Belarusian President Alyaksandr Lukashenka says Russia's annexation of Crimea is a "bad precedent," but acknowledged that the region is now a "de facto" part of Russia.
"When it comes to recognizing or not recognizing [the annexation of Crimea], Crimea is not an independent state unlike Ossetia or Abkhazia," Lukashenko told reporters in Minsk when asked on March 23 about his refusal to endorse the Russian annexation of the peninsula. "Crimea today is a part of Russian territory. You can recognize or not recognize that, but this will change absolutely nothing."
While indirectly criticizing Moscow for annexing Crimea, Lukashenka said the Ukrainians have brought the crisis on themselves by allowing years of corrupt leadership.
He said Ukrainian authorities "provided the reason, or at the very least, the pretext" for the current situation.
Lukashenka added that Ukraine should not join international groupings such as NATO.
"Ukraine should stay a united, undivided, integral state that is not a member of any block because it would be very sensitive both for us and for Russia if, for example, NATO's military would deploy in Ukraine tomorrow, this we can't allow to happen," he said. "This is our global interest. So we have to make an agreement that nobody has a right to meddle in Ukraine anymore."
Earlier in March, Moscow sent several warplanes to Belarus at Lukashenka's request. Lukashenka had said Belarus offered to host 12 to 15 Russian warplanes on its territory to counter NATO's increase in the deployment of its warplanes to member countries near Ukraine.
Lukashenko said on March 23 that the Russian warplanes will stay in his country "as long as Belarus and Russia want."
Russian President Vladimir Putin says Russian forces were deployed across Crimea last month to protect the rights of Russian speakers.
Only eight percent of eastern Belarus's population is ethnic Russian. But Russian is the dominant language spoken across all of Belarus -- raising concerns in Minsk that Russia could target Belarus in the future using the same justification Putin gave for the seizure of Crimea.
Lukashenka, who has been in power for nearly two decades, is criticized by the West for his crackdown on the opposition and free speech.
Minsk heavily relies on economic and military support from Moscow.
With reporting by Reuters, ITAR-TASS, Interfax, and "Foreign Affairs"