Belarus requests $9 bln as Putin visits


Belarus requests $9 bln as Putin visits AFP/POOL - Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin (R) and Belarussian President Alexander Lukashenko in Minsk. Belarus :

by Tatiana Kalinovskaya Tatiana Kalinovskaya

MINSK (AFP) - Belarus requested a nine-billion-dollar loan on Thursday from Russia, seeking to mend fences with Moscow after an outburst from its president, as Kremlin strongman Vladimir Putin paid a visit to Minsk.

Russian Finance Minister Alexei Kudrin, travelling with Prime Minister Putin, said Moscow was examining the request for a nine-billion-dollar (6.5-billion-euro) credit line to build a nuclear power station.

But Kudrin carefully held back from promising to extend the credit in a sign of a continued chill in ties between Moscow and Minsk after recent overtures between Belarus President Alexander Lukashenko and the European Union.

"To begin providing credit we need to be sure this station will be built, that there will be a definite sales market for the electrical energy," he said.

"Belarus has made a request. But it is still too early to talk about Russia giving credit for the power station."

He also declined to give guarantees that Russia would extend the next 500 million dollar tranche from a previous loan, saying Minsk needed to take "adequate measures" to counter the economic crisis.

"The situation remains tense. The Russian side wants to see adequate steps from Belarus to improve the situation," he warned.

But Putin disavowed his minister's comments at a press conference Thursday, judging them "ill-timed".

"Whatever happens in the world, if Belarus has to be supported, Russia will do," he told reporters.

Lukashenko, who has long wanted to reduce dependence on Russian gas, accused Russia last week of reneging on pacts and said Belarus had no option but to forge closer ties with the European Union.

The comments underlined tensions between the two countries after Belarus' moves to join the EU Eastern Partnership plan to foster closer ties between the EU and six ex-Soviet states.

Moscow regards this initiative with great suspicion.

Lukashenko -- whose regime was once dubbed Europe's last dictatorship by the United States -- has ruled the ex-Soviet republic of 10 million people in an authoritarian fashion since 1994.

But against a backdrop of economic crisis he has moved to improve the country's image in the West over the last months, hiring a Western PR firm and releasing prominent political prisoners.

"You see how our Russian brothers operate," Lukashenko fumed last week while railing against Russia for insufficient support.

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

The Russian government statement said Russia was already considering giving Belarus a 500-million-dollar loan on top of the same amount loaned in March, independently of the power station project.

Minsk also received a one-billion-dollar loan in November 2008.

Putin went straight into talks with Lukashenko in Minsk and was due to take part in a joint meeting of ministers of the two countries. A press conference had been scheduled but had yet to materialize in the evening.

An official familiar with the talks confirmed to AFP that Russia hoped to build the Belarussian nuclear plant.

"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.

Moscow, which has repeatedly propped up its neighbour's ailing economy, has a formal alliance agreement with Belarus and has sought to create a customs union with it and Kazakhstan.

Russia's Kommersant daily, quoting analyst Dmitry Oreshkin, said Putin's visit was "the farewell kiss of a long-drawn-out love affair".

The EU had placed Lukashenko on a travel blacklist but this was lifted in October amid the warming ties and the president in April met Pope Benedict XVI at the Vatican.



Partners: Social Network