Defense minister: Russia biding time on Belarus

Jüri Luik (Isamaa) on Sunday's
Jüri Luik (Isamaa) on Sunday's "Aktuaalne kaamera". Source: ERR

The situation in Belarus is at something of a stalemate at present, defense minister Jüri Luik (Isamaa) said Sunday night. While Alexander Lukashenko's requests for assistance from Russia may meet with a favorable response, that country's leader, Vladimir Putin, is not likely to rush into anything, given the size of the mass demonstrations in Minsk and elsewhere in Belarus in recent days.

Appearing on ETV news show "Aktuaalne kaamera" (AK) on Sunday, Luik said he thought there was no doubt that Alexander Lukashenko, whose reelection for a sixth term has been met with widespread protest inside and outside Belarus, is trying to draw Russian President Vladimir Putin into the crisis, as well as increasing the country's military presence on its western border.

"Lukashenko has sent troops to Belarus' western border, saying that the west is attacking it and everything is one huge western conspiracy. Maybe this will not fly with Moscow in the short run, but in the long run, we need to be vigilant," Luik said.

The Belarusian president can no longer use force against protests due to their size, but lack of a clear opposition leader makes it harder for his opponents to capitalize on the situation.

Over 7,000 people have been arrested in connection with protests in the aftermath of the election, just over a week ago, according to Belarus' own official statistics. The most prominent opposition leader, Svetlana Tikhanovskaya, has taken refuge in Lithuania.

Luik also said there seemed to be something of a power vacuum in the country, adding that Lukashenko and his regime itself is not particularly appealing to Putin.

At the same time, international outcry and intervention will have the effect of making it a problem for Putin too, Luik said, something which the Russian leader is in a position to respond to.

"I believe that Putin, who has enough resources in Belarus and has influence over the Belarusian defense forces and over Belarus security, will initially try to utilize these resources," Luik told AK.

Ultimately, the Russian leader is mindful of the threat of "color revolutions", such as the so-called orange revolution of 2004-2005 in Ukraine, something which might make him more cautious as he considers his options.

Hundreds of thousands of people gathered in central Minsk on Sunday in protest against the regime calling for new elections, which Lukashenko has ruled out, saying the protesters wish to destroy Belarus.

Lukashenko spoke on the phone with the Russian leader twice over the weekend, and the Kremlin is reportedly ready to offer military assistance to its neighbor.

The Belarusian military is also due to carry out military exercises on its western borders (with the EU states of Poland and Lithuania) next week.


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Editor: Andrew Whyte

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