Russian PM Mikhail Mishustin (file photo). Photograph:( Reuters )
Belarus is Russia's closest ally among former Soviet states, and its territory is integral to Moscow's European defence strategy.
Russian Prime Minister Mikhail Mishustin will visit Belarus on Thursday, Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said Wednesday, after weeks of protests in Minsk against a disputed presidential election.
"Prime Minister Mikhail Mishustin's visit to Minsk will take place literally tomorrow," Lavrov said at the start of a meeting with his Belarusian counterpart in Moscow, Russian news agencies reported.
Belarus is Russia's closest ally among former Soviet states, and its territory is integral to Moscow's European defence strategy. The two are also joined by a treaty that, at least on paper, proclaims a "union state," which Putin has sought to develop into more of a political and economic reality.
Russian President Vladimir Putin last week said he had set up a reserve police force to support Lukashenko if necessary, but he saw no need to deploy them for now.
Russia has signalled its willingness to prop up Lukashenko's government and the two countries are discussing the refinancing of Belarusian debt.
Thousands of students boycotted the start of the school year in Belarus on Tuesday and signs of a possible rift appeared in an opposition alliance that has led weeks of rallies and protests against veteran President Alexander Lukashenko.
Lukashenko faces the biggest challenge of his 26-year rule since claiming victory in an election last month that opponents say was rigged. Lukashenko denies electoral fraud and shows no sign of backing down despite the threat of Western sanctions.
The United States is considering sanctions on seven individuals it says were involved in falsifying the election and in violence against protesters, a senior US State Department official said.
"It is a minimal effort to ... not just name and shame but to show that when people both steal elections and commit violence against peaceful protesters exercising fundamental freedoms of assembly and speech that there needs to be some accountability," the official said.