in 2020. The U.S. and the EU refused to recognize the election results and have backed exiled opposition leader Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya.

Putin stood by his ally and capitalized on the crisis by pressing Lukashenko to accelerate economic and political integration between Russia and Belarus, which are in a so-called Union State.


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