Russia has experienced difficulties in its relations with Belarus in recent years.
Nonetheless, with the European Union ratcheting up sanctions on Minsk for human rights violations, Belarusian President Alyaksandr Lukashenka made positive noises about Putin’s visit.
Putin arrived in Belarus on May 31 offering financial help and moral support. Lukashenka described the visit as “more important for us than the economic agreements we have with Russia and other countries.”
Putin met with Lukashenka at the Belarus president’s residence in a forest outside Minsk. After the talks, the Russian leader said that an agreement had been reached for Belarus to receive the third $440-million tranche of a $3-billion loan from Russia and countries from the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS).
Putin also added that talks would start on a fourth tranche.
Nuclear, CIS Cooperation
Putin was accompanied by Sergei Kiriyenko, the head of Russia’s State Atomic Energy Corporation Rosatom.
Kiriyenko said an agreement had been reached for financing the first stage of construction for a new nuclear power plant in Belarus.
Rosatom is participating in building the plant in northwestern Belarus. Russia had previously offered to lend Belarus some $10 billion for the construction of the facility.
The Russian president’s visit also provided both leaders with an opportunity to discuss economic cooperation among CIS states and the so-called Common Economic Space (CES), which aims to facilitate the economic integration of Russia, Belarus, Ukraine, and Kazakhstan.
After their meeting, Putin and Lukashenka issued a joint statement in which they said that “Russia and Belarus will coordinate efforts to counter attempts to interfere in the internal affairs of the Union State [of Russia and Belarus] and the countries making up the Common Economic Space.
They also said they would resist efforts to “apply pressure through the introduction of restrictive measures or sanctions.”
The statement comes at a time when Lukashenka has been hit with a number of EU sanctions, including travel bans for him and other Belarusian officials.
Lukashenka also reportedly told Putin that Belarus was “Moscow’s closest and most loyal ally.”
EU Seeks To Soothe Moscow
Meanwhile, in related news, the EU has sought to assure Russia that problems with Belarus need not affect relations between Brussels and Moscow.
European Council President Herman Van Rompuy gave an interview to Russian news agency Interfax ahead of an EU-Russia summit near St. Petersburg on June 3-4, in which Van Rompuy said the EU would do its best to ensure sanctions against Belarus do not have any impact on Moscow.
Van Rompuy said EU sanctions against Minsk “are strictly targeted against those responsible for repression in Belarus and those directly associated with them.”
He added: “We make every effort to conceive our measures so as to minimize any unintended effects.”
Nonetheless, Van Rompuy made it clear that EU policy concerning Belarus would not change until the leadership of the country changes.
He said that the EU had “for many years been ready to develop closer relations” with Belarus but that it expected partner countries to “meet basic conditions on human rights, democracy, and the rule of law.”
On June 1, Putin is due to travel to Germany and France to meet with the leaders of those two countries.
In Berlin, Putin’s talks with Chancellor Angela Merkel are expected to focus on Moscow’s push for greater Russian access to European markets.
Putin and Merkel are also expected to discuss Russia’s resistance to tougher United Nations action against the regime of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, a longtime Moscow ally.
After the talks with the German chancellor, Putin is due to fly to France to meet with newly elected President Francois Hollande.