Russian President Vladimir Putin has formed a police force to intervene in Belarus if he decides it is necessary to support embattled President Alexander Lukashenko.
Speaking on Russian state TV, Putin said Lukashenko “asked me to set up a certain police reserve - I have done so”.
He went on to say that the pair also agreed that it “won’t be used until the situation gets out of control”, suggesting that there are no imminent plans to deploy the security force.
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The comments are “the Kremlin’s most forthright show of support” for Lukashenko, The Times says, who has been battling with street protests since a disputed election on 8 August in which he claimed a landslide victory.
“We agreed that [the Russian force] will not be used until the situation gets out of control, and when extremist elements, hiding behind slogans, cross certain lines and engage in brigandry,” Putin said.
The Russian president added that his red line for intervention would be when protesters began “burning cars, houses, banks and trying to seize administrative buildings”.
Russia has an “obligation to help Belarus with its security under the two countries’ close alliance”, Putin said, stressing “the deep cultural, ethnic and linguistic ties between the two nations”, the BBC reports.
“The decision is a boon” for Lukashenko, The Times adds, who is facing strikes of up to 200,000 people each weekend. However, experts suspect that Putin would rather see the demonstrations “fade away”, than face a decision over whether to intervene.
Writing for American international affairs think tank the Atlantic Council, Steven Pifer, the former US ambassador to Ukraine, says that Russian involvement in his former posting was “instrumental in pushing Ukraine away from Russia and toward the West”.
“Does Moscow want to repeat this mistake with Belarus?” Pifer adds. “At present, [Putin] appears inclined to make the wrong decision, with potentially costly implications for Russia.”
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