Putin and Lukashenko hail closer military ties as Russia seeks to bolster forces

A rare visit by Vladimir Putin to Moscow's ally Belarus has tonight heightened fears that Russia might be planning another ground offensive against Ukraine.

The talks have stoked fears of a creeping Russian annexation or “absorption” of its neighbour, a move denied by Putin and his Belarusian counterpart, Alexander Lukashenko.

“Russia has no interest in absorbing anyone,” Putin said.

“There is simply no expediency in this.”

Russia is seeking to bolster Russian forces almost 10 months into the war in Ukraine, and Belarus is believed to have Soviet-era weapons stockpiles that could be useful for Moscow.

But Minsk leans heavily on its bigger neighbour for economic support, and the Belarusian president admitted he needs help with his country’s ailing economy.

“Russia can manage without us, but we can’t (manage) without Russia,” Lukashenko said.

Moscow has kept up its war effort despite Western sanctions and the supply of Western air defence systems to Ukrainian forces.

Lukashenko has publicly supported Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, drawing international criticism and sanctions against Minsk.

During his rare trip outside Moscow, Putin emphasised the allies' close military-technical ties, which included not only supplies of equipment but also joint work in high-tech military industries.

“There is an area related to military-technical cooperation. And these are not only mutual supplies, but, in my opinion, which is extremely important, this is joint work, development and cooperation in this area, including the development of high-tech industries," he said at a joint press conference.

The war in Ukraine has been dragging on since Russia's invasion on February 24 Credit: AP

Lukashenko hailed the "closer integration of our states" saying the pact "once again demonstrates to the whole world that we can overcome any pandemic, crisis or sanctions only together".

Putin’s visit came hours after Russia’s latest drone attack on Ukraine.

Moscow has been targeting Ukraine’s power grid since October as part of a strategy to try to leave the country without heat and light during the bitterly cold winter.

In Ukraine, multiple explosive drones attacked the capital before dawn, three days after what Ukrainian officials described as one of Russia's biggest assaults on Kyiv since the war started on February 24.

The drone barrage caused emergency power outages in 11 central and eastern regions, including the capital region, authorities said.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy described the unrelenting daily barrages as “terror” and once again pleaded for Western countries to send sophisticated air defence systems as winter tightens its grip.

“A 100% air defence shield for Ukraine will be one of the most successful steps against Russian aggression,” Zelenskyy said by video link at a northern European regional threat conference in Latvia. “This step is needed right now.”

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