MINSK, Belarus—Russian President Vladimir Putin warned that he stands ready to send police to Belarus if protests there turn violent but sees no such need now, while Belarusian police dispersed a protest in the capital and detained scores on Aug. 27, raising pressure on the opposition.
Belarus authoritarian president of 26 years, Alexander Lukashenko, is facing weeks of protests against his reelection to a sixth term in the Aug. 9 vote, which the opposition says was rigged.
Putin told Russias state television in an interview broadcast on Aug. 27 that Lukashenko has asked him to prepare a Russian law enforcement contingent to deploy to Belarus if necessary.
Putin said that he and Lukashenko have agreed that “there is no such need now, and I hope there wont be.”
“We have agreed not to use it until the situation starts spinning out of control and extremist elements acting under the cover of political slogans cross certain borders and engage in banditry and start burning cars, houses and banks or take over administrative buildings,” he said.
Hours after Putins interview was aired, hundreds of riot police dispersed a protest on the Belarusian capitals main square, detaining dozens in a move that underlined Lukashenkos determination to squelch protests. Scores of reporters, including AP journalists, were also detained.
The Coordination Council, created by the Belarusian opposition to facilitate a peaceful transition of power, criticized Putins statement, saying its “inadmissible” for any country to form armed units for use on the territory of Belarus.
“This contradicts international law and consolidated position of Belarusian society,” it said in a statement.
Putin accused unidentified foreign forces of trying to win political advantages from the turmoil in Belarus.
“They want to influence those processes and reach certain decisions, which they think conform with their political interests,” Putin said.
Russia sees neighboring Belarus as an important conduit for Russian energy exports. The two countries have a union agreement envisaging close political, economic, and military ties, and Lukashenko has relied on cheap Russian energy and other subsidies to keep Belarus Soviet-style economy afloat.
Despite the close cooperation, Russia–Belarus relations have often been strained by disputes. Lukashenko frequently played overtures to the West and accused Moscow of hatching plans to incorporate Belarus.
Just before the election, Belarus arrested 32 private Russian military contractors on charges of planning to stage riots. Belarusian authorities released the men shortly after the vote in a bid to mend ties with the Kremlin amid rising Western criticism.
In the interview, Putin described the incident as a provocation by the Ukrainian and the U.S. spy agencies, charging that they lured the Russians to travel to Belarus by promising them jobs in a third country and made the Belarusian authorities believe they had a mission to destabilize the country.
The United States and the European Union have criticized the Aug. 9 election that extended Lukashenkos rule as neither free nor fair and encouraged Belarusian authorities to engage in a dialogue with the opposition.
The Belarusian leader, who has ruled the nation of 9.5 million with an iron fist since 1994, has dismissed the protesters as Western puppets and refused to engage in dialogue with the opposition, which is contesting his reelection to a sixth term. Seeking Moscows support, Lukashenko has cast the protests as part of a Western plot to weaken Russia.
After a brutal crackdown on demonstrators in the first days of post-election protests, when nearly 7,000 people were detained, hundreds were injured, and at least three protesters died, the authorities changed tactics and let daily demonstrations go unhindered for nearly two weeks. The government, meanwhile, has maintained pressure on the opposition with threats and selective jailing of its leaders.
On the 19th straight day of protests on Aug. 27, several dozen women stood on the Belarusian capitals main Independence Square with their hands bound to protest the police dispersal of a rally there the previous night. Amid the Aug. 26 crackdown, police blocked the doors of a Catholic church facing the square where several dozen protesters found refuge, causing public outrage and drawing a strong rebuke from the archbishop of Minsk and Mahilyow, Tadeusz Kondrusiewicz.
“Putin must be ashamed, hes promising to add Russian clubs to the Belarusian ones,” said 45-year-old protester Regina Fustovich.
As the evening came, about 1,000 demonstrators marched across the city to Independence Square, chanting “Freedom!” as motorists honked in support.
“Putin has untied Lukashenkos hands,” said 20-year-old student Anton Gavrilovich. “The protest will win sooner or later because we are the majority, but the Belarusians will not forget that.”
Another protester, Irina Furs, a 30-year-old medical worker, suggested that “the Kremlin is afraid that the Belarusians could show an example of a successful Read More – Source