Putin pledges a $1.5 billion loan while meeting Lukashenko in Sochi

Russian President Vladimir Putin promised a massive loan to Belarus after welcoming embattled ally Alexandar Lukashenko in Sochi. The Belarusian strongman confirmed the two countries would continue joint military drills.

Belarusian leader Alexander Lukashenko arrived in the Russian Black Sea resort of Sochi for talks with Vladimir Putin on Monday amid continued protests over Belarus’s disputed presidential election.

It is the pair’s first face-to-face meeting since demonstrations started more than a month ago. The opposition movement says Lukashenko rigged the vote, which he claims to have won fairly with more than 80 percent of ballots cast.

Russian officials have declined to provide details of what will be discussed, but there is speculation that President Putin will seek closer ties with Belarus in exchange for continued support.

The Russian president said at the end of August that the country’s military would intervene if protests turn violent. The country already benefits from cut-price Russian gas. Moscow also provides subsidies and cheaper loans.

In addition, Russia has offered to restructure Belarusian debt and support the banking system.

On Sunday, at least 100,000 demonstrators marched through Minsk, with separate protests taking place in other cities. More than 700 people were arrested, according to the Reuters news agency.

Read more: Belarus: 400 protesters detained during ‘March of Heroes’

The 66-year-old Lukashenko has been in power for 26 years. He accuses the opposition of being backed by the West and anti-Russian.

The cost of receiving more backing from the Kremlin could be Lukashenko’s acceptance of even greater Russian dominance.

Moscow has long pushed for closer integration, including a joint currency. Lukashenko has resisted some of those measures and has had a difficult personal relationship with Putin.

Deutsche Welle

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