Russian President Vladimir Putin met his Belarusian counterpart Alexander Lukashenko in Moscow on Friday to discuss the implementation of bilateral economic projects.
Opening the meeting, Putin said bilateral trade was increasing and progress was being made on the Union State, a concept aiming for the greater integration of the two countries.
Putin said he would discuss with Lukashenko the situation in the region and their military cooperation, with both leaders to oversee planned military drills on Saturday.
While most of the meeting was devoted to issues of development of the bilateral economic ties, the two presidents also touched on rising tensions in Ukraine at a news conference after the meeting.
Describing as “fakes” earlier Western media reports that said Russia was poised to invade Ukraine on Feb. 16, Putin told reporters that “unfortunately, right now, we’re witnessing an escalation in Donbas,” a region in eastern Ukraine, between government forces and pro-Russian rebels.
Western countries have accused Russia of amassing more than 100,000 troops near Ukraine, prompting fears that it could be planning a military offensive against its ex-Soviet neighbor.
Denying that it is preparing to invade, Moscow has accused Western countries of undermining its security through NATO’s expansion towards its borders.
The Kremlin says it has pulled back some of its troops following military exercises, but Western leaders argue they have yet to see any evidence of that.
Putin said that with Lukashenko, they had discussed how to settle the conflict in Ukraine, adding that the process of a resolution was “being stalled” despite the efforts and contacts of the Normandy Four format — Germany, France, Russia, and Ukraine.
“Kyiv does not implement the Minsk agreements. (It) specifically, categorically refuses direct dialogue with Donetsk and Luhansk, sabotages the implementation of the agreements about introducing amendments to the constitution, giving Donbas special status, local elections, amnesty — all key issues of the Minsk agreements,” he added.
Putin stressed that the Minsk deal was the key to restoring civil peace in Ukraine and easing tensions.
“All Kyiv must do is sit at the negotiation table with the representatives of Donbas and agree to political, economic, and humanitarian measures on ending the conflict,” he said.
Putin underlined that the Russian-Belarusian military drill Allied Determination-2022 was defensive in character and was not directed against anyone.
For his part, Lukashenko said that, let alone a war, “nobody wants … even an escalation of conflict.”
He accused “a number of Western politicians” of irresponsibility, and neighboring countries of “illogical behavior” and wanting to “walk on the very edge.”
Countering economic sanctions
Putin slammed economic sanctions as “illegal, rudely violating international legislation.”
He also said Russia and Belarus would always be faced with sanctions, regardless of the situation in Ukraine. “A reason will be found” because the real goal of sanctions is to hamper the economic development of Russia and Belarus, he said.
“Attaining this goal, a reason will be always found to impose these or those illegal restrictions. This is nothing but unfair competition,” he said.
Over the past eight years, Russian authorities have worked to minimize the effect of sanctions and to strengthen the country’s “economic sovereignty,” he noted.
He also pointed out that many sanctions-hit countries, including US allies, were “keeping silent,” but that one day, the situation would boil over.
Lukashenko pointed out that the countries that impose such sanctions suffered from them, as well.
He called sanctions “a part of a hybrid war against Russia and Belarus,” but said the two countries would pull through.
“The world is big, you can’t hang locks on all gates and you can’t block all transport routes,” he stressed.
Discussions of Russia’s security guarantees proposals
Putin said he discussed with Lukashenko his recent contacts related to Russia’s proposals to the West on security guarantees, adding that the issue was “of concern for the Belarusian allies as well.”
“We agreed collectively to take all measures needed for providing the security of the two nations in the face of the increasing military activities of the NATO countries on the external borders of our allied states,” he said.
According to Putin’s assessment, the US and NATO “are not ready” to take seriously Russia’s three principal demands — an end to NATO’s eastward expansion, a ban on the deployment of strike weapons near Russia’s borders, and the return of NATO’s military infrastructure to the state of 1997 when the Russia-NATO Foundation Act was signed.
At the same time, Russia supports strengthening European security, the deployment of intermediate- and shorter-range missiles, and military transparency in Europe under the condition that all questions are considered together with the principal Russian proposals, Putin stressed.
Amid the ongoing tensions, Russia demanded a rollback of troop deployments from some ex-Soviet states, and guarantees that NATO would not accept some of those states into the military alliance.
NATO, however, said its “door remains open” and any decision on membership is for allies and aspirant countries to take, and nobody else.
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