Russia to give Belarus 2 billion dollar credit for natural gas
Moscow/Minsk - Moscow will give Belarus a two billion dollar credit to purchase Russian natural gas Minsk cannot otherwise afford, the Belapan news agency reported Tuesday.
Russian Finance Minister Aleksei Kudrin announced the loan at a Moscow press conference. At least half of the money would be transferred to the Belarusian government by the end of 2008, he said.
The credit is critical for the authoritarian regime of Belarusian President Aleksander Lukashenko, in part, because his cash-strapped government would be hard put to provide Belarusians sufficient heating during Winter months, without low-cost natural gas provided by the Kremlin.
Lukashenko's continued dependance on Belarus' giant northern neighbour is a thorn in the side of the European Union, which last week lifted travel restrictions on the Belarusian leader and his top advisors, in an effort to improve relations between Minsk and Brussels.
The EU began a wary diplomatic courtship of Belarus, called by critics "Europe's last dictatorship", during the summer after Lukashenko released political prisoners.
The former collective farm boss since then has however done little towards friendship with the EU, in September presiding over a national parliamentary vote electing a massive majority of Lukashenko supporters to the legislature. The EU and most international observers criticised the poll as undemocratic. (dpa)