Belarus says 'does not need' Russian airbase
Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko on Tuesday said his country does not need a Russian airbase despite Moscow pushing to establish a facility in the strategic nation bordering the European Union.
"Today we don't need a base, even less the air force," Lukashenko said.
"We need specific arms. I have spoken publicly about it to Putin," the strongman said in comments released by his press office.
In September, Russian President Vladimir Putin ordered his ministers to agree a deal with Belarus to establish an airbase in the country.
Ex-Soviet Belarus is a long-standing ally of Russia and is a member of a Moscow-led economic union.
Russia already has a radar station and a navy radio station in Belarus but the air unit will be Russia's first major military base in that country.
The creation of a Russian military air base in Belarus -- which borders NATO and European Union members Poland, Latvia and Lithuania -- has been mooted since 2013.
Relations between Minsk and Moscow have, however, sometimes been prickly and strongman leader Lukashenko has largely remained neutral over the conflict in neighbouring Ukraine while relations with the European Union have improved slightly.
Around a thousand opposition supporters took to the streets of Minsk over the weekend to demonstrate against Russian plans to build an airbase.
Belarusians go to the polls this Sunday in presidential polls that look certain to see Lukashenko extend his 21-year grip on power.
Some leaders in eastern European countries such as Poland and the Baltic nations have become increasingly jittery over Russian expansionism since Moscow seized the Crimea region from Ukraine in March 2014.
© 2015 AFP