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Belarus: Putin “convinced” that Lukashenko will overcome the crisis

(Moscow) Contested in the street since August, Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko met his Russian counterpart Vladimir Poutine on Monday, his main supporter who said he was “convinced” that he would overcome the crisis, without going forward publicly on stronger support.

Thibaut MARCHAND

France Media Agency

The two heads of state met in Sochi, a seaside resort in southwest Russia, for Mr. Lukashenko’s first trip abroad since his contested re-election on August 9, which triggered a historic protest movement in Belarus.

During this tête-à-tête lasting more than four hours, Mr. Lukashenko confirmed to Vladimir Putin “his intention to make changes to the Constitution”, according to the Kremlin. This project, supported by Moscow, but whose outlines remain unclear, is the only compromise mentioned by Minsk to get out of the political crisis.

The Belarusian president said at the end of August that “specialists” are working on this reform, which will then be submitted “to a referendum”, suggesting that it could possibly lead to new elections.

On Sunday, several tens of thousands of demonstrators marched in Minsk for the fifth consecutive weekend to demand the departure of Alexander Lukashenko, 66 Years, including 26 in power. The mobilization thus did not seem to weaken despite the arrest or exile of the main opponents.

At the start of the meeting in Sochi, Mr. Putin said he was “convinced” that with Mr. Lukashenko’s “experience of political work”, Belarus “will reach new frontiers”.

On the other hand, he did not speak in favor of stronger support during this initial twenty-minute conversation during which Alexander Lukashenko spoke more than his host, thanking Mr. Putin “personally” and “ all Russians ”for their support.

According to the Kremlin, the two men then discussed, during a “constructive” discussion, bilateral relations, economic cooperation, as well as military and energy issues.

Faithful to his new strategy consisting of presenting himself as the first bulwark of Russia against the West, the Belarusian head of state affirmed that the two countries had to “prepare (their) armies” so that, ” God forbid, we can resist ”in the event of a military attack.

If he accused Russia before the election of wanting to “destabilize” his country, Alexander Lukashenko has since made a 66 degree turn to obtain Russian support in the face of massive protests, which he says is part of a Western plot.

On Friday, the Kremlin announced that this meeting would also serve to discuss “the prospects for the integration process” between these two former Soviet republics, a project that Moscow has long cherished.

Important loan

Leader of the opposition forced into exile in Lithuania, Svetlana Tikhanovskaya had earlier arrested Vladimir Putin.

“I regret that you have decided to have a dialogue with the usurper and not with the Belarusian people”, said the one who claims victory in the presidential election of August 9 and who has launched into politics in the spring after her husband’s arrest.

In his eyes, any Russo-Belarusian agreement signed by Alexander Loukachenko would be “legally invalid”, because he had been re-elected “illegitimately”.

During their meeting, Mr. Putin also confirmed a loan of one and a half billion dollars granted to Belarus, whose recurring economic difficulties have been amplified by the coronavirus crisis.

Such assistance would allow the Kremlin to recall the country’s deep economic dependence on its “big brother”. Especially since Western sanctions are being prepared because of the repressions.

For 14 years, the Russo-Belarusian discussions for greater integration have essentially made it possible to tackle issues of the single currency or Russian military bases on neighboring territory, but Lukashenko has so far resisted Moscow’s ambitions, swaying between East and West and sometimes verbally attacking allied Russia.

Belarusian opposition figures, most of them arrested or in exile, insisted from the start that their movement was directed against Mr. Lukashenko and was neither anti-Russian nor pro-Western.

The UN Human Rights Council (CHR) has declared itself in favor of an emergency meeting on Friday on the situation in Belarus, due to the repression and allegations of torture of inmates.

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