Russian President Vladimir Putin said Monday his country has “no interest” in absorbing Belarus, Moscow’s main ally that heavily depends on it for cheap oil and loans.
“Russia has no interest in absorbing anyone, this would simply make no sense,” Putin said, answering a question from a journalist, saying such rumours came from “ill-wishers”.
The Kremlin has for years sought to deepen integration with Belarus, but its strongman Alexander Lukashenko resisted outright unification with Russia despite being a key ally.
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Putin hailed a relationship between “closest allies and strategic partners… united by a common history and spiritual values.”
“Together we are resisting sanctions from unfriendly countries,” Putin said, “and we do so quite confidently and effectively.”
Russia and Belarus agreed on reinforcing cooperation “in all areas”, the Russian president added.
This includes the military sector, as the two countries agreed on “shared measures for the security of the two countries”, continued joint training and “mutual weapons delivery”.
Russia will keep training Belarusian crews to fly planes that can carry nuclear heads, Putin said.
“We have tested those aircraft,” said Lukashenko, who added that “this is not a threat to anyone.”
The Belarusian leader also praised his country’s relationship with Russia.
“Russia cannot go anywhere without us, we cannot do anything without Russia,” Lukashenko said.
“Are we able to protect our independence and sovereignty without Russia? No!” he added.
Putin had used the Belarusian territory as a launching pad for its Ukraine offensive.
In October, Belarus announced the formation of a joint regional force with Moscow, with several thousand Russian servicemen arriving in the ex-Soviet country, fuelling concerns Minsk could also send troops to Ukraine.