Russia announces 1.5-billion-dollar loan to Belarus

Russian President Vladimir Putin has pledged to grant a loan of 1.5 billion dollars to Belarus, reaffirming support for Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko’s government.

“We have agreed that Russia will provide a state credit amounting to 1.5 billion dollars to Belarus in this challenging situation, and we will do it. As far as I know our finance ministers are addressing that issue at the professional level,” President Putin said at a meeting with Lukashenko in the Black Sea resort of Sochi on Monday.

Putin expressed hope that the news of the Russian loan would “have an effect on the financial markets in a proper manner.”

The visit was Lukashenko’s first foreign trip since he won the presidential election in Belarus on August 9.

Western governments and Belarus’ opposition have rejected Lukashenko’s re-election, alleging voter fraud. Protests have been held in the country since.

Lukashenko has rejected the allegations of vote rigging but proposed the drafting of a new constitution less reliant on the head of state.Putin praised the Belarusian president’s plans for constitutional change to appease the opposition.

He stressed that the Belarusian people should “deal with this situation themselves, calmly and in dialog with each other, without hints and pressure from outside.”

Lukashenko thanked Putin for his support and said of the Belarusian people, “We need to stick closer to our elder brother and cooperate on all issues.”After the meeting between Putin and Lukashenko, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said Russia had disbanded a law enforcement reserve unit stationed near its border with Belarus.

“An important outcome of the talks between both presidents in Sochi is the agreement on Russia dismantling the backup law enforcement and National Guard unit that was established near the Russian-Belarusian border and on transferring people to their permanent dislocation sites,” Peskov told reporters on Monday.

Russia announced the formation of the Russian law enforcement unit last month, after Belarus asked for Russian help with maintaining security.

Peskov said Moscow saw all Belarusians as brothers, regardless of whether they supported Lukashenko or not.Commenting on the 1.5-billion-dollar loan, Peskov said part of it would be spent to cover Belarus’ outstanding sovereign debt before Russia.

“The loan is issued not to President Lukashenko, but to Belarus, our big ally and a brotherly nation for us,” he said, adding that the issuance of the loan “must in no way be interpreted as interference in internal affairs.”

His remarks came in response to a statement by Belarusian opposition figure and former presidential candidate Svetlana Tikhanovskaya, who said Lukashenko would have to pay the loan back personally.

Peskov further said that Russia and Belarus would hold joint military drills, but rejected allegations that his country would deploy forces to military bases in Belarus.

“This issue of bases was not discussed. Drills will be held, but such an issue is not on the agenda,” he saidOn Sunday, Belarusian Defense Minister Viktor Khrenin warned that an American armor battalion had redeployed its tanks to a location in Lithuania close to the Belarusian border as Minsk and Moscow geared up for the joint defense drill.

Kevin Ifedayo

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