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story.lead_photo.caption A woman wearing white, stands in front of a riot police line during a Belarusian opposition supporters' rally protesting the official presidential election results in Minsk, Belarus, Sunday, Sept. 13, 2020. Protests calling for the Belarusian president's resignation have broken out daily since the Aug. 9 presidential election that officials say handed him a sixth term in office. (TUT.by via AP)

MOSCOW -- Belarus' authoritarian president visited Russia on Monday in a bid to secure more loans and political support, as demonstrations against the extension of his 26-year rule entered their sixth week.

President Alexander Lukashenko's talks with Russian President Vladimir Putin in the Black Sea resort of Sochi came a day after an estimated 150,000 people flooded the streets of the Belarusian capital, demanding Lukashenko's resignation. The Interior Ministry said 774 people were arrested in Minsk and other cities for holding unsanctioned rallies Sunday.

Putin said Russia would provide a $1.5 billion loan to Belarus and fulfill all its obligations under a union treaty between the neighbors. Speaking at the start of the talks, he emphasized that the Belarusians themselves must settle their political situation without any foreign meddling, and commended Lukashenko for his pledge to conduct constitutional change.

Protesters in Belarus have dismissed Lukashenko's reelection for a sixth term in the Aug. 9 presidential vote as rigged. The United States and the European Union have both criticized the election as neither free nor fair and urged the Belarusian leader to engage in talks with the opposition, a demand he has rejected.

[Video not showing up above? Click here to view » https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=52bH-byrXbM]

The opposition has dismissed Lukashenko's talk about constitutional change as an attempt to buy time and assuage the protesters' anger. Putin hailed it as a "timely and reasonable" move that would help "reach a new level in the development of the political system."

In a bid to win Moscow's support, Lukashenko, a 66-year-old former state farm director, has tried to cast the protests as an effort by the West to isolate Russia, which sees Belarus as a key bulwark against NATO and a major conduit for energy exports to Europe.

As he sat across the table from Putin, Lukashenko pointed at NATO's drills near Belarus' borders and said the two countries must strengthen their defense ties.

Putin emphasized that Russian paratroopers who were sent to Belarus for joint drills will leave the country after the exercise. Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov told reporters after the four-hour talks that the leaders did not discuss the possibility of basing Russian forces in Belarus.

Peskov also reiterated that Russia regards Lukashenko as Belarus' legitimate president.

Russia and Belarus have a union treaty envisaging close political, economic and military ties, but they have often engaged in acrimonious disputes. Before the election, Lukashenko repeatedly accused the Kremlin of pressing Belarus to abandon its independence.

But with the U.S. and the EU criticizing the election and readying a package of sanctions against Belarus, Lukashenko now has to rely squarely on Russia's support.

Despite frictions in the past, the Kremlin abhors the prospect of public protests forcing the resignation of the Belarusian leader, fearing it could embolden Putin's critics at home.

Putin congratulated Lukashenko on his reelection and promised to send Russian police to Belarus if protests there turn violent, noting that there is no need for that yet.

"We see Belarus as our closest ally and we will undoubtedly fulfill all our obligations," the Russian leader told Lukashenko during Monday's talks.

Gallery: Russia's Putin throws Belarus $1.5 billion lifeline

[Gallery not loading above? Click here for more photos » arkansasonline.com/915russia/]

Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya, the main opposition challenger, left for Lithuania a day after the August vote under pressure from Belarus authorities. She warned Putin that any agreements he may reach with Lukashenko will not stand with a new opposition-led government.

"I'm very sorry that you have opted to have a dialogue with the usurper and not the Belarusian people," she said Monday. "Any agreements signed with Lukashenko, who lacks legitimacy, will be retracted by the new government."

​​​​​Information for this article was contributed by Yuras Karmanau, Jamey Keaten and Geir Moulson of The Associated Press.

