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Strong Belarusian fighter travels to Russia to seek help from Putin

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MOSCOW Surrounded by protesters at home, Belarussian warlord Alexander G. Lukashenko traveled to Russia on Monday for help from Russian President Vladimir Putin.

At the beginning of the talks in the Black Sea resort town of Sochi, Mr Lukashenko threw the dizzying lock he displayed inside Belarus and presented himself as a grateful praiser, describing Russia as his country’s big brother and thanking Mr Lukashenko. Putin and all the Russians for helping him out

As Mr. Putin made a statement opening four hours of talks, describing Belarus as our closest ally, Mr. Lukashenko wrote the words to Russian leaders in a balanced notebook on his knees, more like a diligent student or official. little convinced than the president of an independent state.

His show of respect highlighted how, in the face of the worst crisis of his 26-year rule in the Eastern European nation, he now depends more on Russia than on his people for survival.

Mr Putin opened the meeting, the first between two authoritarian leaders of neighboring Slavic states since the start of the crisis in Belarus, congratulating Mr Lukashenko on his extraordinary victory in the controversial August 9 elections. He also offered a $ 1.5 billion loan.

But the Russian president quickly shifted from gestures of support to support the idea of ​​Belarus amending its Constitution to pave the way for new elections.

Stating that we would like the Belarusians to resolve this situation on their own, he also fostered dialogue, something that Mr Lukashenko has consistently ruled out with his opponents, whom he has despised as mice and rogues manipulated by the West.

Mr Lukashenko, clearly embarrassed, cut off his forehead with a handkerchief when Mr Putin finished speaking.

The Belarusian leader has also raised the possibility of revising the Constitution in recent weeks. But few believe the new election is a serious opportunity any time soon, not least because he declared in August that until you kill me, there will be no more elections.

Mr Putin, said Andrei Kortunov, director general of the Russian Council on International Affairs, has never trusted or liked Lukashenko and would be happy to see him relieved slowly, but not under road pressure. Allowing protesters to dominate, Mr Kortunov said, would be a serious existential challenge for Russia: How can we justify our system if our neighbor’s neighbor can do better?

But Mr Lukashenko’s indefinite support, he said, also poses major risks to Russia, as it would alienate its neighbors generally the pro-Russian population. Mr Lukashenko, he said, has ended up as a legitimate leader who enjoys the support if not of a majority but of a large part of the population. All the same, he added: it ‘s still too early to write it.

Mr Lukashenko’s main rival in the August elections, Svetlana Tikhanovskaya, who was forced to leave Belarus after she contested the result, warned in a statement Monday that any agreement reached in Sochi would have no legal force because Mr. Lukashenko was no longer the legitimate leader of the countries.

Addressing President Putin, she added: “I am very sorry that you decided to enter into a dialogue with the occupier, and not with the people of Belarus.

Eager to show that he still has control over his country ahead of his talks in Russia, Mr Lukashenko on Sunday deployed his vast and hitherto loyal security apparatus in a bid to prevent another day of protests. gave me. Tens of thousands of people still took to the streets to call for his resignation.

The Interior Ministry said Monday that 774 people had been arrested over Sunday in nationwide rallies, more than 500 of them in Minsk. It was the biggest arrest in a single day since the start of the protests when riot police officers tried, unsuccessfully, to keep people off the road with a wave of violence and mass arrests.

Mr Putin has long been openly impatient with Mr Lukashenko, a leader who is said to see him as unstable and unreliable, and who has sought to keep Moscow in long arms to preserve Belarus’ sovereignty and also its powers. his rampant. But wary of seeing a strong comrade ousted by the protests, Mr Putin announced late last month that he had formed a reserve force of Russian security officers ready to intervene in Belarus if the situation spiraled out of control. .

The Kremlin has not yet established force, but Russia has taken an increasingly active role in Belarus, sending advisers to help Mr Lukashenko and Russian journalists fill vacancies in state-run media left vacant by local staff resignations. who have sided with the protests. Russia, Putin said in August, is certainly not indifferent to what is happening there.

Mr Putin made it clear to Mr Lukashenko on Monday that he expected progress towards the formation of a so-called Union State, a largely deadly project agreed in the late 1990s but that Mr Lukashenko had resisted implementation. for fear that he might end up being reduced to a little more than a regional governor under Kremlin control.

In his remarks at the beginning of talks with Mr. Putin in Sochi, Mr. Lukashenko reiterated what has become his favorite pitch for Russian support: Surviving as a leader is the only way to protect Belarus and also Russia from Western machinations. He claimed that NATO had gathered troops on his country’s border, something the US-led military alliance has strongly denied.

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