Vladimir Putin and Alexander Lukashenko hold a second day of talks in Sochi as the United States imposes sanctions for the hijacking scandal.
Russia agreed to release a second $ 500 million loan to Belarus as Moscow ramped up support for Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko amid outrage in the West over the grounding of a European passenger plane and the arrest of a dissident journalist.
The financial support was announced after Russian President Vladimir Putin held a second day of talks with Lukashenko and offered his guest a yacht trip to the Black Sea resort of Sochi on Saturday.
The money is part of a $ 1.5 billion loan that Russia pledged to Belarus as part of Moscow’s efforts to stabilize its neighbor after mass protests erupted against Lukashenko’s rule for nearly from three decades last year.
Minsk received a first installment of $ 500 million in October and will receive the second installment before the end of June, the RIA news agency reported.
The two-day Putin and Lukashenko summit came as the European Union and the United States denounced Belarus for using a bomb hoax threat to force a Ryanair plane to land in Minsk. Belarusian authorities sent a fighter plane to escort the plane, before arresting journalist Roman Protasevich and his partner Sofia Sapega, a Russian citizen.
Both are in prison accused of orchestrating mass riots. Protasevich could be jailed for up to 15 years.
Several European countries have imposed flight bans on Belarusian aviation, while the United States has said “complete block sanctions” against nine Belarusian state-owned companies will come into effect on June 3. Washington also said it was working with the EU to develop a list. targeted sanctions against key members of Lukashenko’s government.
Putin criticized the West’s response, agreeing with Lukashenko on Friday that the reaction was “an explosion of emotion.”
Russia has also pledged to consider increasing flights with Belarus to offset the effect of EU flight bans, according to Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov.
Putin and Lukashenko “discussed the organization of air traffic, taking into account the decision of the European authorities and many airlines that have canceled flights via [Belarusian] airspace, and taking into account that Belavia is no longer welcome in European cities, ”Peskov said. “The transport ministries of the two countries – Russia and Belarus – are responsible for organizing all aspects of air communication … considering that a large number of Belarusians somehow have to return in their homeland. “
Putin also raised the subject of Sapega, Protasevich’s partner, Peskov said.
“At the initiative of the Russian president, the subject of the Russian citizen, who was detained, was raised… Of course, we are not indifferent to her fate,” Peskov said.
He added that the Kremlin would take note that Sapega also has a Belarusian residence permit.
“Therefore, we start from the fact that everything must be done within the framework of the law. The President instructed the Russian Foreign Ministry to follow the case of Russian citizens with the greatest attention, ”Peskov added.