Russia and Belarus heal ties in shadow of metro bombing

Lukashenko and Putin in St. Petersburg on 3 April 2017. [The Kremlin]

The presidents of Russia and Belarus said yesterday (3 April) they had resolved all disputes over energy, signaling a rapprochement at a time when both leaders are grappling with street protests and the threat of new Western sanctions hangs over Minsk.

At a meeting in St Petersburg, held while the Russian city was reeling from a deadly bombing on a metro train, Russia agreed to refinance Belarus’ debt while Belarus will pay back more than $720 million in arrears for gas supplies.

Blasts in St. Petersburg metro stations kill 10

At least 10 people were killed in explosions in two train carriages at metro stations in St. Petersburg on Monday, Russian authorities said.

According to Russian Deputy Prime Minister Arkady Dvorkovich, Russia will also renew oil supplies to Belarus of 24 million tonnes a year and Russia’s Gazprom will give Belarus discounts on gas supplies in 2018 and 2019.

It is an abrupt departure from their recent squabbles and suggests Belarus’ authoritarian leader Alexander Lukashenko is moving his country back toward Moscow’s orbit after a period of courting closer ties with the West.

Belarus opposition activist: Lukashenko is fooling the West, like Ceausescu

The President of Belarus, Alexander Lukashenko, is fooling the EU, like Romanian dictator Nicolae Ceau?escu did during the Cold War, Ales Bialiatski told EURACTIV in an exclusive interview.

“Today we have no differences remaining. We will move ahead, we will strengthen our relations within the framework of the union state,” President Vladimir Putin said at a joint news conference.

Putin said their two governments would implement the two leaders’ agreement within the next ten days, and that a roadmap had been agreed for energy cooperation up to 2020.

Russia and Belarus are traditional allies but relations became strained after Russia annexed Ukraine’s Crimea peninsula in 2014, a move Lukashenko described as a “bad precedent”. Conversely, the EU found his move as conducive to improving relations.

EU no longer sees Lukashenko as ‘last dictator’

Belarus President Alexander Lukashenko’s hosting of Ukraine peace talks may have a side effect at home – helping thaw relations between the European Union and a man the West calls “Europe’s last dictator”.

Russia cut the subsidies it uses to keep its one-time Soviet vassal afloat, worsening an economic downturn in Belarus that fueled a wave of unrest against Lukashenko, who has ruled the ex-Soviet state for nearly a quarter of a century.

Lukashenko’s blunt suppression of street demonstrations has threatened to undo his efforts to court the West and risks the return of European Union sanctions that were mostly lifted just over a year ago.

Belarus arrests opposition activists after rallies

Belarus arrested at least six opposition activists yesterday (22 March) as President Alexander Lukashenko cracked down on opponents after a wave of major protests against his authoritarian rule, a prominent local rights group said.

The Russian authorities have also cracked down on street protests that broke out in March against corruption.

Russian police detain opposition leader, hundreds of protesters

Police detained hundreds of protesters across Russia on Sunday (26 March), including opposition leader Alexei Navalny, after thousands took to the streets to demonstrate against corruption and demand the resignation of Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev.

“We see what’s happening around us, and we just want to preserve the stability of Russia and Belarus,” said Lukashenko.

“There are too few quiet, calm spots on the planet still left. So we agreed on joint measures to preserve the security of our states.”

Eleven people were killed and more than 20 were injured when an explosion tore through a train carriage in a St. Petersburg metro tunnel in what authorities called a probable terrorist attack.

The likely suspect in a deadly blast in the Russian city of St. Petersburg is a Kyrgyz-born Russian citizen, Kyrgyzstan’s security service said today (4 April).

Kyrgyzstan, a predominantly Muslim Central Asian nation of six million, is Russia’s close political ally and hosts a Russian military airbase.

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