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 ongoing coverage as Belarusian strongman Alyaksandr Lukashenka continues his brutal crackdown on NGOs, activists, and independent media following the August 2020 presidential election, widely seen as 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Belarus’s economy is heavily dependent on below-market Russian energy to fuel its outdated manufacturing sector.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.