A friend in need: Putin visits Belarus as Russia launches new drone strikes in Ukraine

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Russian officials are denying reports that President Vladimir Putin’s trip to Belarus is part of a move to push Minsk into formally taking part in Moscow’s faltering invasion of Ukraine.

Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov on Monday rejected speculation that Mr. Putin would even discuss Moscow’s “special military operation” in Ukraine during his state visit with Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko.

He said the idea should be dismissed as “totally stupid, groundless fabrications,” according to TASS, the official Russian news agency.

“It is Belarus that we have the most advanced bilateral relations integration regime with,” Mr. Peskov said. “So no one is forcing anyone.”

Mr. Lukashenko said he considers Russia to be his country’s closest ally and Minsk would never work against Moscow’s interests. But he denied that the Kremlin is pulling his strings.

“We are ready to build relationships. But, we must always proceed from the fact that we are a sovereign state and independent,” Mr. Lukashenko said at the meeting with Russian officials, according to a transcript released by the Belarusian presidential press service.

Belarusian officials told reporters in Minsk that top diplomats discussed several issues including the “illegal” sanctions pressure from the West.

“Issues of trade and economic cooperation and the implementation of joint projects were touched upon,” the Belarusian Foreign Ministry said, according to TASS.

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