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Belarusian Leader Skips Munich Conference Because Of Talks With Russia's Putin

Russian President Vladimir Putin (right) speaks next to Belarusian President Alyaksandr Lukashenka during their meeting in the Black sea resort of Sochi on February 15.

Belarusian President Alyaksandr Lukashenka will not to take part in the February 15-17 Munich Security Conference because he is in Russia holding talks with President Vladimir Putin, Belarusian officials say.

The Foreign Ministry said on February 15 that Lukashenka had been invited to take part in a panel on East-West ties along with the presidents of Azerbaijan and Ukraine, as well the Georgian prime minister, and OSCE Secretary-General Thomas Greminger.

The statement added that Belarusian Ambassador to Germany Dzyanis Sidarenka and Belarusian KGB head Valeriy Vakulchik will take part in the Munich conference.

Lukashenka and Putin on February 15 wrapped up their three-day talks in the Black Sea resort town of Sochi.

Putin told reporters after the talks that he and Lukashenka discussed issues related to the Union State of Russia and Belarus -- the alliance established in the 1990s, though it exists mostly on paper.

Lukashenka also stressed the importance of the Union State, adding that Belarus "is ready to integrate with Russia to the extent the Russian and Belarusian peoples would want" but that nothing is going to restrict the two nations' sovereignty.

Although Lukashenka has strained relations with the West, he now speaks frequently of the need to protect Belarus's sovereignty against potential threats from the east.

Belarus is a member of the Eurasian Economic Union and the Collective Security Treaty Organization, regional groupings observers say Putin uses to bolster Moscow's influence in the former Soviet Union and to counter the European Union and NATO.

Wariness about Moscow's intentions toward its neighbors has risen in the wake of Russia's 2014 annexation of Ukraine's Crimean Peninsula and its military, political, and economic support for militants in parts of eastern Ukraine, leading to an armed conflict in which more than 10,300 people have been killed.

The EU eased sanctions against Belarus in 2016 after the release of several people considered political prisoners, but has criticized Lukashenka's government for a violent March 2017 clampdown on demonstrators protesting an unemployment tax.

With reporting by Interfax, TASS, and BelTA
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