Belarus's authoritarian leader, Alyaksandr Lukashenka, says his country will soon receive a huge military hardware consignment from Russia, a sign of Moscow's continued support for the strongman amid an international outcry over his sometimes violent crackdown on dissent.
Speaking in the Belarusian city of Babruysk on September 1, Lukashenka said dozens of aircraft and air defense systems, including "probably" S-400 missile systems, will be delivered from neighboring Russia to Belarus "in the near future." He gave no further details.
Lukashenka also confirmed earlier reports saying that he plans to hold talks in Moscow on September 9 with his Russian counterpart, Vladimir Putin, on further integration between the two countries.
Crisis In Belarus
Read our ongoing coverage as Belarusian strongman Alyaksandr Lukashenka ramps up pressure on NGOs and independent media as part of a brutal crackdown against protesters and the opposition following an August 2020 election widely considered fraudulent.
According to Lukashenka, after 28 integration road maps between the two countries are approved by the two leaders, they will be signed by him and Putin in October-November.
Lukashenka has long sought to portray himself as a brake on Moscow's pressure to merge Belarus with Russia within a so-called Union State under a decades-old bilateral agreement that envisages a union with closer political, economic, and security ties between the two nations.
But a year of unprecedented street protests since a disputed presidential election has put the Belarusian leader on the defensive and seemingly more reliant on Putin's support.
Western nations have refused to recognize Lukashenka as a legitimate president and slapped his government with sanctions over ongoing crackdown on anti-Lukashenka politicians and opposition, independent media, human rights groups, and civil society.
Lukashenka said on September 1 that deeper integration with Russia will not deprive his country of sovereignty.
"We are building up our ties as two sovereign states," he said, adding that "there is no need to destroy the sovereignty and independence of the two nations."
Russian and Belarusian forces are set to hold large joint military exercises later this month.