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Putin arrives in neighboring Belarus for a two-day visit with a key ally

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Putin arrives in neighboring Belarus for a two-day visit with a key ally
News

News

Putin arrives in neighboring Belarus for a two-day visit with a key ally

2024-05-24 06:42 Last Updated At:06:51

Russian President Vladimir Putin arrived Thursday in Belarus for a two-day visit as part of several foreign tours to kick off his fifth term in office, underscoring close ties with a neighboring ally that has been instrumental in Russia's war effort in Ukraine.

Putin traveled to China earlier this month, and is expected in Uzbekistan on Sunday. Earlier on Thursday, the Russian president hosted Bahrain's King Hamad bin Isa Al Khalifa in the Kremlin.

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Russian President Vladimir Putin speaks to Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko during their meeting upon his arrival at an international airport in Minsk, Belarus, Thursday, May 23, 2024. (Mikhail Metzel/Sputnik/Kremlin Pool Photo via AP)

Russian President Vladimir Putin arrived Thursday in Belarus for a two-day visit as part of several foreign tours to kick off his fifth term in office, underscoring close ties with a neighboring ally that has been instrumental in Russia's war effort in Ukraine.

Russian President Vladimir Putin, left, and Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko talk to each other during their meeting at an international airport in Minsk, Belarus, Thursday, May 23, 2024. Putin arrived in Belarus Thursday for a two-day visit. (Mikhail Metzel/Sputnik/Kremlin Pool Photo via AP)

Russian President Vladimir Putin, left, and Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko talk to each other during their meeting at an international airport in Minsk, Belarus, Thursday, May 23, 2024. Putin arrived in Belarus Thursday for a two-day visit. (Mikhail Metzel/Sputnik/Kremlin Pool Photo via AP)

Russian President Vladimir Putin, left, and Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko talk to each other during their meeting at an international airport in Minsk, Belarus, Thursday, May 23, 2024. Putin arrived in Belarus Thursday for a two-day visit. (Mikhail Metzel/Sputnik/Kremlin Pool Photo via AP)

Russian President Vladimir Putin, left, and Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko talk to each other during their meeting at an international airport in Minsk, Belarus, Thursday, May 23, 2024. Putin arrived in Belarus Thursday for a two-day visit. (Mikhail Metzel/Sputnik/Kremlin Pool Photo via AP)

Russian President Vladimir Putin, left, and Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko shake hands during their meeting at an international airport in Minsk, Belarus, Thursday, May 23, 2024. (Mikhail Metzel/Sputnik/Kremlin Pool Photo via AP)

Russian President Vladimir Putin, left, and Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko shake hands during their meeting at an international airport in Minsk, Belarus, Thursday, May 23, 2024. (Mikhail Metzel/Sputnik/Kremlin Pool Photo via AP)

Russian President Vladimir Putin, right, and Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko, second right, attend a welcome ceremony upon his arrival at an international airport in Minsk, Belarus, Thursday, May 23, 2024. (Mikhail Metzel, Sputnik, Kremlin Pool Photo via AP)

Russian President Vladimir Putin, right, and Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko, second right, attend a welcome ceremony upon his arrival at an international airport in Minsk, Belarus, Thursday, May 23, 2024. (Mikhail Metzel, Sputnik, Kremlin Pool Photo via AP)

Russian President Vladimir Putin, right, and Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko walk from a plane at an international airport in Minsk, Belarus, Thursday, May 23, 2024. (Mikhail Metzel, Sputnik, Kremlin Pool Photo via AP)

Russian President Vladimir Putin, right, and Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko walk from a plane at an international airport in Minsk, Belarus, Thursday, May 23, 2024. (Mikhail Metzel, Sputnik, Kremlin Pool Photo via AP)

Russian President Vladimir Putin, right, listens to Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko, as they review an honor guard upon his arrival at an international airport in Minsk, Belarus, Thursday, May 23, 2024. Putin on Thursday evening arrived in Belarus for a two-day visit. (Mikhail Metzel, Sputnik, Kremlin Pool Photo via AP)

Russian President Vladimir Putin, right, listens to Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko, as they review an honor guard upon his arrival at an international airport in Minsk, Belarus, Thursday, May 23, 2024. Putin on Thursday evening arrived in Belarus for a two-day visit. (Mikhail Metzel, Sputnik, Kremlin Pool Photo via AP)

