Belarus leader and Putin ally Lukashenko to visit China

Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko attends a meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin at the Novo-Ogaryovo state residence, outside Moscow, Russia, Friday, Feb. 17, 2023. (Vladimir Astapkovich, Sputnik, Kremlin Pool Photo via AP)
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BEIJING (AP) — Alexander Lukashenko, the president of Belarus and a close ally of the Russian leader, will visit Beijing this week, China's Foreign Ministry said, as U.S. concerns grow that China is considering providing military aid to Russia.

Spokesperson Hua Chunying said Lukashenko is due to visit Tuesday through Thursday, but gave no details about his agenda.

Belarus has strongly backed Moscow and allowed its territory to be used as a staging ground for the initial invasion of Ukraine a year ago.

Lukashenko has been Belarus' only president since the position was created in 1994, and crushed 2020 protests over his disputed reelection in a vote that the opposition and Western countries regard as fraudulent.

The visit comes as top U.S. officials repeated warnings to China against providing military aid to Russia in its war on Ukraine, saying that would bring heavy consequences.

CIA Director William Burns repeated those earlier statements in an interview due to be broadcast on American channel CBS on Sunday, saying, “We’re confident that the Chinese leadership is considering the provision of lethal equipment."

However, Burns added, “We also don’t see that a final decision has been made yet, and we don’t see evidence of actual shipments of lethal equipment.”

Providing such aid “would be a very risky and unwise bet," he said.

Beijing claims to have a neutral stance in the war that began one year ago, but has also said it has a “no limits friendship” with Russia and has refused to criticize Moscow’s invasion or even call it that. It has accused the West of provoking the conflict and “fanning the flames” by providing Ukraine with defensive arms.

It has accused the U.S. of smearing it over the military aid allegations and reiterated that it seeks only peace between Russia and Ukraine.

Beijing on Friday issued a proposal calling for a cease-fire and peace talks between Ukraine and Russia. Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy cautiously welcomed China's involvement -- but said success would depend on actions not words.

The plan released by China’s Foreign Ministry mainly reiterated long-held positions, and analysts said Beijing would be an unlikely broker given its close ties to Russia and unwavering stance over the conflict.

However, some observers warned that Ukraine and its allies need to tread carefully, saying that rejection of what China sees as its peace overture could move Beijing closer toward providing arms to Russia instead.

Chinese President Xi Jinping is believed to be preparing to visit Russia sometime in the coming months.