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The leaders of Russia and Belarus met Monday to discuss ways to further expand their close alliance that has seen the deployment of some of Russia’s nuclear weapons on the territory of its neighbor.

President Vladimir Putin emphasized that Russia and Belarus have developed a “strategic partnership” as part of their 25-year union agreement. That pact stopped short of a full merger, but envisaged close political, economic and military ties between the two nations.

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“It’s important that amid an unprecedented foreign pressure Russia and Belarus have closely cooperated on the international arena and have offered unfailing support to each other as true allies,” Putin said at the start of the talks in St. Petersburg that involved senior officials from both countries.

Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko has relied on Russian subsidies and political support to rule the ex-Soviet nation with an iron hand for nearly three decades. Moscow’s backing helped Lukashenko survive months of major protests against his reelection in a 2020 vote that the opposition and the West saw as rigged.

Lukashenko allowed the Kremlin to use Belarusian territory to send troops into Ukraine in February 2022.

Last year, Russia moved some of its short-range nuclear weapons into Belarus, closer to Ukraine and onto NATO’s doorstep. Their declared deployment was widely seen as part of Moscow’s efforts to discourage the West from increasing military support to Kyiv.

Lukashenko said last month that the deployment of Russian nuclear weapons was finalized in October. He didn’t say how many of them were stationed in Belarus.

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