Russian President Vladimir Putin, right, listens to Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko as they walk upon his arrival at an international airport in Minsk, Belarus, Thursday, May 23, 2024. (Mikhail Metzel, Sputnik, Kremlin Pool Photo via AP)

Russian President Vladimir Putin, right, listens to Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko as they walk upon his arrival at an international airport in Minsk, Belarus, Thursday, May 23, 2024. (Mikhail Metzel, Sputnik, Kremlin Pool Photo via AP)

Russian President Vladimir Putin, right, listens to Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko as they walk upon his arrival at an international airport in Minsk, Belarus, Thursday, May 23, 2024. (Mikhail Metzel, Sputnik, Kremlin Pool Photo via AP)

Russian President Vladimir Putin, right, listens to Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko as they walk upon his arrival at an international airport in Minsk, Belarus, Thursday, May 23, 2024. (Mikhail Metzel, Sputnik, Kremlin Pool Photo via AP)

In Belarus, Putin is to hold talks with his Belarusian counterpart Alexander Lukashenko. Lukashenko greeted him on the tarmac, and then the two sat down for a “short conversation” at the airport, the Kremlin reported. Lukashenko promised to discuss “security issues at the forefront, and tomorrow we will discuss economic issues together with our colleagues from the governments.”

The Belarusian leader on Thursday appointed a new chief of the country's military general staff in a move that analysts say is aimed at showing the Kremlin the utmost loyalty of its neighbor and ally.

Russia used Belarus, which depends on Russian loans and cheap energy, as a staging ground in the war in Ukraine, deploying some of its troops there from Belarusian territory. In 2023, Russia also moved some of its tactical nuclear weapons to Belarus.

Maj. Gen. Pavel Muraveyka, who was appointed as chief of Belarus' General Staff and as first deputy defense minister, is known for publicly threatening neighboring NATO members Poland and Lithuania.

In October 2023, he said that Belarus could seize the so-called Suwalki Gap — a sparsely populated stretch of land running about 100 kilometers (60 miles) along the Polish-Lithuanian border. It links Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia with the rest of the NATO alliance and separates Belarus from Kaliningrad, a heavily militarized Russian exclave on the Baltic Sea that has no land connection to Russia.

Military analysts in the West have long viewed the Suwalki Gap as a potential flashpoint in any confrontation between Russia and NATO. They worry that Russia might try to seize the gap and cut off the three Baltic states from Poland and other NATO nations.

“Muraveiko’s appointment is an open challenge to the West and a desire to show Putin Minsk’s complete loyalty and willingness to maintain a strategic partnership with Russia,” independent Belarusian analyst Valery Karbalevich told The Associated Press.

“The deployment of Russian nuclear weapons in Belarus does not leave Lukashenko a strategic choice, turns him into a hostage of the Kremlin and firmly binds Minsk to Moscow’s policies," Karbalevich said.

Both Russia and Belarus began military drills involving tactical nuclear weapons earlier this month. Moscow said its drills, announced publicly for the first time on May 6, were a response to statements by Western officials signaling possibly deeper involvement in the war in Ukraine. Belarus launched its maneuvers involving missiles and warplanes capable of carrying tactical nuclear weapons on May 7; Russia's exercises began this week.

Moscow has emphasized that the tactical nuclear weapons deployed to Belarus remain under Russian military control.

Unlike nuclear-tipped intercontinental ballistic missiles that can destroy entire cities, tactical nuclear weapons intended for use against troops on the battlefield are less powerful. Such weapons include aerial bombs, warheads for short-range missiles and artillery munitions.

The deployment of tactical nuclear weapons to Belarus, which has a 1,084-kilometer (673-mile) border with Ukraine, would allow Russian aircraft and missiles to reach potential targets there more easily and quickly if Moscow decides to use them. It also extends Russia’s capability to target several NATO allies in Eastern and Central Europe.

