Putin Steps Up Support for Belarus With Pledge of Police
(Bloomberg) -- Russian President Vladimir Putin said the Kremlin has prepared a cadre of police officers to assist Belarus if necessary, sending a strong signal of support for his embattled ally Alexander Lukashenko.
Lukashenko “asked me to form a certain reserve of law-enforcement officers, and I did,” Putin said in an interview with the state-run Rossiya 24 channel broadcast Thursday. “But we also agreed that it will not be used unless the situation gets out of control.”
Lukashenko faces the biggest threat of his 26-year rule after protests erupted across Belarus to demand his resignation following the Aug. 9 presidential election, which he claimed to have won by a landslide. He has turned to Putin for support as the U.S. and European Union condemn a violent police crackdown on protesters, in which nearly 7,000 were detained, some in custody were allegedly tortured and at least 5 died.
Putin said local law enforcement’s reaction has been fairly “restrained.” Russia, he said, has been more “neutral” in its response that the U.S. and Europe, which he suggested were trying to use the situation for their own political interests.
German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas, who hosts European Union counterparts in Berlin Thursday, told reporters the bloc may expand a blacklist of Belarusian officials beyond the 15 to 20 initially planned. The EU hasn’t disclosed the identities of those on the list, which involves asset freezes and travel bans.
Belarusian government dollar bonds rallied on Thursday, eroding some of the losses that sent yields to a record high earlier this month. Yields on bonds maturing in 2031 dropped 31 basis points to 7.3%. The Belarusian ruble retreated for a seventh day against the dollar on Thursday, extending a plunge this year to more than 21%.
Since the protests broke out, Lukashenko has reached out to Putin for support, moving quickly to smooth tensions that had built in the run-up to the vote. Last year, he resisted Moscow’s demands for closer integration with Russia.
“We are certainly not indifferent to what is happening there,” Putin said. “It is a very close, perhaps the closest country to us.” Russia stands ready to provide military support if needed under a collective-security treaty, he said.
Russian law-enforcement officers would be deployed only if “extremist forces, under the cover of political slogans, cross the line to robbery, burning cars, homes, banks and try to take over administrative buildings.”
He hailed Lukashenko’s offer of constitutional reform, possibly followed by new elections, concessions the Belarusian leader’s opponents say are inadequate.
“The situation is stabilizing there now,” Putin said.
The protests have not shown any signs of abating, with tens of thousands of people last weekend demanding new elections in the capital Minsk, despite the presence of riot police and barbed-wire barricades. The Belarusian leader, in a show of strength, appeared on state television brandishing an automatic rifle as he flew into his residence by helicopter.
©2020 Bloomberg L.P.