Putin arrives in Belarus for talks with Lukashenko

STORY: Putin, whose troops have been driven back in Ukraine's north, northeast and south, is taking a more public role in what Moscow calls its "special military operation" in Ukraine. He visited the operation's headquarters on Friday to sound out military commanders.

His trip for talks with Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko was his first to Minsk since 2019 - before the COVID pandemic and a wave of pro-democracy protests in 2020 that Lukashenko crushed with strong support from the Kremlin.

Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov told Russian news agencies that Belarus was Russia's "number one ally" but that suggestions Moscow aims to pressure Minsk into joining its "special military operation" were "stupid and unfounded fabrications."