Authoritarian Belarusian ruler Alyaksandr Lukashenka travels to Moscow on September 9 for his fifth face-to-face meeting this year with Russian President Vladimir Putin, amid speculation that the two leaders could sign a deal that could radically undercut Belarus’s sovereignty.
Belarus's ambassador in Russia has recently said that all of the so-called road maps -- or chapters -- to a so-called union treaty that Minsk and Moscow have been negotiating on and off for two decades were nearly ready and could be finalized ahead of the Lukashenka-Putin meeting.
The project would be a major step toward reuniting the two countries but could also undermine Belarus’s sovereignty, something Lukashenka has strenuously resisted for years.
But the Belarusian strongman has been increasingly isolated since last year’s presidential election in which he claimed reelection to a sixth term.
The vote was condemned by Belarus’s opposition as rigged and prompted months of street protests that Belarusian security forces have harshly cracked down on.
Western nations have refused to recognize Lukashenka as a legitimate president and slapped his government with sanctions over the ongoing crackdown on the opposition, independent media, human rights groups, and civil society.
On the eve of Lukashenka’s Moscow visit, the Belarusian Defense Ministry said Russian Sukhoi fighter jets had arrived in Belarus to help patrol its borders as part of a new joint military effort.
The ministry did not say how many jets arrived or give further details.
The announcement came two days before thousands of Belarusian and Russian troops are set to kick off their joint Zapad-2021 military exercises.
Earlier this month, Lukashenka said Russia would soon deliver a huge military hardware consignment to Belarus, including aircraft, helicopters, and air-defense systems.