DOBRUSH, Belarus -- Belarusian President Alyaksandr Lukashenka will meet with Russian President Vladimir Putin this week to discuss ongoing disagreements over tariffs for Russian oil.
Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov confirmed on February 4 an earlier statement by the Belarusian leader that the two heads of state will gather in Moscow in three days' time.
The meeting comes at a crucial time in relations between the two countries.
Lukashenka has accused Moscow of pressuring his country to merge with Russia, something the Belarus leader has vowed to not let happen.
On February 1, U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo held talks with Lukashenka in Minsk, at which the U.S. diplomat said that Washington is seeking closer ties with Minsk, though Belarus doesn't need to choose between the two superpowers.
"We want fair, clear, and transparent ties [with Russia]. If they don't want them, then should tell us. And don't cry 'Oh, Pompeo came, tomorrow [U.S. President Donald] Trump will come! And what will [Minsk] do next?" Lukashenka said on February 4 while visiting an industrial facility in the southeastern city of Dobrush.
In addition, Russia's dominance over Belarus, which is heavily reliant on Moscow for cheap oil and billions in annual subsidies to prop up its Soviet-era economy, has exacerbated tensions between the two and sparked protests on the streets of Minsk.
Moscow and Minsk signed an agreement in 1999 to form a unified state, but little progress has been made in the ensuing two decades. Belarus was a Soviet republic until the Soviet Union's collapse in 1991.
Meetings between Lukashenka and Putin last year failed to bring the two sides together as the Belarusian president noted he was merely seeking "equal" terms.
Belarus was hit by rare public demonstrations in December, with protesters expressing anger over the perceived secrecy of the talks and objecting to closer ties to Russia.
The Kremlin, in defending higher energy prices and lower subsidies for Belarus, argues that Minsk should accept greater economic integration if it wants to continue receiving energy resources at Russia's domestic prices.
"I will directly tell him [Putin] that some sort of moment of truth has come.... If you have promised to bring the [oil] prices to the level of domestic ones like in Russia, then do so. Why are you deceiving us?" Lukashenka said on February 4.
When meeting with Belarusian Foreign Minister Uladzimer Makey, Pompeo said U.S. "energy producers stand ready to deliver 100 percent of the oil you need at competitive prices."