Russian President Vladimir Putin has handed out a 1.5-billion-Dollar loan to Belarus in a gesture of support for its embattled leader Alexander Lukashenko.
Mr. Lukashenko, who travelled to Moscow on Monday to entreat his patron for the financial support, has been facing five weeks of mass protests demanding his resignation from office, following a disputed presidential election.
A day after more than 100,000 protesters took to the streets of the Belarusian capital, Minsk, with chants of “You’re a rat”, President Lukashenko met Mr. Putin in the Black Sea resort of Sochi, in a desperate attempt to maintain his twenty-six-year grip on power.
“I want to thank you… personally thank you and all Russians, all those… who were involved in supporting us during this post-election time,” the beleaguered Belarusian leader told his host.
The Kremlin later said some of the new money would be used to refinance earlier loans.
Mr. Putin backed plans Mr. Lukashenko has previously announced for constitutional reform, which the opposition has rejected as a stunt to retain power after the controversial poll of August 9.
But Kremlin Spokesman Dmitry Peskov said Russia would stand down a reserve of law enforcement officers and national guards that Mr. Putin had placed near the border late last month, ready to intervene in case the situation got out of hand.
The move, analysts say, signals Moscow’s keenness to emphasise financial support, not force – and possibly its belief that a violent crackdown by President Lukashenko’s security forces has been effective enough to keep him in power.
Russia wanted Belarusians to “sort out the situation themselves through dialogue” without “pressure from outside”, Mr. Putin told his guest on Monday.
The Russian president insisted, however, that defence cooperation between Moscow and Minsk would continue.
Hours earlier, Russian news reports indicated the Kremlin was sending paratroopers for joint exercises with Belarusian forces.