Mon, 25 Jan 2021

Belarusian President Alyaksandr Lukashenka says he wants to speak to Russian President Vladimir Putin, warning that street protests against his disputed reelection are not just a threat to Belarus.

His remarks came as thousands of Belarusians staged a seventh day of peaceful protests on August 15 over the rigged August 9 vote and a harsh crackdown that has drawn international outrage.

The nationwide protests pose the biggest challenge of Lukashenka's 26-year rule.

'There is a need to contact Putin so that I can talk to him now, because it is not a threat to just Belarus anymore,' he said, according to state news agency BelTA.

The postelection turmoil comes after a period of rising tensions between Minsk and Moscow over Russian loans, subsidized energy, and Kremlin efforts to further integrate Belarus through a union-state treaty.

While Putin did congratulate Lukashenka on his 'victory' at the polls, his statement implied conditions for Russian support, and Moscow is looking for ways to gain leverage over a weakened Lukashenka, who is desperate for help.

SEE ALSO: Belarusian Protests Upend Lukashenka's Geopolitical Game With Russia, China, The West

'Defending Belarus today is no less than defending our entire space, the union state, and an example to others,' Lukashenka added. 'If Belarus cannot withstand it, this wave will roll there.'

Based on reporting by Reuters and AFP

Copyright (c) 2018. RFE/RL, Inc. Republished with the permission of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, 1201 Connecticut Ave NW, Ste 400, Washington DC 20036

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