Medvedev, Lukashenko Discuss New Air Defense Deal

Russia and Belarus will strengthen military cooperation with a deal to form a joint air-defense system, President Dmitry Medvedev said Tuesday.
 
The deal will likely be signed Tuesday, after Medvedev and his Belarussian counterpart, Alexander Lukashenko, hold talks in the Kremlin.
 
The air-defense deal "will significantly increase the defense capability of Russia and Belarus," Medvedev said at the start of the talks.
 
Russia has backed Belarus with cheap energy supplies and loans, and the former Soviet neighbors have a union agreement that envisages close political and economic ties.
 
Both countries mistrust Western intentions and have denounced NATO's expansion into former Soviet turf and U.S. plans to build missile-defense sites in Poland and the Czech Republic.
 
The Kremlin has been a key sponsor of Lukashenko, who has been dubbed "Europe's last dictator" by the United States and the European Union for his relentless crackdown on dissent.
 
Recent attempts by the Belarussian leader to improve ties with the West have led some observers to speculate that Minsk's real motive was to blackmail Moscow into boosting subsidies.
 
The air-defense deal has been in negotiation for years, with Belarus reportedly lobbying for better terms and more generous Russian aid.
 
Lukashenko seemed to corroborate a report Tuesday by Kommersant saying he had demanded new Russian weapons at subsidized prices and Russian purchases from Belarus' defense industries. During the talks at the Kremlin, Lukashenko said the creation of a joint air-defense field should be part of a package aimed at "deepening military-technical cooperation."