Belarus' top diplomat, ally to president, dies at 64

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FILE - Belarusian Foreign Minister Vladimir Makei gestures while speaking during his annual news conference in Kyiv, Belarus, Wednesday, Feb. 16, 2022. Belarusian Foreign Minister Vladimir Makei, a close ally of authoritarian President Alexander Lukashenko, has died at age 64, the state news agency Belta reported Saturday, Nov. 26, 2022. No cause of death was stated. (AP Photo, File)

TALLINN – Belarusian Foreign Minister Vladimir Makei, a longtime associate of authoritarian President Alexander Lukashenko, has died at age 64.

Belarusian authorities didn't name the cause of death. Makei wasn't known to suffer from any chronic illness.

Prior to becoming foreign minister in 2012, Makei served as Lukashenko's chief of staff and earlier had worked as presidential adviser.

Lukashenko offered his condolences to Makei's family, according to the presidential office.

During Makei's tenure as Belarus' top diplomat, it came under repeated criticism from the West for an increasingly harsh suppression of the opposition, for dubious elections and for allowing Russian troops to use its territory for attacking Ukraine.

In September, Makei defended Belarus' position to the United Nations Security Council.

“Belarus is referred to as an ‘accomplice of the aggressor’ or even a party to the conflict. We have said and continue to say: Belarus has never advocated the war. But we are not traitors either!" Makei said in a reference to Belarus' close alliance with Russia. “We have allied commitments, and we are strictly following and will follow the spirit and letter of international treaties to which we are parties.”

In Moscow, Russian Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova said that ministry officials were shocked by the news of Makei's death.