Russian President Vladimir Putin has met his Belarusian counterpart in his first foreign trip since taking office, offering the ex-Soviet state new loans and solidarity in the face of western imposed sanctions.
Putin hailed integration between the two nations during his meeting with President Alexander Lukashenko in the Belarusian capital Minsk on Thursday, and pledged moral support and new loans for the former Soviet nation.
"The very fact that my first foreign visit to brotherly Belarus certainly reflects the special nature of our relationship," Putin said.
“Good years are yet to come for us, I am sure. We have already achieved good results, both in politics and in the economy,” said Lukashenko, adding that the formation of a Union State between Russian and Belarus was the “main success” in bilateral relations.
“Belarus has been and will always be Russia’s closest and most reliable ally,” Lukashenko said.
Putin said that the EurAsEc, which is a regional economic grouping of ex-Soviet republics led by Moscow, decided to disburse a third tranche of a bailout loan to Belarus, to help the country handle its currency problems. Belarus will receive the emergency $3-billion loan by the end of 2012.
Belarus has come under Western criticism over issues related to human rights. The European Union also tightened sanctions against the country after December 2010 re-election.
The two leaders also initialed contracts to construct a nuclear power plant in Belarus, the first since the Chernobyl incident in 1986 in neighboring Ukraine.
The $10-billion plant will be constructed by Russia’s state owned nuclear energy corporation Rosatom. The power station will consist of two reactors and its first unit is expected to be ready in 2017.
"Russia and Belarus will coordinate our efforts to counter attempts to interfere in the international affairs of the Union State and apply pressure through restrictive measures and sanctions," Putin and Lukashenko said in a joint statement on Thursday.
Putin’s visit to Belarus came after he rejected to travel to the US earlier this month to attend the G8 summit in Chicago. Critics believe that by starting his foreign trips in Minsk, the Russian President is highlighting that ties with ex-Soviet republics and Asia take priority over the west.
He will travel to Germany and France on Friday to discuss bilateral relations and international issues, including the condition in Syria.