Russia said Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko has confirmed he plans to change the constitution as the two leaders held talks in Sochi on Monday.
The meeting came as Lukashenko faces mass protests at home following a presidential election on August 9, which the opposition claims was rigged.
Lukashenko, who has been in power for 26 years, began raising the question of changing the constitution several years ago.
He has since presented this as a way to respond to public desire for social change. He has also proposed holding the next presidential polls early.
Lukashenko’s plane landed in the Black Sea region a day after police arrested 774 people at anti-government rallies across the country, including 500 in the capital, Minsk, the Belarusian interior ministry said. At least 100,000 protesters flooded the streets of Minsk on Sunday.
“Lukashenko confirmed his intention to make changes to the constitution,” said Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov after talks at Putin’s residence in Sochi.
“They talked for almost four hours,” he said, calling their conversation “constructive, lengthy and substantive in content”.
Peskov added that Russia wants “everything that happens in Belarus not to be in the form of unconstitutional processes but within the framework of the law”.
The Belarusian strongman has said he wants to hold a referendum on reforms, although he has not made clear what these would be. He has suggested reducing the president’s powers in appointing judges.
Lukashenko has previously changed the constitution to increase his presidential powers.
The opposition wants to change the constitution back to its original form, but Lukashenko has said this would be a backward step.
Moscow has recognised Lukashenko as the legitimate president after he claimed victory in disputed elections that the main opposition contender Svetlana Tikhanovskaya says she rightfully won.
Putin and Lukashenko also agreed on Monday that Moscow would withdraw reserves of troops that were deployed at the border with Belarus, Russian news agency TASS reported.
“An important result of the two presidents’ talks in Sochi became an agreement that Russia removes the reserve of law enforcement bodies and the national guard, which was deployed near the Russia-Belarus border, and withdraws people to their permanent bases,” Peskov was quoted as saying by TASS.