Riot police officers detain a protester during a Belarusian opposition supporters' rally protesting the official presidential election results in Minsk, Belarus, Sunday, Sept. 13, 2020. More than 100,000 demonstrators calling for the authoritarian president's resignation marched in the Belarusian capital on Sunday as the daily protests that have gripped the nation entered their sixth week. (AP Photo)
Riot police officers detain a protester during a Belarusian opposition supporters' rally protesting the official presidential election results in Minsk, Belarus, Sunday, Sept. 13, 2020. More than 100,000 demonstrators calling for the authoritarian president's resignation marched in the Belarusian capital on Sunday as the daily protests that have gripped the nation entered their sixth week. (AP Photo)
Riot police with a water cannon,  block Belarusian opposition supporters during a rally protesting the official presidential election results in Minsk, Belarus, Sunday, Sept. 13, 2020. More than 100,000 demonstrators calling for the authoritarian president's resignation marched in the Belarusian capital on Sunday as the daily protests that have gripped the nation entered their sixth week. (TUT.by via AP)
Riot police with a water cannon, block Belarusian opposition supporters during a rally protesting the official presidential election results in Minsk, Belarus, Sunday, Sept. 13, 2020. More than 100,000 demonstrators calling for the authoritarian president's resignation marched in the Belarusian capital on Sunday as the daily protests that have gripped the nation entered their sixth week. (TUT.by via AP)
FILE- In this file photo taken on Friday, Feb. 15, 2019, Russian President Vladimir Putin, left, and Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko meet in the Black sea resort of Sochi, Russia.  Alexander Lukashenko's talks with Russian President Vladimir Putin on Monday Sept. 14, 2020, in the Black Sea resort of Sochi come a day after an estimated 150,000 people flooded the streets of the Belarusian capital, demanding Lukashenko's resignation. (Sergei Chirikov/Pool Photo via AP, File)
FILE- In this file photo taken on Friday, Feb. 15, 2019, Russian President Vladimir Putin, left, and Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko meet in the Black sea resort of Sochi, Russia. Alexander Lukashenko's talks with Russian President Vladimir Putin on Monday Sept. 14, 2020, in the Black Sea resort of Sochi come a day after an estimated 150,000 people flooded the streets of the Belarusian capital, demanding Lukashenko's resignation. (Sergei Chirikov/Pool Photo via AP, File)
Riot police prepare to stop a Belarusian opposition supporters' rally protesting the official presidential election results in Minsk, Belarus, Sunday, Sept. 13, 2020. Protests calling for the Belarusian president's resignation have broken out daily since the Aug. 9 presidential election that officials say handed him a sixth term in office. (TUT.by via AP)
Riot police prepare to stop a Belarusian opposition supporters' rally protesting the official presidential election results in Minsk, Belarus, Sunday, Sept. 13, 2020. Protests calling for the Belarusian president's resignation have broken out daily since the Aug. 9 presidential election that officials say handed him a sixth term in office. (TUT.by via AP)
Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko steps down from his plane upon his arriving at the Black Sea resort of Sochi, Russia, Monday, Sept. 14, 2020.  Belarus' authoritarian president, Lukashenko is visiting Sochi for talks with Russian President Vladimir Putin a day after an estimated 150,000 flooded the streets of the Belarusian capital, demanding Lukashenko's resignation. (Andrei Stasevich /BelTA Pool Photo via AP)
Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko steps down from his plane upon his arriving at the Black Sea resort of Sochi, Russia, Monday, Sept. 14, 2020. Belarus' authoritarian president, Lukashenko is visiting Sochi for talks with Russian President Vladimir Putin a day after an estimated 150,000 flooded the streets of the Belarusian capital, demanding Lukashenko's resignation. (Andrei Stasevich /BelTA Pool Photo via AP)
Protesters covered by old Belarusian national flags, one holding a poster reading "cowards wear balaclavas" gather in front of a riot police line during a Belarusian opposition supporters' rally protesting the official presidential election results in Minsk, Belarus, Sunday, Sept. 13, 2020. Protests calling for the Belarusian president's resignation have broken out daily since the Aug. 9 presidential election that officials say handed him a sixth term in office. (TUT.by via AP)
Protesters covered by old Belarusian national flags, one holding a poster reading "cowards wear balaclavas" gather in front of a riot police line during a Belarusian opposition supporters' rally protesting the official presidential election results in Minsk, Belarus, Sunday, Sept. 13, 2020. Protests calling for the Belarusian president's resignation have broken out daily since the Aug. 9 presidential election that officials say handed him a sixth term in office. (TUT.by via AP)
Riot police officers detain a protester during a Belarusian opposition supporters' rally protesting the official presidential election results in Minsk, Belarus, Sunday, Sept. 13, 2020. Protests calling for the Belarusian president's resignation have broken out daily since the Aug. 9 presidential election that officials say handed him a sixth term in office. (AP Photo)
Riot police officers detain a protester during a Belarusian opposition supporters' rally protesting the official presidential election results in Minsk, Belarus, Sunday, Sept. 13, 2020. Protests calling for the Belarusian president's resignation have broken out daily since the Aug. 9 presidential election that officials say handed him a sixth term in office. (AP Photo)
Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko greets officials upon his arriving at the Black Sea resort of Sochi, Russia, Monday, Sept. 14, 2020.  Belarus' authoritarian president, Lukashenko is visiting Sochi for talks with Russian President Vladimir Putin a day after an estimated 150,000 flooded the streets of the Belarusian capital, demanding Lukashenko's resignation. (Andrei Stasevich /BelTA Pool Photo via AP)
Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko greets officials upon his arriving at the Black Sea resort of Sochi, Russia, Monday, Sept. 14, 2020. Belarus' authoritarian president, Lukashenko is visiting Sochi for talks with Russian President Vladimir Putin a day after an estimated 150,000 flooded the streets of the Belarusian capital, demanding Lukashenko's resignation. (Andrei Stasevich /BelTA Pool Photo via AP)
Riot police officers detain a protester during a Belarusian opposition supporters' rally protesting the official presidential election results in Minsk, Belarus, Sunday, Sept. 13, 2020. More than 100,000 demonstrators calling for the authoritarian president's resignation marched in the Belarusian capital on Sunday as the daily protests that have gripped the nation entered their sixth week. (AP Photo)
Riot police officers detain a protester during a Belarusian opposition supporters' rally protesting the official presidential election results in Minsk, Belarus, Sunday, Sept. 13, 2020. More than 100,000 demonstrators calling for the authoritarian president's resignation marched in the Belarusian capital on Sunday as the daily protests that have gripped the nation entered their sixth week. (AP Photo)
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