ALMATY -- Russian President Vladimir Putin and Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenka are cementing their ties in an attempt to stay afloat, as both leaders face increasing pressure from voters and the international community.
Putin on Monday (September 14) backed the embattled Belarusian strongman and promised a $1.5 billion loan as Lukashenka vowed to strengthen ties with Moscow.
The two leaders held one-on-one talks at Putin's residence in Sochi that lasted about four hours.
It was Lukashenka's first foreign trip since his win in widely disputed presidential polls August 9 prompted mass protests against his rule, the latest drawing tens of thousands on Sunday (September 13) in Minsk.
The meeting came on the heels of regional elections in Russia that opposition leaders claimed as a symbolic win following the poisoning of Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny in late August. Navalny is recovering in Germany.
Stick closer to 'older brother'
Putin appeared to endorse Lukashenka's political future, praising the Belarusian's plans for constitutional changes designed to appease the opposition.
During joint televised comments, Putin said he was "sure that considering your experience" this would "allow the development of the country's political system to reach new heights".
Lukashenka, who has been in power for 26 years, began raising the question of changing the constitution several years ago.
Putin offered economic support, saying Moscow would extend Belarus a loan of $1.5 billion.
Belarusians should deal with the political crisis "themselves, calmly and in dialogue with each other, without hints or pressure from outside", he said.
Lukashenka thanked Putin for behaving "very decently" and said Belarus needs "to stick closer to our older brother and co-operate on all issues".
'Russia will be next'
If the Belarusian regime topples as a result of large-scale protests, "Russia will be next," Lukashenka warned in an interview with Russian TV September 8.
Russia's state-run news agency, RIA Novosti, reported on the comments made by Lukashenka, who in a meeting with Russian journalists in Minsk urged sustained efforts given "certain political events" that will soon touch Russia.
"Do you know what we and the Russian leadership ... figured out?" he asked. "If Belarus collapses today, Russia will be next."
Not even Russia's economic stability, greater than Belarus's, can save Russia, he said.
"If you think that rich Russia will endure this, you're mistaken," Lukashenka said. "I've spoken with many presidents and with my old friend Putin ... and I warned him that it's impossible to fight this."
Lukashenka's warnings might bear some truth, according to elections held across Russia Friday through Sunday (September 11-13).
Russians in dozens of the country's 85 regions voted for governors and lawmakers in regional and city legislatures as well as in several by-elections for national MPs.
Pro-Kremlin candidates dominated the elections, which were marred by allegations of fraud. Navalny's poisoning in Tomsk, Siberia, overshadowed the vote as well.
Candidates from the ruling United Russia party claimed a majority of the seats even though the party, along with Putin, has suffered a loss of popularity in recent years.
Navalny's allies claimed a symbolic victory after making unprecedented gains in highly anticipated city council votes in Novosibirsk and Tomsk.
Lab tests in France and Sweden confirmed the Kremlin critic survived an attack with the Novichok nerve agent, Germany said September 14. The Russian regime has rejected accusations that it poisoned Navalny.
Central Asian political analysts have been closely watching the events in Belarus and Russia.
A violent solution to the political crisis in Belarus is unacceptable and the authoritarian regimes of both Russia and Belarus must adopt necessary changes in the political systems of their countries, they said.
It is crucial for Lukashenka to find a common language with the protesters, sit down for negotiations, and identify commonalities between the people's and his interests, said Feliks Kulov, leader of the Ar-Namys (Dignity) political party who previously served as Kyrgyzstan's prime minister and national security minister.
Moscow is helping Minsk based on its own geopolitical interests since the Kremlin needs a stable, manageable state on its flank, he said.
At the same time, the protest sentiment has come to a head in Russia, Kulov said.
"These days the people there are unhappy with their president, Vladimir Putin," he said. "We're living in a time when the world is changing fast, and it's natural that people are seeking changes."
"So Putin needs to take the population's interests into account, develop the economy and improve the prosperity of his own citizens," Kulov said.
'Revolution of mentality'
Although dictators can cling to power for a period of time, they cannot maintain such a system forever, and all autocratic regimes fracture eventually, said Dosym Satpayev of Almaty, director of the Kazakh consultancy Risk Assessment Group.
"People are tired of the old policies," he said in an interview with the Kazakh online edition of Forbes. "Even in Russia, Putin's traditional base is shrinking. People are tired of Putin there."
A new generation has become the backbone of protest movements in Belarus and Russia: progressive young people who need changes, he said.
"This is a revolution of mentality, a revolution of internet technologies," Satpayev said. "It's already become impossible to control the consciousness of the masses."
"Lukashenka himself said in a recent interview that the state media can no longer operate as productively as before," he said. "The internet is dominant."