Russia-Led Bloc to Hold Drills in Belarus
MOSCOW (Dispatches) -- Six members of a post-Soviet security bloc led by Russia will hold joint military drills in Belarus from Oct. 12-16, the Russian defense ministry said on Tuesday.
The ministry said six member states of the Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO) -- Russia, Belarus, Armenia, Kazakhstan, Tajikistan and Kyrgyzstan -- would take part in the exercises with a focus on preparing and conducting peacekeeping operations.
The ministry earlier said military drills between Russia and Belarus had started on Tuesday in the Brest region near Belarus’ border with Poland.
Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko held lengthy talks with his Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin on Monday, in a meeting seen as crucial to the former’s future.
The pair met at Putin’s residence in Sochi, the first foreign trip Lukashenko has made since protests began a month ago.
"A friend is in trouble, and I say that sincerely,” Lukashenko told Putin in televised remarks at the start of the meeting, thanking him for his support. Putin said Russia would offer a loan of $1.5bn to Belarus, which could help Lukashenko avoid an economic crisis.
The pair later talked for four hours, said Putin’s spokesman Dmitry Peskov, characterizing the conversation as "constructive, lengthy and substantive in content”.
He said Putin had backed Lukashenko’s idea of constitutional reform.  
Russia and Belarus nominally form a "union state” that is meant to involve close integration under a number of common institutions.
Western-backed riots have been ongoing for more than a month, since Lukashenko declared victory in a presidential election on August 9.
Lukashenko has publicly asked Putin to intervene militarily in Belarus, painting the demonstrations as an arm of a NATO-led military assault on the country. Putin has declined to do so, but said he had prepared a contingent of law enforcement officers to send in if things got out of control. After the talks, Peskov said the two leaders had agreed this contingent would now be taken off high alert.
This week, Russia will send paratroopers to Belarus for 10 days of military exercises entitled "Slavic brotherhood”. Putin pointed out that there would be monthly military drills between Russian and Belarusian forces over the next year, but emphasized that the forces would not remain in Belarus after the drills.