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Belarus's Lukashenka Rejects Foreign Mediation Of Postelection Crisis, Says Russia Promised 'Full Assistance'

By RFE/RL's Belarus Service August 15, 2020

MINSK -- A defiant Belarusian President Alyaksandr Lukashenka has rejected the possibility of foreign mediation in his country's ongoing postelection crisis, and told military officials that Russia has promised to provide a "full range of assistance" if requested.

"We will not give up the country to anyone," he said during a televised meeting with defense officials on August 15. "We don't need any foreign governments, any intermediaries."

The statement came shortly after Lukashenka discussed the crisis with Russian President Vladimir Putin, saying that the unrest following the disputed August 9 election that gave Lukashenka a sixth term in office "is not a threat to just Belarus anymore."

Earlier, the leaders of Poland, Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania offered to help mediate an end to the Belarus crisis.

The phone conversation on August 15 came as Lukashenka faces growing pressure to step down following a disputed election that has triggered unprecedented protests and a harsh government crackdown.

"The presidents discussed the situation that is unfolding inside and around Belarus," Belarusian state news agency BelTA reported, citing Lukashenka's press service, without providing any details.

The Kremlin said that during their conversation the two leaders "expressed confidence" that the "problems" in Belarus would be "resolved soon."

"These problems should not be exploited by destructive forces seeking to harm the mutually beneficial cooperation between the two countries," the Kremlin said in its statement.

Lukashenka later in the day told a meeting with military officials that Putin had agreed to provide military assistance to cope with the protests.

"I agreed with him that at our first request we will be provided with a full range of assistance to ensure the security of the Republic of Belarus," he said.

He described the phone conversation as "long and substantial."

During the meeting with defense officials, Lukashenka claimed that members of the military had been receiving threats from protesters.

He addressed the protesters directly, saying: "Do not play with fire! Our soldiers have enough resources to protect themselves and their families and to ensure the security of the state."

He also accused the protesters of hiding behind "girls," following mass demonstrations earlier in the week in which thousands of women formed human chains to protest the election.

"If there are men among you, be men," Lukashenka said. "If you want to fight and scuffle, go ahead. But let's do it man-to-man. Don't put forward girls and threaten families."

Since the election, the country of some 9.5 million people has been gripped by peaceful protests and strikes, which have often been met by brutal force by police. At least two protesters have been killed and thousands have been injured and detained.

Meanwhile, thousands of Belarusians staged a seventh day of peaceful protests on August 15 over the August 9 vote and a bloody crackdown that has drawn international outrage.

The nationwide protests pose the biggest challenge yet to Lukashenka's 26-year rule.

Earlier, Lukashenka said he wanted to speak to Putin, warning that street protests were not just a threat to Belarus.

"There is a need to contact Putin so that I can talk to him now, because it is not a threat to just Belarus anymore," he said, according to BelTA.

Over the years, Lukashenka has cemented his reputation as a political survivor -- weaving between Moscow and the West to leverage Belarus's strategic position -- while in recent years welcoming in Chinese influence and investment to gain space to rebuff Russia.

The postelection turmoil comes after a period of rising tensions between Minsk and Moscow over Russian loans, subsidized energy, and Kremlin efforts to further integrate Belarus through a union-state treaty.

While Putin did congratulate Lukashenka on his "victory" at the polls, his statement implied conditions for Russian support, and Moscow is looking for ways to gain leverage over a weakened Lukashenka, who is desperate for help.

"Defending Belarus today is no less than defending our entire space, the union state, and an example to others," Lukashenka added. "If Belarus cannot withstand it, this wave will roll there."

With reporting by Reuters and AFP

Source: https://www.rferl.org/a/lukashenka -says-wants-to-talk-to-putin-amid -minsk-protests/30785333.htmlhtml

Copyright (c) 2020. RFE/RL, Inc. Reprinted with the permission of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, 1201 Connecticut Ave., N.W. Washington DC 20036.

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