Putin Backs Lukashenko in Belarus
In a recent TV interview, Russian leader Vladimir Putin confirmed his willingness to provide a police force at Minsk’s request, while criticizing the West over alleged interference in Belarus.
Putin: Russian-Backed Intervention Possible Under Certain Conditions
According to President Putin, Russia was ready to help stabilize Belarus. President Alexander Lukashenko had asked him to set up a police reserve force. However, there was still no need for it, “and I hope there won’t be,” Putin said on Russian state television.
Putin then told the broadcaster Rossiya 1 that an operation would only be conducted under certain conditions, namely “when the situation gets out of control and extremist elements hiding behind political slogans cross certain borders.”
He cited robberies, arson, and bank robberies as examples.
“We assume that all existing problems in Belarus today will be resolved peacefully,” Putin said. If there have been violations — on the part of the demonstrators and the security forces — everyone should be held accountable.”
Moscow Money for Minsk
In addition to the police forces, Moscow is again providing Minsk a financial backing: Russian loans of over one billion euros should enable Minsk to repay its national debt.
During the interview, Putin also accused the West of undue interference in Belarusian affairs. He claimed that the scandal surrounding the arrest of suspected employees of a Russian private security company in Belarus shortly before the election resulted from a Ukrainian and American special operation. Putin also named the Europeans explicitly. On the other hand, Russia was more cautious and neutral than many other countries, he claimed.
The Situation in Belarus
Since the controversial presidential election on August 9, mass protests against Lukashenko have been conducted by the public. Lukashenko was confirmed with 80.1 percent for a sixth term, a result that is criticized internationally as falsified. Putin, however, was one of the first to congratulate Lukashenko on his election victory.
Lukashenko has accused western countries of starting a “hybrid war” against Belarus. “A diplomatic battle at the highest level has begun against Belarus,” he said in a meeting broadcast by state television. It insisted on a new election and thus exerted inadmissible pressure on the country.
Lukashenko also accused Poland of seeking to take the Grodno region on Belarus’ border. As a result, he recently deployed additional Belarusian troops.
Lukashenko: ‘the Most Important Thing Now is the Economy’
Lukashenko said he could handle the street protests no matter how hard his opponents tried to destabilize the country’s situation. “The most important thing now is the economy,” he said. If all companies were to work, there would be no issues. Many people in the state-run companies went on strike. However, a large number returned to the workbenches after being threatened with dismissal.
The protest movement’s original aim was to break Lukashenko’s power through a nationwide strike in the state-owned enterprises. Independent trade unionists reported that many were now in an internal strike position and that work processes were slowing down.
The EU Imposes Sanctions
Because of the authorities’ violent actions against the protest movement, the EU is examining the expansion of its planned sanctions.
Germany’s Foreign Minister Heiko Maas said before a meeting with his EU colleagues in Berlin, Lukashenko had “intensified the repression against opposition members” in the past few days. Accordingly, the EU imposed sanctions on Friday.
The latter is sorely needed. Even in just the past few days the world has witnessed how Lukashenko again cracked down on demonstrators. It is the reason one already suspected a Russian promise towards Lukashenko had been made.
Lukashenko undoubtedly feels strengthened by the public support of the Kremlin. On Thursday, he declared that he only wanted to talk to “reasonable” critics. He included farmers, workers, doctors, teachers, and student representatives, but no “street demonstrators,” as he said.
However, it seems inconceivable, particularly with a looming Russian intervention, that the situation is about to calm down anytime soon.