Russian President Vladimir Putin bestowed a $1.5 billion loan on Belarus on Monday after its embattled leader, Alexander Lukashenko, flew to entreat his patron for more support.
A day after more than 100,000 protesters took to the streets of Minsk for the fifth straight weekend to demand his removal, Lukashenko, who has led Russia’s closest ally for 26 years, flew to the Black Sea resort of Sochi to ask Putin for help.
In addition to announcing the loan, which Putin said Prime Minister Mikhail Mishustin had agreed during a recent visit to the Belarusian capital, the Russian president signalled support for Lukashenko in other ways, saying defence cooperation would continue between the two countries.
Russian news agencies reported separately that Moscow was sending paratroopers on Monday for joint exercises.
Putin also backed plans Lukashenko has previously announced for constitutional reform, which the opposition has dismissed as a stunt to cling to power after an election it says was rigged, and said it was up to Belarusians to resolve the crisis themselves.