Putin insists that there is no plan to absorb Belarus in the visit to the shadow of Ukraine

President Vladimir Putin denied plans to absorb Belarus when he paid a rare visit on Monday to the country whose strongman helped his invasion of neighboring Ukraine.

Putin flew to Minsk with his defense and foreign ministers in tow, hours after Russian forces launched a swarm of attack drones on critical infrastructure in Kyiv, which triggered emergency blackouts in a dozen regions.

Putin said that Russia and Belarus, hit with new Western sanctions since President Alexander Lukashenko was declared the winner of a sixth term in a 2020 election widely criticized as rigged, were “united by a common history and spiritual values.”

Putin called the countries “closest allies and strategic partners” but said rumors that Russia tried to take over Belarus came from “the wicked”.

“Russia has no interest in absorbing anyone, this would simply not make sense,” Putin said.

In Washington, State Department spokesman Ned Price scoffed at Putin’s comments.

“I think a statement like that should be treated as the height of irony coming from a leader who is looking at the present moment, right now, to violently absorb his other peaceful next-door neighbor,” Price said.

“We have seen the Lukashenko regime essentially give up its sovereignty, give up its independence, to Russia,” Price said.

Belarus has allowed Russian forces to use its territory and hours before Putin landed in Minsk, Moscow released footage of exercises with Belarusian forces, including tank maneuvers and sniper fire at a snow-covered training ground.

Lukashenko urged closer military cooperation, saying that Russia The US and Belarus are “open to dialogue with other states, including European ones.”

“I hope that soon they will listen to the voice of reason,” Lukashenko said.

Speculation mounted ahead of the Russian leader’s visit that he would pressure Lukashenko to send troops to Ukraine to fight alongside the Russians after Moscow suffered a series of defeats in nearly 10 months of fighting.

However, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov dismissed the reports “as completely stupid and baseless fabrications.”

In October, Belarus announced the formation of a joint regional force with Moscow with several thousand Russian servicemen arriving in the former Soviet country.

New explosions near Kyiv

Drone strikes injured three people near Kyiv. they came as Russia said it shot down several US-made missiles over its airspace near Ukraine.

“I first heard the air raid siren… I thought there was going to be a drone strike. For the first time, it scared me,” said Natalia Dobrovolska, a 68-year-old Kyiv resident.

She described hearing multiple explosions before the power went out at her building in western Kyiv. The officials said that Russia he had flown 35 attack drones across the country, including 23 over Kyiv.

Ukraine said it shot down 30 of the air weapons, including Iranian-made “Shaheds,” that have hit the capital in recent weeks.

Mayor Vitali Klitschko said critical infrastructure facilities were damaged, while regional authorities said nine houses had been scarred by the attacks.

Ukraine has experienced frequent and deadly airstrikes. After a series of battlefield setbacks, Moscow stepped up its air campaign to target the country’s power grid.

Russia ‘must fail’

As winter approaches, missile and drone strikes have plunged cities across the country into darkness and cut off heating and water supplies to millions of Ukrainians.

Speaking to the leaders of several NATO countries via video link on Monday, President Volodymyr Zelensky urged Ukraine’s allies to supply their military with more weapons.

“Russian aggression can and must fail. And our task now is to speed it up,” he told the leaders gathered in Riga.

He said in a late-night speech on Sunday that some 9 million of Ukraine’s 40 million people had power restored after The previous Russian missile barrage last week.

UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres, at a year-end press conference, said ruefully that he hoped the war would “continue”.

“I am not optimistic about the possibility of effective peace talks in the immediate future,” Guterres said.

gasoline price cap

The West has tried to keep up the pressure on Russia. European Union ministers, after months of wrangling, decided on a price gap on Russian natural gas on Monday, following a deal that came into force earlier this month on Russian oil.

The maximum price for natural gas was set at 180 euros ($190) per megawatt hour, though the European Commission said it could lift the cap if “the risks outweigh the benefits” after protracted negotiations involving Germany, the world’s largest economy. from the mainland that backs Ukraine but is highly dependent on imported energy.

“It was not an easy thing to achieve,” said Malta’s Energy Minister Miriam Dalli.

The Kremlin lashed out at the latest move, with Peskov calling the cap “unacceptable” and a violation of market processes.

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