Putin welcomes Belarus ruler for closer talks
MOSCOW (AP) – Belarus’ authoritarian leader visited Russia on Tuesday for talks with President Vladimir Putin, as rising tensions with the West increased his dependence on support from Moscow.
Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko thanked Putin for the “very serious support” Belarus has received from Russia and pledged that the country duly repay its loans.
Putin, in turn, hailed Belarus as a “reliable and stable partner”.
The Belarusian economy, which suffered from the coronavirus pandemic, received a further blow when the European Union imposed deadly sanctions on some of its main exports following the hijacking of an airliner by Belarus on the 23rd. May and the arrest of an opposition journalist who was a passenger.
Lukashenko denounced the economic sanctions and said Belarus would stop cooperating with the EU to stem illegal immigration in retaliation.
Lithuania, an EU member who has granted refuge to Belarusian opposition figures, accused Belarusian authorities of encouraging migration from Iraq, other countries in the Middle East and Africa. The EU’s border control agency has pledged to step up support for Lithuania to help stem the flow.
Belarus was rocked by months of protests after Lukashenko was elected in August 2020 for a sixth term in a disputed vote that was widely seen as rigged.
Belarusian authorities responded to the protests with massive repression, including police beating thousands of protesters and arresting more than 35,000 people. Opposition figures have been jailed or forced to leave the country, while independent media have had their offices searched and their journalists arrested.
Belarusian authorities raided three other independent media organizations, the Belarusian Association of Journalists said on Tuesday, after 30 searches of media offices and journalists’ apartments last week.
A total of 39 Belarusian journalists are currently in detention, serving their sentences or awaiting trial, the Association said.
Speaking at the start of his talks with Putin in St. Petersburg, Lukashenko accused his enemies of having gone from attempted “rebellion” to “individual terror” by targeting government supporters and trying to make them fear.
He claimed that organizations funded by the West were fomenting the unrest and denounced their alleged actions as “disgusting.”
“We started to work very actively to deal with all these NGOs… which were effectively promoting terrorism instead of democracy,” Lukashenko said.
Earlier this month, the Belarusian leader claimed his government had foiled a series of alleged West-backed plots, including a plan to detonate a Russian military communications facility in Vileyka.
Russia and Belarus have a union deal that contemplates close political, economic and military ties, but ends before a full merger. Russia has injected billions of dollars into strengthening the state-controlled, Soviet-style Belarusian economy through cheap energy supplies and loans.
Ahead of last year’s elections and protests, Lukashenko often accused the Kremlin of trying to force him to relinquish control of valuable economic assets and ultimately relinquish his country’s independence. Faced now with tougher economic sanctions, the Belarusian leader stressed the need to jointly counter Western pressure.
“We will deal with terrorism and all that, but the economy is the most important thing,” Lukashenko said, expressing hope that “we will resist this economic blow with Russia” and adding that the West will not succeed. not trying to “monopolize the international agenda and put pressure on us.”
Putin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said the presidents agreed during their five-hour talks that Belarus would receive natural gas from Russia next year at this year’s prices, the agency reported. Interfax press release. The two also discussed the terms of new Russian loans and measures to increase cooperation in the fields of energy, taxes and customs.
Associated Press writer Yuras Karmanau in Kiev, Ukraine contributed to this report.