Vladimir Putin has a meeting with Alexander Lukashenko
Belarus President Alexander Lukashenko did not attend the Flag Day ceremony on Sunday, the first time since he assumed the highest state office in this former Soviet republic 29 years ago.
An absence that feeds rumours about his health.
The 68-year-old head of state was represented by government official Roman Golovchenko at lavish celebrations in Minsk.
According to the Dpa, state television has also not broadcast images of the President for several days, but his message was read during the ceremony.
His last public appearance dates back to May 9 during the military parade in Moscow on the occasion of the commemorations of the Soviet victory over Nazi Germany, where Lukashenko left before the end of the event.
The Minsk presidency has not commented on the rumours about his health.
One of his staunchest opponents, former Minister of Culture, Pavel Latushko, who lives in exile, said in recent days that Lukashenko “is seriously ill”.
The Belarusian leader is Vladimir Putin’s closest ally.
Last month, Putin and Lukashenko discussed expanding economic cooperation and bolstering defence ties between their nations.
The Kremlin talks involved senior officials from both countries and followed Putin’s one-on-one meeting with Lukashenko.
Putin said there would be “close work” on boosting cooperation under a union agreement that envisions close political, economic and military ties between Belarus and Russia.
Russia used Belarusian territory as a staging ground for invading neighbouring Ukraine and has maintained a contingent of troops and weapons there.
In March, Putin declared that Moscow planned to put some of its tactical nuclear weapons in Belarus, an announcement that marked another attempt by the Russian leader to dangle the nuclear threat to discourage the West from supporting Ukraine.
Such weapons are intended to destroy enemy troops on the battlefield and have a relatively short range and a much lower yield compared with nuclear warheads fitted to long-range strategic missiles, which are capable of obliterating whole cities.
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