Russia has agreed to release $500m in credit to Belarus and look to increase the number of flights between the two countries as the Kremlin doubled down on its support for Alexander Lukashenko following talks between the two countries’ leaders amid uproar in the West over the grounding of a passenger jet in Minsk and the arrest of a dissident blogger.
Russian president Vladimir Putin hosted Lukashenko in Sochi on Saturday, treating his guest to a yacht trip on the Black Sea a day after the two men held talks for more than five hours.
Such lengthy negotiations can hardly be surprising, given the current situation in the international arena. The recent events related to the landing of the Boeing 737-800 of the Irish airline Ryanair have further aggravated relations between Minsk and Western countries, which had not been particularly warm before. Alexander Lukashenko even seized a suitcase with documents about the incident with the liner in Sochi in order to inform his colleague about the situation in detail.
Discussion of air traffic management issues against the background of the next European sanctions became one of the main topics of the meeting. Brussels recently banned Belarusian airlines from flying to European Union airports and flying over EU territory. In addition, European carriers were advised to refuse flights in the airspace of the republic. Many states – including, for example, France, Sweden, Czech Republic, Poland, Latvia and Lithuania – have already closed their airspace to companies from Belarus. According to the same scenario went Great Britain and Ukraine.
The White House also announced that Washington n June 3 will reimpose full blocking sanctions against nine Belarusian state-owned enterprises which had previously been granted sanction relief “under a series of General Licenses by the Treasury Department.” Biden administration officials are also coordinating with allies in the European Union and elsewhere to develop “a list of targeted sanctions against key members” of Lukashenko’s regime, press secretary Jen Psaki said.
The two-day summit has emphasized Moscow’s position as the disgraced autocrat’s closest and most reliable foreign ally, and took place as the US joined the EU in imposing sanctions against Minsk. Putin made no immediate comments on possible steps to strengthen Russia’s commitments to Belarus. But the cozy body language and jokes — even about swimming in the Black Sea — conveyed a message that Russia was fully behind Lukashenko.
However, Russia is “not happy” with such visit of Lukashenko in the light of future meeting with Biden. Vladimir Putin had “no choice” but to support his closest European ally, but such step may complicate upcoming negotiations with US leader in Geneva next month, which anticipated to become an effort to normalise relations between Moscow and the West.
“The message to Putin is that there will be no more anti-Western Belarusian leader, which means that we must hold on to this,” Artyom Shraibman, a Minsk analyst, wrote in a commentary. “Any change of power in Minsk in such a situation is a drift towards the Belarusian rapprochement with Europe.”