MOSCOW: President Alexander Lukashenko of Belarus arrived in Russia to meet Vladimir Putin on Monday (Sep 14), seeking Moscow's backing after a fifth consecutive weekend of huge protests demanding his resignation.
Flight tracking data showed Lukashenko's plane touched down in the Black Sea resort of Sochi, where Putin often hosts visiting dignitaries.
The fate of the Belarusian leader is in Putin's hands as he faces the gravest crisis of his 26 years in power. Economic and military support from Moscow could help tip the balance in his favour as his security forces crack down hard on the opposition.
The Belarusian opposition accuses Lukashenko of rigging last month's presidential election, which he says he won fairly with 80 per cent of the vote. Since then, thousands of people have been arrested and nearly all the opposition's key leaders have been detained, deported or forced to flee the country.
At least 100,000 protesters took to the streets of the capital Minsk on Sunday, taunting Lukashenko with chants of "You're a rat". Police said they detained 774 people at protests across the country.
Putin's actions so far suggest he has no desire to see the leader of a neighbouring ex-Soviet country toppled by pressure from the streets – even if Lukashenko has often proved a prickly and difficult ally.
The Kremlin leader said last month he had set up a "reserve police force" at Lukashenko's request, though it would be deployed only if needed. On Monday Russia will send paratroopers to Belarus for joint "Slavic brotherhood" military drills until Sep 25, RIA news agency quoted the defence ministry as saying.
Russia has also offered to restructure Belarusian debt and support the banking system.