Russia confirms second loan for Belarus, raises issue of detained citizen

·2 min read
Russian President Putin meets with his Belarusian counterpart Lukashenko in Sochi

MOSCOW (Reuters) -Russia will move ahead with a second $500 million loan to Belarus next month, following talks between the two countries' leaders amid uproar in the West over the grounding of a passenger jet in Minsk and the arrest of a dissident blogger.

President Vladimir Putin and Belarusian leader Alexander Lukashenko held a second day of talks, as well as a yacht tour, in the southern Russian city of Sochi on Saturday, as the Russian leader showed his longstanding ally support in this latest standoff with the West.

Russia promised Belarus a $1.5 billion loan last year as part of Moscow's efforts to stabilise its neighbour. Minsk received a first instalment of $500 million in October.

Belarus is to receive the second tranche before the end of June, the RIA news agency reported.

Several Western countries accused Belarus of piracy this week after Belarusian air traffic control informed the pilot of a Ryanair passenger jet of a hoax bomb threat.

Minsk scrambled a MiG-29 fighter plane to escort the jetliner down, and then arrested Roman Protasevich, a blogger and critic of Lukashenko who was on board.

Arrested with Protasevich was his girlfriend, a Russian citizen.

Putin on Saturday raised the topic of Sofia Sapega, the TASS news agency reported, citing Kremlin press secretary Dmitry Peskov.

"President Lukashenko informed his Russian colleague in detail about what happened with the Ryanair flight," TASS cited Peskov as saying.

"On the initiative of the Russian president the topic of the Russian citizen, who was detained, was raised .... Naturally, we are not indifferent to her fate," Peskov was cited as saying.

He added the Kremlin would take note of the fact that Sapega also has a Belarusian residency permit.

Putin and Lukashenko completed the day of talks with a yacht tour in Sochi. A video appeared to show the two leaders laughing and spotting dolphins off the Russian coast.

Most of Belarus's neighbours and many other European nations have banned flights by Belarusian national airline Belavia following Sunday's forced landing of the Ryanair jet, which was en route to Lithuania from Greece.

The issue of air travel for Belarusian citizens was raised during Saturday's meeting, Peskov was cited by Interfax as saying, adding the transport ministries of Moscow and Minsk had been tasked with helping Belarusian citizens currently in Europe to return home.

(Reporting by Polina Ivanova Editing by Angus MacSwan and Mark Potter)

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