Putin grants Belarus $ 1.5 billion loan
Russian President Vladimir Putin on Monday granted Belarus a $ 1.5 billion loan in support of its beleaguered leader Alexander Lukashenko after weeks of street protests accused him of rigging the elections last month to retain power in Minsk.
The two leaders met at the Russian Black Sea resort of Sochi for nearly four hours. Putin gave few details about the loan, although the Kremlin later said some of the new money would be used to refinance past loans. Russia also said the two presidents agreed to strengthen trade cooperation and discussed energy supply.
Lukashenko expressed gratitude for the new loan.
“First of all, I want to thank you … personally, thank you to you and to all the Russians, all those, and I will not list them, who got involved to support us during this post-election period”, a- he declared.
Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said Lukashenko “is the legitimate president of Belarus”.
As for the protests, Putin said: “We want the Belarusians themselves, without outside incitement or pressure, to settle this situation calmly and through dialogue and find a common solution.
Putin said defense cooperation between Russia and Belarus will continue. Russian news agencies reported that Moscow was sending paratroopers to Belarus for joint “Slavic Brotherhood” exercises.
Belarusian authorities cracked down on the protests, arresting 774 out of an estimated 100,000 on Sunday who marched and chanted epithets against Lukashenko.
He denied having rigged the August 9 elections against opposition candidate Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya, who fled to Lithuania.
Tsikhanouskaya, on social networks, criticized the granting of the loan to Belarus.
“Dear Russians! Your taxes will pay for our blows,” she said. “We are sure you would not want this. It may prolong Lukashenko’s agony, but it cannot prevent the victory of the people.”
The United Nations Human Rights Council has announced that it will hold an emergency debate on violence in Belarus.
During the Sunday protests, crowds marched through Minsk towards a government quarter chanting “Long live Belarus” and “You are a rat”, a common taunt aimed at Lukashenko.
Stopping, they chanted “fascists” as hundreds of riot police with shields blocked a road.
Russian news agency Interfax reported that shots were fired into the air to drive protesters away from a part of Minsk where Belarusian leaders live.