Autocratic leader Alyaksandr Lukashenka says there will be "no transfer of power" in Belarus, where thousands have demonstrated across the country since early August demanding his resignation over an elections they say was rigged.
"No transfer [of power] is possible in Belarus.... Everything will be in accordance with the constitution," Lukashenka said in Minsk on March 2 as he spoke about his talks last month with President Vladimir Putin in the Russian city of Sochi.
"The [new] constitution, as I said before, we will adopt in January-February next year. And that is all that the transfer of power will be about," Lukashenka said, adding that a transfer of power was not on the agenda when he met with Putin.
Lukashenka has been under pressure to step down for months after claiming he won an August 9 election by a landslide, while his main challenger, Svyatlana Tsikhanouskaya, has said she was the rightful victor.
Thousands of protesters have been arrested by Belarusian security forces at the anti-government rallies that have continued since August, and beatings at the hands of police have been widely documented.
The EU, which considers the election that extended Lukashenka's 26-year authoritarian rule fraudulent, has progressively imposed sanctions on Belarus in response to the violent repression of peaceful protesters, the opposition, and media.
Crisis In Belarus
Read our coverage as Belarusians continue to demand the resignation of Alyaksandr Lukashenka amid a brutal crackdown on protesters. The West refuses to recognize him as the country's legitimate leader after an August 9 election considered fraudulent.
Tsikhanouskaya has called for the EU to take a tougher stance against Lukashenka's regime.
Lukashenka has long sought to portray himself as a brake on Moscow's pressure to merge Belarus with Russia. But seven months of unprecedented street protests and the resulting EU sanctions have put the Belarusian leader on the defensive and seemingly more reliant on Putin's support.
In recent years, Russia has pressured Belarus to take steps toward integration in order to cement a 20-year-old agreement to form a union state, only to be rebuffed by Lukashenka's defense of the nation's sovereignty.
However, the situation began to change after Russia helped prop up Lukashenka in the wake of the presidential election, bringing the two sides closer over common threat perceptions.
Lukashenka acknowledged the close relationship but also emphasized on March 2 that Belarus remained "a sovereign and independent state."
Putin himself has been under pressure from the West in recent months.
The EU and Washington announced new sanctions against Russian officials on March 2 over the detention of opposition politician Aleksei Navalny and evidence that the anti-corruption campaigner was poisoned with a Novichok-like nerve agent. Navalny blames his poisoning on Putin and Russian agents, which the Kremlin denies.
Navalny's detention in January upon his return from life-saving treatment in Germany and a subsequent crackdown on some of Russia's largest anti-government protests in a decade have prompted international outrage.