President Putin and 'Europe’s last dictator' Alexander Lukashenko pictured playing game of ice hockey amid fears of WW3

VLADIMIR Putin and "Europe's last dictator" Alexander Lukashenko have been pictured playing a chummy game of ice hockey amid heightened fears of an outbreak of WW3.

The cringe photo op comes as Putin said on Wednesday that Russia and Belarus would hold joint war games early next year.

Putin welcomed the Belarusian President's proposal to hold another round of military drills, hinting they could take place as early as February or March.

Speaking during a meeting with Lukashenko in St. Petersburg, the Russian leader added that military officials would soon coordinate details.

It comes amid deepening concerns Putin is plotting to invade Ukraine in early 2022, as more than 175,000 Russian troops were said to have been detected on the border.

And some officials in Ukraine have voiced concern that Russia may attack from Belarusian territory.

The US has warned they could "rain destruction" on Russia with nuclear weapons if Putin makes a move.

Moscow has denied making any such plans but urged the U.S. and its allies to provide guarantees that NATO won't expand into Ukraine or deploy its weapons there – demands the West has firmly rejected.

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Russia and Belarus have a union agreement envisaging close political, economic and military ties, and Moscow has staunchly backed Lukashenko amid Western pressure.

That pressure ballooned after a brutal crackdown on domestic protests fuelled by Lukashenko's re-election to a sixth term in August 2020 that the opposition and the West said was rigged.

Tensions continued to simmer over the summer months as thousands of migrants and refugees arrived on Belarus's border and tried to force their way into Poland, which is an EU member state.

Brussels has accused Lukashenko of retaliating for its sanctions by using desperate asylum-seekers as pawns and tricking them into trying to enter Poland.

In a show of support for Lukashenko, Russia conducted massive war games with Belarus in September that involved 200,000 troops.

In recent weeks, Moscow has repeatedly sent its nuclear capable bombers on patrol over Belarus in recent weeks.

On Wednesday, Russian and Belarusian fighter jets jointly patrolled Belarus' air space.

Last month, Lukashenko said that Belarus would be ready to host Russian nuclear weapons.

Meanwhile Russian has warned of a new Cuban missile crisis unless demands over Ukraine were met “here and now” as troops stage fresh war games.

Videos showed the latest Russian drills — some close to neighbouring Ukraine — as fears grow that Putin will invade if the West fails to meet his demands.

Hawkish deputy foreign minister Sergei Ryabkov who made the Cuban Missile Crisis comparision denied he was exaggerating.

Moscow has constantly blamed the West for the tensions.

Mr Ryabkov said: “I call on everyone considering this topic publicly to think whether it is shameful for Russia to meet Western ultimatum demands halfway.”

And he made clear that “if we cannot do it [through diplomacy], then open questions will emerge: what are further steps and what should we do?

He thundered: “We are against escalation, we are against conflicts, we do not draw lines in the sand, just the logic itself leads us to say that we are not ready to make peace with the current situation.”

He added: "We can no longer postpone, let's deal with this serious issue … here and now.

"We must put an end to the expansion of NATO, NATO infrastructure, NATO capabilities further east.

“We must exclude Ukraine from joining NATO."

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