Putin celebrates 'brotherly' ties on visit to Belarus
RUSSIAN PRESIDENT Vladimir Putin has denounced European Union sanctions on Belarus, hailing “brotherly” ties between Moscow and the autocratic state while further distancing himself from the west.
Since returning to the Kremlin last month, Mr Putin has rejected an invitation to a summit of G8 industrial nations in the US, and rebuffed western calls for tougher action on Russian ally Syria, where Moscow is accused of delivering weapons to the regime of Bashar al-Assad.
Mr Putin said the fact that “brotherly Belarus” was the first country he had visited since reclaiming the presidency showed “the special nature of our relations”, referring to their shared “union state” and plans to form a Eurasian Union with Kazakhstan and possibly other ex-Soviet republics.
“Russia and Belarus will co-ordinate efforts to counter attempts to interfere in the internal affairs of the Union State and to apply pressure through the introduction of restrictive measures or sanctions,” Mr Putin said in a joint statement with his host, President Alexander Lukashenko.
Mr Lukashenko has suffocated political opposition and independent media in Belarus during almost 18 years in power. His most recent crackdown on critics prompted the EU to broaden a travel ban and financial sanctions on his allies, and member states withdrew envoys from Minsk.
Brussels and Washington, which has also imposed sanctions on Belarus, hoped its deep economic crisis would encourage Mr Lukashenko to relax his grip on the country and seek help from the west.
But following a brief chill in relations, Moscow stepped in to assist its old ally, offering funds in return for Russian firms being given the chance to buy Belarus’s best industrial assets.
Belarus is due to receive about €2.4 billion in loans from Russia and other ex-Soviet states between 2011 and 2013, and in return has pledged to sell some €2 billion worth of state assets each year for three years. Russia has also offered Belarus a loan worth €8 billion to build a nuclear power plant in the country, despite strong objections from neighbouring EU member Lithuania.
“Vladimir Vladimirovich, I am very grateful for this visit,” Mr Lukashenko told his guest, who was due to visit Berlin and Paris after Minsk.
“This visit is more important for us than the economic agreements we have with Russia and other countries. It is a signal that we have a great future,” Mr Lukashenko added.