Authoritarian ruler Alyaksandr Lukashenka says Belarus, hit hard by rounds of Western economic sanctions over its brutal crackdown on dissent and independent media, will fulfill its financial obligations to Russia "at any cost."
Belarus has been mired in turmoil since last August over a disputed presidential election that the opposition says was rigged to give Lukashenka his sixth consecutive term in power.
Lukashenka has since put down street protests and dissent over the vote with sometimes lethal force, jailing thousands of people and forcing most opposition leaders who haven't been imprisoned to leave the country.
Crisis In Belarus
Read our ongoing coverage as Belarusian strongman Alyaksandr Lukashenka ramps up pressure on NGOs and independent media as part of a brutal crackdown against protesters and the opposition following an August 2020 election widely considered fraudulent.
The West, which has refused to recognize the official results of the vote and does not consider Lukashenka to be the country's legitimate leader, has imposed several rounds of sanctions against the 66-year-old, some of his family members, other senior officials, and on key economic sectors.
Earlier this month, the EU imposed further far-reaching penalties aimed at weakening the regime after the forced landing of a European passenger plane in Minsk and the arrest of an opposition blogger who was on board.
At an unannounced meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin in St. Petersburg, on July 13, Lukashenka accused the West of resorting to "individual terror" and thanked Russia for being a "reliable economic partner."
Lukashenka has met with Putin several times since the beginning of the ongoing crisis in Belarus.
Putin said that trade between Belarus and Russia was flourishing, despite the sanctions.
Several protesters have been killed in the violence and some rights organizations say there is credible evidence of torture being used by Belarusian security officials against some of those detained.
Human rights groups say that there are at least 500 political prisoners now being held in the country.
Lukashenka, who has run the country since 1994, has denied any wrongdoing with regard to the election and has refused to negotiate with the opposition on stepping down and holding new elections.