Russia loans $1.5 billion to Belarus

File Photo REUTERS/Jason Lee/Pool

Vladimir Putin loaned $1.5 billion to Belarus in a gesture of support for its leader Alexander Lukashenko, who asked for help after five weeks of mass protests demanding his resignation.

Lukashenko met Putin in the Black Sea resort of Sochi in urgent need of help to maintain his 26-year grip on power.

Lukashenko thanked Russia and Putin who “were involved in supporting us during this post-election time.

Some of the new money would be used to refinance earlier loans. International news agency Reuters reports how Putin backed plans by Lukashenko for constitutional reform, which the opposition has dismissed as a stunt to retain power after a disputed Aug. 9 presidential election.

The move signalled Moscow’s keenness to emphasise financial support, not force – and possibly its belief that a violent crackdown by Lukashenko’s security forces has been effective enough to keep him in power in the former Soviet republic.

“We want Belarusians themselves, without prompting and pressure from outside, to sort out this situation in a calm manner and through dialogue and to find a common solution,” Putin said.

Putin said, however, that defence cooperation would continue. Hours earlier, Russian news agencies reported Moscow was sending paratroopers for joint exercises.