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Putin meets with Lukashenko in Minsk; Russia to start exercises with China

Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko and Russian President Vladimir Putin make a statement during their meeting at the Palace of Independence in Minsk, Belarus, on Monday. Photo by Kremlin Pool/UPI
1 of 5 | Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko and Russian President Vladimir Putin make a statement during their meeting at the Palace of Independence in Minsk, Belarus, on Monday. Photo by Kremlin Pool/UPI | License Photo

Dec. 20 (UPI) -- Russia continued to build on alliances this week, with President Vladimir Putin visiting Belarus on Monday while the military is set to conduct joint exercises with China on Wednesday.

Putin met with embattled Belarussian President Alexander Lukashenko in Minsk as they pledged ongoing military cooperation. Belarus was a launching ground for Russia's northern invasion of Ukraine in the early weeks of the war in February before being beaten back by Kyiv forces.

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Lukashenko confirmed that Belarus has deployed the Russian-made Iskander mobile ballistic missile system with a range of up to 310 miles. Putin said further cooperation could include the launching of Su-24 warplanes that have been modified to carry tactical nuclear weapons from Belarus.

"It's not a threat to anyone," said Lukashenko, seeking to calm nuclear weapon fears. "We are very concerned about the tensions along the perimeter of the union state [of Russia and Belarus], primarily in the West."

Belarus continues to provide land for Russian troops to train, as well as launch ballistic missiles into Ukraine. Some believed that Putin would lean on Lukashenko to commit some of his own troops to the Ukrainian invasion, which the Belarusian president has been hesitant to do.

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In the meantime, Russia and China will start joint military operations near Japan in the East China Sea. The exercise will include Russia's Pacific Fleet flagship missile cruiser Varyag, a frigate and two corvettes.

China's People's Liberation Army Navy will send two destroyers, two patrol ships, a multipurpose supply ship, and a diesel submarine to the exercises.

"The active part of the exercise will include joint missile and artillery firing against air targets, artillery firing against sea targets and practicing joint anti-submarine actions with the practical use of weapons," a Russian statement said.

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