Belarusian leader Alexander Lukashenko, against whose rule there have been protests for six months, met with Russian President Vladimir Putin and stressed the close ties between their countries, DPA reported.
“Not a day goes by without our colleagues talking to each other and solving certain problems,” Putin said at a meeting in the Russian resort of Sochi. After the conversations, the two went skiing.
Judging by the part of the talks shown on state television, the protests in Belarus were not among the issues discussed; Observers expected Putin to raise the issue of the case against one of the prominent opposition figures, Viktor Babariko, who was the head of Gazprombank’s Belarusian division.
The two leaders last met in September, a month after Belarus’s presidential election, which many say was rigged, sparked mass protests that continue to this day. Security forces responded forcefully to demonstrations, which at times involved hundreds of thousands of people and detained more than 30,000 people, injured hundreds and killed several, a cycle that lasted months.
At the time, Putin promised Belarus a loan of billions; now the Kremlin boss says co-operation between the two countries’ industries is more important than “direct financial support” from Moscow.
Russia has put pressure on Lukashenko, no longer recognized by the European Union as president, to reform Belarus’ constitution.
The Belarusian economy is heavily dependent on Russia, which supplies, for example, oil and gas. Moscow views its financially troubled neighbor as a strategically important buffer zone for NATO.
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