Moscow (Reuters) – Russia and Belarus continue to seek close economic and military partnerships.
Russian President Vladimir Putin promised close cooperation with the controversial Belarusian head of state Alexander Lukashenko at a meeting on Monday in Sochi, the RIA reported. This applies to defense as well as to trade and investment. Putin granted his counterpart a loan of around 1.3 billion euros. At the same time, Putin demanded that the crisis in Belarus be resolved internally and without foreign interference. In return, Lukashenko thanked Putin for Russia’s support. The Belarusian president was quoted by the RIA as saying that recent events have shown the importance of connecting the two countries.
Since Lukashenko, who ruled with a hard hand, declared himself the election winner at the beginning of August, the protests against him have continued. For Lukashenko it is the worst crisis in his 26-year term in office. On Sunday at least 100,000 people protested in the Belarusian capital Minsk and demanded the release of prisoners of the opposition. In Minsk alone, 500 of them were taken into custody, a total of 774. In Berlin, government spokesman Steffen Seibert called for the security forces to renounce violence. The political prisoners should also be released immediately and a national dialogue started.
The UN High Commissioner for Human Rights lamented “alarming reports” of violence against peaceful demonstrators in Belarus. These further pointed to the unnecessary or excessive use of force by law enforcement agencies, said Michelle Bachelet in Geneva. At the request of Germany, the UN Human Rights Council had previously agreed to an urgent debate on the situation in the former Soviet republic.
OPPOSITION: AGREEMENTS HAVE NO EXISTING
The presidential election in Belarus on August 9th is also controversial internationally, so the European Union does not recognize it. Critics accuse Lukashenko of electoral fraud and demand his resignation. He denies the allegations and has said that foreign forces are behind the protests. French President Emmanuel Macron once again called for a political solution in Belarus. This should be done without outside influence. In a telephone conversation between Macron and Putin, both presidents agreed that there had to be a peaceful solution in Belarus, said the presidential office in Moscow.
However, the security forces in Belarus are taking massive action against the opposition, and many of their leaders have been arrested, including Maria Kolesnikova. Others like Svetlana Tichanovskaya, who see the demonstrators as the true winner of the election, have taken shelter abroad. She said on Monday via the Telegram social media service that no agreement between Lukashenko and Putin was in place. Any agreement would be overturned by a new leadership.
Economic and military aid from Russia could help Lukashenko stay in control. Putin’s reaction so far suggests that he does not want his counterpart to be overthrown by street pressure.