Russian President Vladimir Putin and his close ally, Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko, met on Monday to discuss military equipment and exercises, with Lukashenko saying Western nations "will not be able to rip apart our relations. They will only deepen."
An authoritarian leader, Lukashenko needs the support of Putin to stay in power, and receives financial, security, and fuel assistance from Russia. Their meeting came after Ukrainian officials warned that Russia could be planning on launching a new offensive from Belarus, with possible goals including capturing Kyiv or blocking the transfer of Western weapons from Poland into Ukraine, The New York Times reports.
Dmitry Peskov, the Kremlin spokesman, told reporters on Monday that reports of Belarus being involved in a new invasion were "totally stupid, groundless fabrications."
Several military experts say that since the February invasion of Ukraine, the Russian military has had so many setbacks, both by losing troops and ground, that it isn't strong enough to launch a new offensive, with or without Belarusian troops, the Times reports. Lukashenko previously let Russia use Belarusian territory as a staging ground for bombings and to launch missiles, but he has not yet sent his own troops to help Russian forces.
After their meeting, Putin said he and Lukashenko agreed to manufacture military equipment, continue joint military exercises, and create a "unified defensive space;" he did not go into detail on what this would mean. Lukashenko spoke highly of his relationship with Putin, saying Russia will help train his military pilots to fly planes with special payloads, and without Moscow as a partner, Belarus would be unable to defend its "independence and sovereignty." He also accused outsiders of viewing Belarus and Russia as "co-aggressors, the most harmful, toxic people on the planet."