Alexander Lukashenko, the president of Belarus, traveled to Zimbabwe on Monday to meet with his counterpart in what analysts believe was an effort to “diversify” their diplomatic ties.
According to the Belarusian president’s administration, President Emmerson Mnangagwa, 80, and thousands of supporters of the ruling ZANU-PF party welcomed Lukashenko, 68, when he arrived in Harare, the country’s capital.
The meetings, according to Zimbabwe’s foreign ministry, were intended to further “the already great relations” between the two nations in a variety of fields, including politics, mining, and agriculture.
“The visit is historic, as it is the first such undertaking to a sub-Saharan African nation, by President Lukashenko,” the ministry said in a statement.
In Harare’s Robert Mugabe International Airport, 5,000 people gathered on the runway to greet the president while yelling and singing.
The two leaders, who have both been the target of Western sanctions, are scheduled to meet in person on Tuesday.
“Both countries are seeking to diversify their international relations — and both have been impacted by U.S. and EU sanctions imposed because of their poor human rights record,” Alex Vines, who heads the Africa program at British think tank Chatham House, said.
“Belarus historically mostly looks to export its military expertise and kit,” Vines said.
Following Mnangagwa’s travel to Minsk in 2019, Belarus erected an embassy in Harare. Lukashenko’s journey comes after that. The two nations are already under some degree of diplomatic isolation, and Western sanctions have been targeted at their leaders and government employees.
Vladimir Putin’s close friend and ally Lukashenko supported Moscow’s invasion of Ukraine.
After a contentious election in 2020, Lukashenko, who has been in power for nearly 30 years, oversaw a savage assault on protestors. Mnangagwa took over in 2017 when Robert Mugabe, the country’s longtime leader, was forced to step down by generals.
In spite of allegations of corruption and human rights abuses, including a crackdown on political rivals, he is running for reelection this year.
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