The Kremlin reaffirmed its support for President Alexander Lukashenko as the Russian and Belarusian leaders met in the Russian resort of Sochi on Monday.
Russian Vladimir Putin said Moscow would grant a loan of 1.5 billion dollars (1.26 billion euros) to the neighboring state. He also supported Lukashenko’s initiative to reform the Belarusian constitution, which Lukashenko launched in the face of a large-scale protest movement.
Putin called Lukashenko’s initiative “logical, timely, appropriate”.
“I am sure that, given your political experience, work in this direction would be organized at the highest possible level,” Putin told Lukashenko at the joint press conference.
The opposition movement claims that Lukashenko rigged the August vote, which he claims to have won fairly with over 80% of the votes cast.
Lukashenko invokes WWII against NATO troops
Moscow will also continue pre-planned joint military exercises, according to Putin. The first of these exercises was due to start on Monday. At the same time, Putin stressed that Russian soldiers “will return to their permanent deployment sites” once the exercise is over.
Lukashenko noted that disagreements between Moscow and Minsk can involve any problem except security.
“We will not ask anyone whether we are going to do the exercises or not,” said the Belarusian leader. “We made them and we will do them.”
Commenting on NATO troops deployed near Russia’s borders, Lukashenko called for not repeating the mistakes of WWII.
He said NATO “doesn’t take us into account, they don’t care about our concerns, they do the exercises when they want”.
“So we too… are going to prepare our armies so that we can – God forbid – resist this,” he said.
Monday’s meeting can be seen as a key signal of Russia’s support for Lukashenko after two leaders engaged in a public row during the election campaign in Belarus. Lukashenko claimed that Russian mercenaries had been deployed in Minsk to destabilize the situation in the country, with Moscow denying any responsibility.
More mass protests in Minsk
Ahead of the Sochi meeting, there was speculation that President Putin would seek to strengthen ties with Belarus in return for continued support.
The Russian president said at the end of August that the country’s military would intervene if the protests turned violent. The country is already benefiting from Russian gas at low prices. Moscow also provides cheaper grants and loans.
In addition, Russia offered to restructure Belarusian debt and support the banking system.
At least 100,000 protesters marched through Minsk on Sunday, and separate protests were held in other cities. More than 700 people have been arrested, according to the Reuters news agency.
Read more: Belarus: 400 demonstrators arrested during the “March of heroes”
Lukashenko, 66, has been in power for 26 years. He accuses the opposition of being supported by the West and anti-Russian.
The cost of receiving more support from the Kremlin could be Lukashenko’s acceptance of even greater Russian domination.
Moscow has long pushed for closer integration, including a common currency. Lukashenko resisted some of these measures and had a difficult personal relationship with Putin.
dj, jf / rc (dpa, Reuters)