Russian, Belarusian presidents meet in Moscow amid tensions over Ukraine

Vladimir Putin, Alexander Lukashenko discuss economic ties, military cooperation.

Russian, Belarusian presidents meet in Moscow amid tensions over Ukraine

Russian President Vladimir Putin met his Belarusian counterpart Alexander Lukashenko in Moscow on Friday as tensions with the West mount over Ukraine.

Opening the meeting, Putin said bilateral trade is increasing and progress is being made on the Union State, a concept aimed at greater integration of the two countries.

Putin said he will discuss with Lukashenko the regional situation and military cooperation, and both the leaders will oversee planned military drills on Saturday.

Lukashenko said the West has panicked the world by saying that Russia and Belarus will attack Ukraine, but neither Moscow nor Minsk "have ever even considered it."

Western countries have accused Russia of amassing more than 100,000 troops near Ukraine, prompting fears that it could be planning a military offensive against its ex-Soviet neighbor.

Denying that it is preparing to invade, Moscow has accused Western countries of undermining its security through NATO’s eastward expansion.

The Kremlin says it has pulled back some of its troops following military exercises, but Western leaders argue they have yet to see any evidence of that.

Russia also demanded a rollback of troop deployments from some ex-Soviet states, and guarantees that NATO would not accept some of those states into the military alliance.

NATO, however, said its "door remains open" and any decision on membership is for allies and aspirant countries to take, and nobody else.

Belarus has moved closer to Russia since a disputed presidential election in August 2020, in which Lukashenko won a sixth term.