Russia offers military help to troubled Lukashenko
Russia said on Sunday it had told Belarusian leader Alexander Lukashenko it was ready to offer military assistance if necessary as demonstrators held one of the biggest protests yet against Lukashenko’s contested re-election.
The protest in Minsk attracted tens of thousands of people, despite the deaths of at least two protesters and thousands of detentions since last Sunday’s vote. Opponents of Lukashenko, in power for 26 years, say the vote was rigged to disguise the fact that he has lost public support. He denies losing, citing official results that gave him just over 80 percent of the vote.
The Kremlin said Russian President Vladimir Putin had told Lukashenko Moscow was ready to assist Belarus in accordance with a collective military pact if necessary and that external pressure was being applied to the country.
It did not say where from.
Shortly before the opposition protest, there was tight security as Lukashenko’s supporters gathered in central Minsk for the first time since the election to voice their support for him and watch him give a fiery speech.
Lukashenko said NATO tanks and planes had been deployed 15 minutes from the Belarusian border. NATO said it was closely monitoring the situation in Belarus, but that there was no military build-up at the country’s western border.
Lukashenko, who has alleged a foreign-backed plot to topple him, said Belarus was under pressure. “NATO troops are at our gates. Lithuania, Latvia, Poland and our native Ukraine are ordering us to hold new elections,” he said, adding that Belarus would “die as a state” if new polls were held.
“I have never betrayed you and will never do so,” he said.
Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya, Lukashenko’s opposition rival in the contested election, had called for a huge “March of Freedom” through the center of Minsk, the Belarusian capital, and in other towns and cities on Sunday. The Minsk segment of the rally was huge, with upward of 100,000 people present, and that a carnival atmosphere prevailed.