Russian President Vladimir Putin on Monday visited Minsk for the first time since 2019 to meet with Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko, and the two leaders agreed to strengthen military and economic cooperation.
Putin said that Moscow and Minsk would continue their joint military drills, which increased since October when Russia deployed a force of about 9,000 troops to Belarus to help secure the country’s border. “Joint military planning is ongoing, within the framework of implementing the common military doctrine of Russia and Belarus,” Putin said.
Lukashenko allowed Putin to launch a part of his initial invasion of Ukraine from Belarusian territory, but Belarusian forces never entered the fighting. Putin’s trip to Minsk stirred rumors that Russia was looking to bring Belarus into the war, but the Kremlin rejected the idea, calling the speculation “groundless fabrications.”
Lukashenko drew much closer to Putin after the US and EU rejected the results of the 2020 Belarus elections, which saw the Belarusian leader secure another term. After the election, the US and EU threw support behind Lukashenko’s opposition and imposed more sanctions on Belarus.
Belarus has also been targeted by the same sanctions Russia has been hit with since the invasion of Ukraine. Putin said the two countries were working together to counter the Western sanctions.
“We are countering together the sanction pressure from unfriendly states and attempts to isolate Russia and Belarus on global markets. We are coordinating steps to mitigate the impact of unlawful restrictive measures on the economy of our countries. We are doing this fairly confidently and efficiently,” he said.
Putin has previously said that Western sanctions have sped up the “unification process” of Russia and Belarus as the two countries work to implement a 1997 integration treaty. Under the treaty, known as the Union State, Russia and Belarus would remain separate sovereign states, but people living in each country would get citizenship for the other and would be able to travel freely, and their economies would become more integrated.
Lukashenko said Monday that Russia and Belarus had made significant progress on almost all Union State projects but added that there was more work to do. “Belarusian and Russian specialists have done a lot to implement the union programs we approved with Vladimir Putin. Certain progress has been made in practically all spheres. But so far, not everything has worked out and this is holding back our development,” he said.