Belarusian leader Alexander Lukashenko on Wednesday announced that Russia will soon deliver a major shipment of military hardware badly needed by the isolated country, which will include helicopters, aircraft and air defense systems.
"Russia in the near future … will supply us – I won’t say how much money or what – with dozens of planes, dozens of helicopters, the most important air defense weapons,” Lukashenko was quoted as saying in Belarusian state-run Belta news agency.
But the claim that's sure to catch the attention of the West is what he said about the potential anti-air defense system. "Maybe even S-400s (surface-to-air missiles). We need them very much as I’ve said in the past," he added.
The claim is anything but certain, and was perhaps more of a plea to Moscow, given Lukashenko in the recent past has often been bold and out-front in his statements of assessing relations with Russia, while Putin has been seen as more cautious.
The two sides will hold largescale joint military exercises later in mid-September, dubbed 'Zapad-2021'. Lukashenko addressed the upcoming war games in his statements:
"In a word, the most modern equipment. We will equip ourselves. If we see during the exercise (Zapad-2021) that we need something else, then we will buy it from the Russian Federation and commission it."
Putin and Lukashenko will hold talks on September 9, just before the exercises begin. In early August Lukashenko told journalists that Minsk had formally requested the S-400 system from Moscow, asking "for a special price, on credit" - according to Al Jazeera.
Al Jazeera notes further that "The delivery is likely to be interpreted as a further sign of Moscow’s unwavering support for Lukashenko, who faced down the biggest opposition protests against his rule last year by overseeing a violent crackdown condemned by the West."
Likely Washington's response would be to ramp up further sanctions on both countries in a bid to further isolate especially Belarus.