Putin pushes ahead with Belarus loan as tensions grow with West

Russian President Vladimir Putin and his Belarusian counterpart Alexander Lukashenko pose on a boat during trip on the Black Sea on May 29, 2021, as the close allies met for a second day for informal talks amidst the outcry after Minsk diverted a European plane. (SERGEI ILYIN / SPUTNIK / AFP)

Russia will release US$500 million from a previously agreed loan to Belarus after talks between the country’s leaders, in a sign of support for its closest ally after the forced landing of a Ryanair Holdings Plc jetliner and the arrest of a dissident sparked a new wave of tensions between Minsk and the West.

Vladimir Putin and Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko discussed the plane incident in detail during “quite constructive” talks Friday and Saturday, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said on a conference call. 

The US$500 million — to be released in the near future — is part of US$1.5 billion in loans that was agreed last year and had been expected by the end of next month

He dismissed the European Union’s reaction — including a recommendation to airlines to stop flying over Belarus and plans for new sanctions on the country — as “based on emotions.”

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Russia will look for ways to expand air service with Belarus to make up for some of the routes affected by the EU’s limits on Minsk’s state airline, Peskov said.

The US$500 million — to be released in the near future — is part of US$1.5 billion in loans that was agreed last year and had been expected by the end of next month. Lukashenko didn’t ask for further assistance, Peskov said, but the two leaders did discuss closer tax and customs cooperation.

In their second day of talks, they went sailing on the Black Sea, Peskov said.

The US administration announced it would re-impose sanctions against nine Belarusian state-owned enterprises late Friday, and is developing additional penalties to target government officials.

READ MORE: EU leaders to pile more sanctions on Belarus over Ryanair incident