Putin throws Belarus $1.5 billion lifeline2020|02:19
Russian President Vladimir Putin bestowed a $1.5 billion loan on Belarus on Monday (September 14)... after its embattled leader Alexander Lukashenko flew to the Black Sea resort of Sochi to ask his patron for additional support. It comes a day after more than 100,000 protesters took to the streets in Minsk for the fifth straight weekend to demand his resignation... following an election they say was rigged. Putin gave few details about the new loan - which he said Prime Minister Mikhail Mishustin had agreed during a recent visit to the Belarusian capital. But he did signal further support for Lukashenko, and said defense cooperation would continue. "We agreed that in this hard moment Russia will provide Belarus with a state loan of 1.5 billion dollars. And we will fulfill this. Now as we know, our finance ministers are professionally working on it. We will have to continue our cooperation in the sphere of defence. I mean the military plants in the first place, here our cooperation is also large and it is concentrated in fairly sensitive areas." Hours earlier, Russian news agencies reported Moscow was also sending paratroopers for joint exercises. Putin has also backed plans Lukashenko previously announced for constitutional reform, which the opposition has dismissed as a stunt to keep power after the August 9 presidential election. Since the highly controversial vote, which Lukashenko denies rigging, thousands have been arrested... and almost all opposition leaders have either been jailed, deported or forced into exile. The opposition says it now fears Lukashenko could try to sell out Belarusian independence for Putin's support. Opposition candidate Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya said no agreement reached by Lukashenko with Putin would be valid. The West has trodden carefully over the issue, balancing sympathy with the pro-democracy movement against fear of provoking Russian intervention. European leaders have repeatedly phoned Putin to express concern. Lukashenko has led Russia's closest ally for 26 years. Belarus has the closest political, social, economic and defense relationships with Russia of any former Soviet republic.