Russian President Vladimir Putin is playing the role of mediator between European leaders like German Chancellor Angela Merkel and French President Emmanuel Macron and embattled Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko, whom protesters have called on to step down after 26 years in power. As things stand, it seems like Putin is hedging toward a diplomatic solution, rather than unequivocally backing his old ally.
Putin spoke with Merkel, Macron, and Charles Michel, the president of the European Council on the phone Tuesday. Each side had some conditions for the other — Merkel told Putin that Lukashenko must refrain from violence against protesters, release political detainees, and engage with the opposition, while Putin warned that European interference in internal Belarusian affairs was unacceptable. But still, the discussions suggest there's some semblance of diplomatic plan under way, and Putin seems willing to participate; he reportedly followed up those conversations with another with Lukashenko.
Putin's apparent interest in the multilateral dialogue lends credence to the theory that he's not willing to let the situation turn bloody for Lukashenko's sake. That said, not everyone is thrilled about Moscow's role in the talks, even if it ultimately leads to a peaceful solution. Tim O'Donnell