Belarus strongman Lukashenko promises major Russian arms imports
Belarusian dictator Alexander Lukashenko says the former Soviet state will soon receive a significant quantity of Russian weapons, including fighter jets, helicopters and Russia’s prized air-defence systems, possibly including the S-400 missile system.
The embattled president was speaking as Russia and Belarus prepare for joint military exercises from next week which will reportedly involve approximately 200,000 personnel.
The Zapad-2021 exercises will run from September 10 to 16.
Lukashenko hoped to win a sixth term in office in August last year but the rigged vote led to massive protests and soured relations with most of the international community, with the notable exception of Russia. Minsk has also enjoyed close ties with junta-ruled Myanmar since the February 1 coup.
Belarus faces western sanctions in response to its crackdown on pro-democracy protests and the detention of more than 35,000 civilians.
Lukashenko has since looked to bolster his ties with Moscow and said the September war games would be a sign of resistance to the west.
He and Russian President Vladimir Putin are due to meet in Russia on September 9 ahead of the Zapad (meaning “west”) drills.
Nato will observe the drills with caution, aware its members Poland and Lithuania separate Belarus from Russia’s Baltic enclave of Kaliningrad through the strategically vulnerable 80km Suwalki Gap. Previous Russian military exercises have preceded wars with Georgia and Ukraine.
The neighbours formally constitute a “union state” and have been in talks for years over further integration, sparking fears in Belarus that Lukashenko will exchange sovereignty for Putin’s backing.
Ahead of last year’s election, Lukashenko was trying to reduce Russia’s grip over Belarus and import fuel from western countries.
Lukashenko said in January 2020 that he wanted to reduce Belarusian dependency on Russian oil and gas supplies to about 40 per cent and secure supplies from other countries.
Around 80 per cent of Belarus’ energy came from its eastern neighbour at the time.
The veteran president told the Belarusian media: “[Russia and Belarus] effectively have a single army, with the Belarussian military forming its backbone in the western direction. If God forbid, a war starts, the Belarusian army will be the first to engage in the fight, and the western group of Russia’s armed forces will join quickly after to form a joint defence. We even could get the S-400s. We badly need them,” Lukashenko said, according to the Belta news agency.
Russia and Belarus combine their armed forces every four years in the vast Zapad exercises. Picture credit: Wikimedia