Sochi / Washington (dpa) – Amid new sanctions from the West, Russia is backing authoritarian-led Belarus with a new major loan. Kremlin chief Vladimir Putin promised ruler Alexander Lukashenko a $500 million loan until the end of June.
Earlier, after the emergency landing of a European passenger plane and the subsequent arrest of a government critic in Minsk, both the EU and the US had decided on sanctions. Next Monday, Chancellor Angela Merkel (CDU) and French head of state Emmanuel Macron want to talk about a new European sanctions package.
For the two-day meeting with Putin, Lukashenko flew to his residence in Sochi on the Black Sea. The Kremlin then announced further support for the former Soviet republic. Belarus (formerly: Belarus) is already in Moscow with billions in debt.
According to Interfax news agency, Kremlin spokesman Dmitri Peskov emphasized that it was the second tranche of a loan that had already been agreed – even before the internationally heavily criticized diversion of a Ryanair plane a week ago.
Lukashenko, who has been in power in Minsk for more than a quarter of a century, has been called “Europe’s last dictator” by critics. He visits Russia more often. Other trade and economic cooperation issues were also at stake, the Kremlin said. From the outset, Putin announced that he would continue to support Lukashenko in the confrontation with the West.
Joint swimming excursion
The Kremlin chief suggested that the guest from Minsk also go swimming together. On Sunday, the Telegram channel Pul Pervogo, which is affiliated with Belarusian state television, published at least one photo of Lukashenko splashing alone in the water. After the talks, the two sailed across the Black Sea on a yacht, posing for pictures and watching dolphins. Lukashenko’s son Nikolai was also present at the dinner. As a goodbye, Putin was hugged by his guest.
The US had previously announced punitive measures against nine Belarusian state-owned companies. The White House said it is preparing targeted sanctions against “key figures in the regime” in consultation with the EU and other partners. According to information from the Élysée Palace, this is also what Merkel and Macron’s online switch should be about. The US State Department has also issued a travel warning for Belarus.
Immediately after the emergency landing, the EU reached agreement on new sanctions that also affect air traffic. She also promised Belarus a three billion euro aid package. However, it should only be activated when a “democratic transition” is initiated there.
The confrontation with the West had come to a head when Lukashenko grounded a Ryanair plane to arrest one of his opponents, blogger Roman Protassevich. The 26-year-old is in jail, as is his girlfriend Sofia Sapega, a Russian.
Demonstrations for the release of Protassevich
Russia “does not care about Sapega’s fate,” Kremlin spokesman Peskov said. At the same time, he stressed that the 23-year-old was a Russian citizen but had a residence permit in Belarus. In several countries there were also demonstrations this weekend for the release of Protassevich. The imprisoned blogger’s parents, who are in exile in the EU, also performed in the Polish capital, Warsaw. Also in Berlin, supporters followed a call from Belarusian opposition leader Svetlana Tichanovskaya.
Tikhanovskaya officially lost the election last August. In response to the vote, which was widely regarded as rigged, there were months of mass protests against which Lukashenko’s power apparatus was often brutal. The EU no longer recognizes the 66-year-old as president.