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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Putin Promises to Speed Up 2nd Loan Tranche to Belarus

Prime Minister Vladimir Putin said Friday that Moscow would speed up delivery of the second half of a $2 billion loan to Belarus after denying a request for additional funds.

The countries agreed on the $2 billion stabilization loan last year, and Friday's announcement on the second tranche came after Putin and Belarussian Prime Minster Sergei Sidorsky signed a joint strategy for dealing with the economic crisis.

"The plan sets out measures that will support our economies and will not let them fall below 2008 levels," Putin said, adding that the second tranche of the 15-year loan, originally planned for Feb. 28, would be issued sooner, according to a transcript of the comments on the Russian government web site.

Putin also said he and Sidorsky discussed "achieving the stated goal of using the ruble as a regional currency."

Negotiations between Moscow and Minsk have previously linked loans to expanded use of the Russian ruble. The Belarussian currency is also called the ruble.

In December, Minsk asked Moscow to lend it 100 billion rubles ($2.8 billion) as a precondition to using the Russian currency in bilateral trade. Deputy Finance Minister Dmitry Pankin said Thursday that Russia was not interested in providing the new loan.

At Friday's signing ceremony in Moscow, Putin said that creating a united economic zone was the top priority in relations between the countries.

"I am convinced that to minimize the negative effects of the global crisis on our economies ... we must fully use the advantages of integration," he said.

Trade between the countries reached $32 billion in 2008, Sidorsky said, according to the transcript. Putin put the figure at $34 billion.

(Reuters, MT)