Russian President Vladimir Putin speaks to Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko during their meeting upon his arrival at an international airport in Minsk, Belarus, Thursday, May 23, 2024. (Mikhail Metzel/Sputnik/Kremlin Pool Photo via AP)

Russian President Vladimir Putin speaks to Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko during their meeting upon his arrival at an international airport in Minsk, Belarus, Thursday, May 23, 2024. (Mikhail Metzel/Sputnik/Kremlin Pool Photo via AP)

Russian President Vladimir Putin, left, and Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko talk to each other during their meeting at an international airport in Minsk, Belarus, Thursday, May 23, 2024. Putin arrived in Belarus Thursday for a two-day visit. (Mikhail Metzel/Sputnik/Kremlin Pool Photo via AP)

Russian President Vladimir Putin, left, and Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko talk to each other during their meeting at an international airport in Minsk, Belarus, Thursday, May 23, 2024. Putin arrived in Belarus Thursday for a two-day visit. (Mikhail Metzel/Sputnik/Kremlin Pool Photo via AP)

Russian President Vladimir Putin, left, and Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko talk to each other during their meeting at an international airport in Minsk, Belarus, Thursday, May 23, 2024. Putin arrived in Belarus Thursday for a two-day visit. (Mikhail Metzel/Sputnik/Kremlin Pool Photo via AP)

Russian President Vladimir Putin, left, and Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko talk to each other during their meeting at an international airport in Minsk, Belarus, Thursday, May 23, 2024. Putin arrived in Belarus Thursday for a two-day visit. (Mikhail Metzel/Sputnik/Kremlin Pool Photo via AP)

Russian President Vladimir Putin, left, and Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko shake hands during their meeting at an international airport in Minsk, Belarus, Thursday, May 23, 2024. (Mikhail Metzel/Sputnik/Kremlin Pool Photo via AP)

Russian President Vladimir Putin, left, and Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko shake hands during their meeting at an international airport in Minsk, Belarus, Thursday, May 23, 2024. (Mikhail Metzel/Sputnik/Kremlin Pool Photo via AP)

Russian President Vladimir Putin, right, and Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko, second right, attend a welcome ceremony upon his arrival at an international airport in Minsk, Belarus, Thursday, May 23, 2024. (Mikhail Metzel, Sputnik, Kremlin Pool Photo via AP)

Russian President Vladimir Putin, right, and Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko, second right, attend a welcome ceremony upon his arrival at an international airport in Minsk, Belarus, Thursday, May 23, 2024. (Mikhail Metzel, Sputnik, Kremlin Pool Photo via AP)

Russian President Vladimir Putin, right, and Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko walk from a plane at an international airport in Minsk, Belarus, Thursday, May 23, 2024. (Mikhail Metzel, Sputnik, Kremlin Pool Photo via AP)

Russian President Vladimir Putin, right, and Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko walk from a plane at an international airport in Minsk, Belarus, Thursday, May 23, 2024. (Mikhail Metzel, Sputnik, Kremlin Pool Photo via AP)

Russian President Vladimir Putin, right, listens to Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko, as they review an honor guard upon his arrival at an international airport in Minsk, Belarus, Thursday, May 23, 2024. Putin on Thursday evening arrived in Belarus for a two-day visit. (Mikhail Metzel, Sputnik, Kremlin Pool Photo via AP)

Russian President Vladimir Putin, right, listens to Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko, as they review an honor guard upon his arrival at an international airport in Minsk, Belarus, Thursday, May 23, 2024. Putin on Thursday evening arrived in Belarus for a two-day visit. (Mikhail Metzel, Sputnik, Kremlin Pool Photo via AP)

Russian President Vladimir Putin, right, listens to Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko as they walk upon his arrival at an international airport in Minsk, Belarus, Thursday, May 23, 2024. (Mikhail Metzel, Sputnik, Kremlin Pool Photo via AP)

Russian President Vladimir Putin, right, listens to Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko as they walk upon his arrival at an international airport in Minsk, Belarus, Thursday, May 23, 2024. (Mikhail Metzel, Sputnik, Kremlin Pool Photo via AP)

Russian President Vladimir Putin, right, listens to Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko as they walk upon his arrival at an international airport in Minsk, Belarus, Thursday, May 23, 2024. (Mikhail Metzel, Sputnik, Kremlin Pool Photo via AP)

Russian President Vladimir Putin, right, listens to Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko as they walk upon his arrival at an international airport in Minsk, Belarus, Thursday, May 23, 2024. (Mikhail Metzel, Sputnik, Kremlin Pool Photo via AP)

INDIANAPOLIS (AP) — Kate Douglass won the women's 100-meter freestyle at the U.S. Olympic swimming trials on Wednesday night, with Simone Manuel claiming a relay spot with a fourth-place finish after bouncing back from overtraining syndrome.

