Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko says his Russian counterpart, Vladimir Putin, has agreed to help to “ensure the security” of the country if needed as thousands of people continue to hold peaceful protests against his rule.
Lukashenko made the comments on Saturday evening, several hours after a phone call with Putin, the first publicly known direct contact between the two leaders since he claimed a landslide victory in an election his opponents said was rigged.
Facing the biggest challenge to his rule since taking power in 1994, Lukashenko called in Moscow’s help after warning there was “a threat not only to Belarus”.
“To talk about the military element, we have an agreement with Russia as part of the union state and the Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO). Such situations fall under that agreement,” Lukashenko told defence chiefs according to by Belta state news agency.
“I had a long, substantial conversation today with the Russian president … We agreed that at our very first request, comprehensive help will be given to ensure the security of Belarus.”
Belarus and Russia have formed a “union state” linking their economies and militaries, while the CSTO is a military alliance between six ex-Soviet states.
Protesters have been demanding that Lukashenko resign, saying the official results of the August 9 presidential election that gave him a sixth term in office are fraudulent.
On Saturday, thousands of demonstrators gathered at the spot in the capital, Minsk, where a protester died. Some stripped off their shirts to display deep bruises they said came from being beaten by police.
Despite harsh police crackdowns against the protesters, including the detention of some 7,000 people, the demonstrations have swelled into the largest and most sustained anti-government movement since Lukashenko took power 26 years ago.