MOSCOW (Dispatches) -- Alexander Lukashenko flew to Russia on Monday to entreat Vladimir Putin for support amid Western-backed riots which have plunged the country into turmoil since his landslide election victory.
Belarusian state media showed Lukashenko disembarking from his plane in the Black Sea resort of Sochi, where Putin often hosts visiting dignitaries.
Lukashenko calls the protests a Western plot and has asked Moscow for economic support, and potentially military aid.
Putin said last month he had set up a "reserve police force” at Lukashenko’s request, to be deployed only if needed. On Monday Russia was to send paratroopers to Belarus for joint "Slavic brotherhood” military drills until Sept. 25, RIA news agency reported. Russia has also offered to restructure Belarusian debt and support its banks.
Belarus is the former Soviet republic with the closest political, social, economic and defense relationships with Russia. The two countries even proclaimed a "union state” in the 1990s, complete with a Soviet-style red flag.
The Kremlin has long pushed for closer integration, including a joint currency. Lukashenko has resisted some of those measures.
The Kremlin said the talks would cover the "prospects for moving forward integration processes.” It added that the leaders would discuss the countries’ strategic partnership as well as trade and energy ties.
The talks could cover issues including restructuring Belarus’s debt to Russia, political analyst Georgy Bovt wrote in a comment for Business FM radio station.
"The talks do not promise to be simple,” he said.
Russia dwarfs Belarus, with a population of around 9.5 million, and provides it with cheap fuel, while Belarus is strategically important to Russia as a buffer zone, bordered to the West by EU and NATO members.
Lukashenko said ahead of the talks that he planned to "dot all the i’s on issues that are very sensitive and delicate for the two states”.
He has dismissed protesters as Western puppets and rejected demands from the United States and the European Union to conduct a dialogue with the opposition.
The former state farm director has said the riots are an effort by the West to isolate Russia, which sees the neighbor as a key bulwark against NATO and a major conduit for energy exports to Europe.