President Vladimir Putin has said that “unprecedented political and social pressure” from the West, and a raft of sanctions imposed following the invasion of Ukraine, are pushing Belarus to integrate more quickly with Russia.
The 69-year-old Russian leader on Friday told a forum that the pressure was “pushing us to speed up the unification process”.
That would be done to “minimise the damage from the illegal sanctions, to make it simpler to master the output of required products, to develop new competencies, to expand cooperation with friendly countries,” he said.
The neighbouring allies, which both share borders with Ukraine, have been moving to integrate on and off since signing a 1997 treaty meant to strengthen ties strained following the dissolution of the Soviet Union.
Under the Union Treaty, each state remains sovereign, but grants the other’s citizens residency and citizenship rights.
While enthusiasm from Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko towards Moscow has waxed and waned, he was driven closer to Putin in 2020, when the Russian president lent support to Minsk’s crackdown on anti-government protests following contested elections.
On February 24 this year, Lukashenko allowed Russia to use Belarus as a launching pad when Moscow launched its invasion of Ukraine.
Earlier this week, leaders of the Group of Seven (G7) and North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO), singled Belarus out in back-to-back summits, with NATO decrying Moscow’s “military integration with Belarus” in a new strategic framework that labelled Russia a “direct threat” to peace and stability in the region.
Last week, Russian Defence Minister Sergei Shoigu said Russia and Belarus must take urgent joint measures to improve their defence capabilities and their troops’ combat readiness.
On Sunday, as Lukashenko visited Saint Petersburg, Putin said Russia would soon station missiles capable of carrying nuclear warheads in Belarus.
On Thursday, during a meeting in Minsk between Lukashenko and top Russian diplomat Sergey Lavrov, the Belarusian president said Russia “must be ready” to respond to perceived nuclear threats from Western powers.