Putin Visits Belarus After Leader's Outburst

MINSK, Belarus (AFP)--Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin was to visit Belarus Friday for talks with President Alexander Lukashenko, just days after the Belarussian leader launched an angry attack on Moscow.

Lukashenko - whose regime was once dubbed Europe's last dictatorship by the U.S. - accused Russia last week of reneging on pacts and said Belarus had no option other than forging closer ties with the European Union.

"You see how our Russian brothers operate," Lukashenko said.

The comments underlined growing tensions between the two allies after Belarus' moves to join the E.U. Eastern Partnership plan to foster closer ties with six ex-Soviet states, an initiative Moscow regards with great suspicion.

However the Russian government said ahead of the talks it was determined to continue to expand ties between the two "brotherly countries."

Russia is considering giving Belarus a $500 million loan on top of the same amount loaned in March, the statement said. Minsk also received a $1 billion loan in November 2008.

The two countries also plan to sign two agreements, including on peaceful uses of nuclear energy, the statement said. Putin was due to take part in a joint ministerial meeting of the two countries, the statement said.

Russian business daily Kommersant, citing foreign ministry sources, said Belarus hoped to receive a credit of as much as $9 billion to finance the construction of a nuclear plant to lessen its dependence on Russian gas.

An official familiar with the talks confirmed to AFP that Russia, which hopes to build the nuclear plant, was willing to consider the $9 billion loan.

"That figure is connected to not only the construction of the nuclear plant but also infrastructure and an entire new town essentially," the official said on condition of anonymity.



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