Moscow hasn’t changed its mind about Alexander Lukashenko, whom Vladimir Putin congratulated on his re-election last month and met face-to-face on Monday in Sochi. Speaking to journalists after the meeting, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov stressed that the Russian government views Lukashenko as Belarus’s legitimate leader, despite more than a month of widespread protests against Lukashenko’s supposed landslide election victory.
“Mr. Lukashenko is President Putin’s counterpart in interstate relations. As for those who disagree with the election results, they are all citizens of fraternal Belarus and we value and love them all, but want everything happening in Belarus to take place within a legal framework and not in some form of unconstitutional processes,” Peskov explained.
Putin’s press secretary also said Russia will support its neighbor’s economy with a $1.5-billion loan to the Belarusian state (not to Lukashenko personally).
Monday’s meeting in Sochi was the first time Lukashenko and Putin met in person since mass protests began in Belarus on August 9. Western nations have refused to recognize Lukashenko’s officially reported landslide victory, arguing that the election’s results were falsified. Before the conference, Lukashenko’s main rival in the presidential race, Svetlana Tikhanovskaya (Svyatlana Tsikhanouskaya), expressed disappointment that Putin agreed with meet with “the usurper instead of the Belarusian people.”
The meeting lasted more than four hours. There was no joint press conference afterward, but the two presidents did chat briefly in front of reporters before they spoke privately. It was during these preliminary remarks when President Putin announced Moscow’s readiness to extend a large loan to Minsk and stated the Kremlin’s support for Lukashenko’s initiative to amend the Belarusian Constitution.