Thu, 17 Jun 2021

Alyaksandr Lukashenka will meet with Russian President Vladimir Putin later this month as the Belarusian strongman faces growing isolation from the West over his crackdown on peaceful protesters.

The visit is scheduled for the end of May, Kommersant reported, and will be Lukashenka's third trip to Russia this year. The two leaders will discuss their closer integration, among other issues, the paper reported.

Putin has been pushing Lukashenka in recent years to take steps toward the integration of their economies in order to cement a 20-year-old agreement to form a union state.

Lukashenka has rebuffed the pressure, but unprecedented street protests over last year's presidential election and subsequent Western sanctions have weakened his negotiating position with Putin.

Crisis In Belarus

Read our coverage as Belarusians continue to demand the resignation of Alyaksandr Lukashenka amid a brutal crackdown on protesters. The West refuses to recognize him as the country's legitimate leader after an August 9 election considered fraudulent.

Lukashenka is seeking lower energy prices from Russia before moving ahead with integration, while Putin wants integration first before cutting prices for Belarus, Kommersant reported.

Belarus's economy is heavily dependent on below-market Russian energy to fuel its outdated manufacturing sector.

The Kremlin has outlined plans to gradually raise energy prices for its smaller neighbor, potentially squeezing the nation's finances at a time when it has few alternatives to Russia.

The United States and European Union have imposed sanctions on Belarusian officials and companies in response to Lukashenka's violent crackdown on protesters in the wake of the August 2020 presidential election, hampering the country's ability to raise money in the West.

According to a presidential decree published on May 15, Belarus will sell bonds inside Russia with the aim to raise up to 100 billion rubles ($1.35 billion) over the next two years.

Russian state-owned banks are the largest buyers of ruble bonds.

The money raised from the bond sale will be used to refinance the nation's foreign debt, which stood at $18.3 billion as of February 1, much of which is held by Russia.

With reporting by VTimes and Kommersant

Copyright (c) 2018. RFE/RL, Inc. Republished with the permission of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, 1201 Connecticut Ave NW, Ste 400, Washington DC 20036

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