Putin says Russia to give $2 billion in loans to its neighbor and ally Belarus

President Vladimir Putin says that Russia will provide its ex-Soviet neighbor and ally Belarus with $2 billion in loans next year.

Putin made the statement following Wednesday talks with his Belarusian counterpart, Alexander Lukashenko.

Lukashenko, who has been dubbed "Europe's last dictator" in the West, has led the 10-million nation with an iron hand for nearly two decades, tolerating no dissent. He has kept most assets in state hands and relies on subsidies from Russia to shore up the economy.

Russia and Belarus have had close economic, political and military ties. Russia has several military facilities in Belarus, and the two nations operate a joint air defense system.

After Putin-Lukashenko talks on Wednesday, officials from both countries also signed agreements on military-technical cooperation and information security.