Putin backs Lukashenko with $1.5 billion loan
Russian President Vladimir Putin today expressed support for Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko, who faces the biggest protests at home since he came to power 26 years ago. During their meeting in Sochi, which lasted over four hours, the head of the Kremlin promised Lukashenko that Russia would provide his country with a $1.5 billion loan.
He also said that the situation must be resolved by the Belarusians themselves without pressure from outside. He meant mainly the support expressed by Western countries to the Belarusian opposition.
Protests in Belarus erupted after the disputed presidential election on August 9, after which the authorities declared Lukashenko, the winner. The opposition considers it a fraud, and the EU did not recognize the election result. Every Sunday, according to estimates by the opposition and journalists in Minsk, 100,000 people take part in the protests, who, despite the harsh intervention of the security forces, continue to demand the departure of Lukashenko and new elections.
“We are in favor of the Belarusians themselves, without hints and pressure from outside, discussing this situation in a calm and dialogue way and reaching a common solution,” the Russian president told his Belarusian counterpart today in Sochi.
He was thus clearly critical of the support expressed to the opposition in European capitals. However, it is not clear whether this should have been an incentive for the authoritarian Belarusian leader to enter into a dialogue with opponents. Lukashenko has so far strongly rejected the discussion, saying he will not deal with the “street.” Instead, he brutally arrests protesters and opposition leaders are imprisoned or expelled from the country.
Lukashenko was very grateful to Putin for his support. “You have behaved very honestly, humanly, so I thank you personally, and all the Russians, all those who were in favor of supporting us in this post-election period,” he said. He also said that recent events “have shown us that we need to stay closer to our older brother and work together on all issues, including economics.”
Lukashenko also told Putin that the opposition had not yet crossed the “red line” during the country’s protests, so it did not go beyond the scope of the permissible conduct. However, the explanation of why the police are arresting people just for participating in demonstrations and being persecuted by opposition leaders has not been made.
Putin gave Lukashenko a helping hand today. “We have agreed that Russia will provide a $ 1.5 billion government loan to Belarus at this difficult time, and we will do it,” he told TASS. He added that the finance ministers are already discussing the provision of this loan.
However, the Belarusian opposition leader, Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya, told Putin that the Belarusians would not repay this loan. “I hope that Putin realizes that Lukashenko will have to repay this loan, not our people,” wrote Tsikhanouskaya, who, according to many Belarusians, won the election and was forced by the authorities to flee to Lithuania.
Putin has already shown his willingness to support Lukashenko by creating a Russian “reserve” of law enforcement forces at his request, which should be deployed in a neighboring country, but only when necessary. Although Putin has expressed the assumption that this case will not happen, fears of Russia’s intervention to save “the last dictator in Europe,” as Lukashenko is nicknamed, remain.
The current participation of a unit of the Russian elite airborne division in a joint military exercise in Belarus aimed at combating terrorism has raised questions in this context. Today, Putin assured that everyone – around 300 soldiers and 70 pieces of combat and special equipment – would return to their barracks in Russia after the maneuvers.
The head of the Kremlin, for his support, clearly expects Lukashenko’s more supportive attitude towards deepening the integration of the two countries. “Russia remains committed to all our agreements, including those stemming from the federal state treaty and the collective security agreement,” the Russian president said diplomatically.
Putin has long sought closer ties with Belarus within the union. Lukashenko has so far refused, accusing Moscow of wanting to swallow Belarus. However, his current position is weakened precisely because of protests against the results of the presidential election.
By the agreement on collective security, Putin “justified” creating a reserve of law enforcement for Belarus.
Putin also called Lukashenko’s “logical, timely and effective” proposal to change the Belarusian constitution. Lukashenko expressed his willingness to hold new elections only after amendments to the country’s laws. The opposition agrees with the need for constitutional reform but demands Lukashenko resign first.