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Putin in Belarus to discuss security, tactical nuclear weapon exercises


MOSCOW (Reuters) -Russian President Vladimir Putin arrived on Thursday in Belarus, Moscow’s closest ally, for talks with his Belarusian counterpart Alexander Lukashenko expected to focus on security and exercises with tactical nuclear weapons.

Minsk is set to take part in the exercises, aimed at simulating preparations for the launch of the weapons, which are smaller nuclear warheads meant for use on battlefields.

Putin, quoted by Russian news agencies on his late evening arrival, said he had discussed issues of cooperation Belarus at a cabinet meeting in Moscow.

“Today and tomorrow we will be discussing all this, including issues of security to which we have devoted considerable attention,” Putin was quoted as saying. “There is a lot to talk about. Everything is stable and going well for us.”

Discussions of the second phase of exercises with tactical weapons were also on the agenda.

“Part of this is the direct participation of our Belarusian friends and colleagues in the military sphere in these events.”

Russian news agencies said the two presidents continued informal discussions late on Thursday evening ahead of a full day of meetings on Friday.

Russia’s Defence Ministry said this week the country’s forces had started the first stage of the exercises to simulate preparation for the launch of tactical nuclear weapons.

Moscow has linked the exercises to what it calls “militant statements” by Western officials, including French President Emmanuel Macron, which it said posed a threat to its security.

Nuclear analysts say the exercises are designed as a warning signal by Putin to deter the West from wading more deeply into the war in Ukraine. Western countries have provided weapons and intelligence to Kyiv, but have refrained from sending troops.

Belarus has provided logistical support for Russia during its conflict with Ukraine, with Russian forces entering Ukraine from Belarusian territory during their initial offensive against Kyiv in February 2022. But Lukashenko has sent no troops.

Lukashenko, in power since 1994, is a longstanding ally of Putin and was drawn closer to him after securing his support against mass protests denouncing Lukashenko’s 2020 re-election as rigged.

Belarusian state news agency Belta reported earlier on Thursday that Lukashenko had appointed Pavel Muraveyko as the new chief of the Belarusian army’s general staff.

(Reporting by ReutersWriting by Felix LightEditing by Andrew Osborn, Ron Popeski and Lincoln Feast.)

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