Belarus: Lukashenko claims Russia is ready to ‘help ensure security’ | TBEN | 15.08.2020

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Russia has reportedly offered to assist Belarus’ government in ensuring security, amid the seventh day of anti-government protests sparked by Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko’s controversial election win.

Lukashenko made the claim on Saturday evening, several hours after a telephone call with Russian President Vladimir Putin.

“To talk about the military element, we have an agreement with Russia as part of the union state and the Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO). Such situations fall under that agreement,” the president said, in remarks published by Belta state news agency.

The former Soviet republic has remained closely aligned with its larger neighbor, forming a nominal union with Moscow in the 1990s following its independence after the breakup of the Soviet bloc.

The CSTO is an intergovernmental military alliance between a number of post-Soviet states and Russia that took effect in 1994. 

During Saturday’s conversation between the two leaders, Putin expressed confidence that the unrest gripping Belarus will soon be resolved, during a telephone call, the Kremlin said in a statement. 

“These problems should not be exploited by destructive forces seeking to harm the mutually beneficial cooperation between the two countries,” the statement said. 

The Kremlin said it was “confident” of a swift resolution in the matter.

Anti-government protesters gathered at a spot where a demonstrator died in clashes with police.

No need for ‘foreign governments’

Lukashenko had earlier struck a defiant tone, rejecting foreign mediation to resolve the worsening crisis in his country.

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“We don’t need any foreign governments, any intermediaries,” state news agency Belta quoted Lukashenko as saying during a meeting at the defense ministry. 

“We will not give up the country to anyone,” vowed Lukashenko, adding: “We have a government that has been set up in accordance with the constitution.”

However, Kate Shmatsina, an analyst at the Belarusian Institute for Strategic Studies, told TBEN that Lukashenko was warning that the instability could have a spill-over effect in Russia.

“This comes together with Lukashenko’s understanding that he is not able to manage the situation domestically. In any case, he is dependent on Russia — in terms of economy and foreign policy. At the moment Putin is his only ally,” she said.

Shmatsina, who left Belarus citing security concerns, added that analysts and journalists don’t feel safe in the country.

“People are afraid of further escalation of police violence and there is no guarantee that the police won’t use those brutal methods again to disperse the crowds…”

Ongoing protests

Thousands of people gathered in the capital Minsk on Saturday for the seventh consecutive day of large anti-government protests. The opposition called for more protests against Lukashenko’s disputed reelection. 

Many laid flowers near a metro station where 34-year-old demonstrator Alexander Taraikovsky died in clashes with security forces earlier this week. The crowd chanted “Thank you!” and raised victory signs while police kept a low profile.

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The Belarusian state television center was also a target for protesters. At least 3,000 people gathered outside, calling for full and fair coverage of the demonstrations. They held banners with slogans such as: “Show people the truth” and “Pravda [Truth]”.

“It’s awful to live in a country where you can be killed at a peaceful protest. I will leave, if power isn’t changed,” reported news agency TBEN, citing 30-year-old demonstrator Artem Kushner.

Huge crowds have been taking to the streets daily since Lukashenko claimed a landslide victory on Sunday. In the biggest challenge to his 26-year rule, demonstrators accuse him of rigging the vote and demand he steps down.

“It is quite peaceful for now. Protests have been happening all over the country, even in small towns where no protests have happened before,” said Hanna Liubakova, a Minsk-based journalist.

“People brought banners saying ‘we will figure this out without Putin.’ They don’t want any Russian intervention in Belarus. They want Belarus to be independent. There are not that many details yet so people don’t know what to comment, but there are fears that while it might perhaps not be an intervention, there might be military support from Russia to crack down on peaceful protesters.”

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Read more: Belarus opposition leader: This freedom ‘can’t be broken with police batons’

Thousands arrested

Officials said that two protesters have died, and almost 7,000 have been arrested, in the post-election demonstrations. Rights organization Amnesty International has decried “a campaign of widespread torture and other ill-treatment by the Belarusian authorities who are intent on crushing peaceful protests by any means.”

The European Union announced on Friday that it would impose new sanctions on Belarusian officials who are responsible for the violence. The bloc condemned the police crackdown on protesters as “disproportionate and unacceptable,” and described the election as “neither free nor fair.”

According to the RIA news agency, Belarus’ Foreign Ministry said Saturday it was committed to dialogue in all circumstances with the EU.  

This is an updated version of a previous article

kmm/mm (TBEN, AFP, Reuters, dpa)

 

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