REUTERS, 16TH AUGUST, 2020 - Russia said on Sunday it had told Belarusian leader Alexander Lukashenko it was ready to offer military assistance if necessary as demonstrators held one of the biggest protests yet against Lukashenko’s contested re-election.
The protest in Minsk attracted tens of thousands of people, despite the deaths of at least two protesters and thousands of detentions since last Sunday’s vote.
Opponents of Lukashenko, in power for 26 years, say the vote was rigged to disguise the fact that he has lost public support. He denies losing, citing official results that gave him just over 80% of the vote.
The Kremlin said Russian President Vladimir Putin had told Lukashenko Moscow was ready to assist Belarus in accordance with a collective military pact if necessary and that external pressure was being applied to the country.
It did not say where from.
Shortly before the opposition protest, there was tight security as Lukashenko’s supporters gathered in central Minsk for the first time since the election to voice their support for him and watch him give a fiery speech.Lukashenko, under pressure from the European Union for cracking down on his opponents, said NATO tanks and planes had been deployed 15 minutes from the Belarusian border. NATO said it was closely monitoring the situation in Belarus, but that there was no military build-up at the country’s western border.