Belarus 'does not need' Russia air base - Lukashenko
- 7 October 2015
- From the section Europe
Belarus does not need a Russian air base, President Alexander Lukashenko has said, despite growing pressure from Moscow to establish such a facility.
He said the issue was never discussed with Russia, although last month President Vladimir Putin ordered his government to fine-tune a deal.
On Sunday, hundreds of Belarusian activists held a protest rally in the capital Minsk against the Russian plan.
Belarus is Russia's key ally, and is a member of a Moscow-led economic union.
"We don't need a base today," Mr Lukashenko was quoted as saying by Belarusian media on Tuesday.
"I hear shrieks from the opposition about the deployment of a Russian air base. I don't know anything about it.
"We need planes - not bases. We have our excellent pilots... Why should I allow in planes and pilots from other countries?"
Russia has so far made no public comments in response to Mr Lukashenko's statements.
Moscow already has a radar station in Belarus, which borders with three Nato countries and also Ukraine, where the government has been fighting with pro-Russian separatists.
Despite publicly declaring his loyalty to Russia, Mr Lukashenko has largely remained neutral over the conflict in Ukraine.
Mr Lukashenko - once described as "Europe's last dictator" - has also been signalling to the EU that he is interested in improving relations with the bloc.
His comments came ahead of Sunday's presidential elections, which he looks certain to win.
He has been in power since 1994, rejecting accusations by the opposition and the West that he has turned Belarus into an authoritarian state.