Manuel, the first Black woman to capture an individual swimming gold when she tied for the top spot in this event at the 2016 Rio de Janeiro Games, was denied a chance to swim the 100 free at the Paris Games. Torri Huske took the second individual spot.

Douglass was only fourth at the turn, but she powered to the finish for a winning time of 52.56 seconds. Huske finished at 52.93, while Gretchen Walsh faded from the lead at the midway point to touch third in 53.13.

Manuel was next at 53.25, with fifth-place finisher Abbey Weitzeil (53.70) also likely headed to her third Olympics as a relay option.

Manuel will have another chance to qualify for an individual Olympic event in the 50-meter freestyle, but she was clearly moved just to be on a relay.

“It means everything to me,” Manuel said, breaking down in tears on deck. “It’s a miracle that I’m even able to stand up here and be able to race again. The people close to me know the journey it took to get here. I'm really proud of myself and proud of Team USA.”

Manuel won two golds and two silvers at the Rio Games, a breakout performance for swimmers of color in a largely white sport. But her body broke down under the strain of overtraining syndrome ahead of the pandemic-delayed games in Tokyo.

Manuel failed to even qualify for the 100 freestyle, though she did bounce back to earn a spot in the 50 free. In Tokyo, she was eliminated in the semifinals of her only individual event, with her lone medal coming as the anchor of the 4x100 free relay team that finished third.

After the Olympics, she was ordered by her doctor to shut down all physical activity for more than six months to give her body time to properly recover.

Douglass had built on a bronze medal in the 200 individual medley at Tokyo to become one of America's most versatile swimmers.

She won a total of 14 medals at the last three world championships in everything from the freestyle to the breaststroke to the individual medley to the relays.

Now, she's headed back to the Olympics.

So is 17-year-old Thomas Heilman, who won the men’s 200-meter butterfly and will become the youngest U.S. male Olympic swimmer since Michael Phelps made the team for Sydney at age 15.

Luke Whitlock, 18, had laid claim to that distinction a night earlier with his second-place showing in the 800 freestyle. Then someone even younger made the team when Heilman touched first in 1 minute, 54.50 seconds.

Luca Urlando claimed the expected second spot in Paris with a time of 1:55.08.

AP Summer Olympics: https://apnews.com/hub/2024-paris-olympic-games

Simone Manuel swims during a Women's 100 freestyle semifinals heat Tuesday, June 18, 2024, at the US Swimming Olympic Trials in Indianapolis. (AP Photo/Darron Cummings)

Simone Manuel swims during a Women's 100 freestyle semifinals heat Tuesday, June 18, 2024, at the US Swimming Olympic Trials in Indianapolis. (AP Photo/Darron Cummings)

Simone Manuel is introduced before the Women's 100 freestyle finals Wednesday, June 19, 2024, at the US Swimming Olympic Trials in Indianapolis. (AP Photo/Darron Cummings)

Simone Manuel is introduced before the Women's 100 freestyle finals Wednesday, June 19, 2024, at the US Swimming Olympic Trials in Indianapolis. (AP Photo/Darron Cummings)

Kate Douglass swims during the Women's 100 freestyle finals Wednesday, June 19, 2024, at the US Swimming Olympic Trials in Indianapolis. (AP Photo/Darron Cummings)

Kate Douglass swims during the Women's 100 freestyle finals Wednesday, June 19, 2024, at the US Swimming Olympic Trials in Indianapolis. (AP Photo/Darron Cummings)

Kate Douglass and Torri Huske embrace after the Women's 100 freestyle finals Wednesday, June 19, 2024, at the US Swimming Olympic Trials in Indianapolis. (AP Photo/Michael Conroy)

Kate Douglass and Torri Huske embrace after the Women's 100 freestyle finals Wednesday, June 19, 2024, at the US Swimming Olympic Trials in Indianapolis. (AP Photo/Michael Conroy)

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