Putin pledges 1.5 billion dollar loan to Belarus as Lukashenko visits

Putin pledges 1.5 billion dollar loan to Belarus as Lukashenko visits

Russia pledges to extend a state credit line of 1.5 billion dollars to neighbouring Belarus, Russian President Vladimir Putin said Monday during talks with Belarusian counterpart Alexander Lukashenko, who is facing the biggest protests of his 26 years in power.

“We have agreed that Russia will present to Belarus in this complicated moment a state credit of 1.5 billion dollars,” Putin said during the meeting with President Lukashenko in the southern Russian city of Sochi.

Lukashenko, who was in Russia on his first foreign foreign visit since Belarus’ disputed presidential election last month, profusely thanked Putin for Russia’s support, according to a video of their public opening comments.

Lukashenko has seen mass anti-government protests at home and diplomatic pressure abroad since the August 9 election, which the European Union has denounced as “neither free nor fair.”

Putin emphasized during his meeting with Lukashenko that the crisis within Belarus should be resolved without pressure from abroad. He also noted that Russian military forces in Belarus would soon begin to conduct planned military exercises.

Putin expressed confidence in Lukashenko as a leader, saying he was sure Lukashenko would be successful in an initiative to amend Belarus’ constitution, better positioning Belarus for collaboration with Russia, despite the current challenges to the government.

“I am sure that, bearing in mind your experience in political work, work in this area will be organized at the highest level, and this will enable the achievement of new frontiers of development,” Putin said.

On the agenda was further integration of Belarus and Russia through their “union state” alliance, the Kremlin said in a statement ahead of the meeting. Earlier this year, Lukashenko had accused Russia of seeking to absorb Belarus by imposing crippling economic pressure on the struggling country.

On Sunday, up to 150,000 people gathered in the Belarusian capital Minsk to demand Lukashenko’s resignation. More than 700 people were detained, the Belarusian Interior Ministry said in a statement.

Protests have rattled authoritarian Belarus for five weeks now, ever since large swathes of the population refused to believe the results of the election, which authorities said gave Lukashenko more than 80 per cent of the vote.

Putin has congratulated Lukashenko on his controversial victory in the election but has described the vote as not ideal.

At least 7,000 people have been detained at protests since the election, according to the Belarusian Interior Ministry. The United Nations has received 450 reports of torture and abuse of such detainees.

The UN Human Rights Council plans to discuss rights violations in Belarus in a special debate on Friday.

“Enforced disappearances, forced abductions, expulsions and arbitrary detentions continue to take place every day in Belarus,” German envoy Michael von Ungern-Sternberg said on Monday, explaining why EU countries sought to add Belarus to the agenda.

UN human rights chief Michelle Bachelet said that all torture allegations against Belarus security forces should be documented and investigated, “with a view to bringing the perpetrators to justice.”

The decision to take up the Belarus issue was supported by 25 mostly Western countries on the council. Venezuela and the Philippines opposed the debate, while 20 developing and emerging countries abstained.

Belarus envoy Yury Ambrazevich denounced the move as a “form of direct intervention in the internal affairs of a sovereign state” by EU countries.