Russian President Vladimir Putin today made the worst fears of the Belarusian opposition and the West a reality, assuring that Russia is ready to intervene in the former Soviet republic with police forces if the situation demands it.
Belarusian President Alexandr Lukashenko “stated that he would like us to offer him, in case of need, the necessary help. I told him that Russia will fulfill its obligations,” Putin said in an interview with public television.
Putin, who until now had not spoken out about the events in neighboring Belarus, admitted today that Lukashenko asked him for help when anti-government protests broke out after the controversial presidential elections on August 9.
THE BACKGROUND OF CRIMEA
The interview coincided with the announcement that the head of the Kremlin was visiting Crimea to inaugurate the largest highway on the peninsula.
The local and Belarusian press did not hesitate to recall the dispatch of the “little green men” – unmarked Russian special military units – to the peninsula in 2014 to consummate the Russian annexation of Ukrainian territory.
Then, the Russian intervention was condemned by almost the entire international community, while not even Putin’s biggest allies, including Lukashenko, recognized the annexation.
Putin, who has had his pluses and minuses with the Belarusian leader in recent years, bluntly explained that Lukashenko had asked him to form a “contingent (reserve) of members of the security forces.”
“And I did. But we also agreed that it will not be used as long as the situation does not get out of control,” Putin said in the interview with the television channel “Rossía 1”.
He specified that said forces will not be deployed as long as “extremist elements”, under the cover of “political slogans”, do not organize violent riots and “begin to burn cars, houses, banks and assault administrative buildings.”
“In the conversation we came to the conclusion that now there is no such need and I hope there is not. And that is why we do not use that contingent,” Putin insisted.
RUSSIAN OBLIGATIONS WITH BELARUS
The head of the Kremlin admitted that Russia has “obligations” with Belarus within the framework of multilateral agreements and treaties – the Organization of the Collective Security Treaty (CSTO), the armed wing of the post-Soviet space – and bilateral ones, among which the State Union mentioned. Russian-Belarusian, which Lukashenko refused to sign last year.
He stressed that these treaties oblige their member states to “help each other in defense of sovereignty, external borders and stability.”
“There is no need to hide anything. It is written there,” he added.
The State Union includes a common defense policy and the obligation to defend “the integrity and inviolability of the territory of the Union.”
As for the OTCS, a kind of post-Soviet Warsaw Pact, Russia could intervene militarily in Belarus, but only if Minsk requests it in the event of “external aggression”.
The Russian press warns that a Russian intervention would require the support, albeit tacit, of the other members of the organization, Kazakhstan, Armenia, Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan, countries that, therefore, would be subjected to great international pressure.
PACIFIC SETTLEMENT AND CRITICS TO THE WEST
Regarding the current situation, Putin stressed that things in Belarus are normalizing and expressed confidence that the country will regain stability.
“I hope that all problems, and there are, of course, if not people would not go out on the streets, that is something totally evident, they are fixed within the constitutional and legal framework, and by peaceful means,” he said.
He called on all parties to show “common sense” and find a way out of the Belarusian crisis “without extremism”.
In addition, he defended the actions of the Belarusian security forces, which he described as “quite contained”, and recalled the disproportionate use of force by the police in Western countries.
He also criticized the attitude of the Western powers, which he accused of trying to influence the ongoing events in Belarus, against which Russia has maintained a more “moderate” and “neutral” behavior.
Putin thus supported Minsk’s official line that the US and European countries are trying to destabilize the regime by sponsoring protests, something that Lukashenko accused Russia of throughout the election campaign.
“What happens there is not indifferent to us. It is a very close country, it may be that it is the closest country to us,” he said.
PUTIN ASKS FOR DIALOGUE, LUKASHENKO REJECTS IT
Putin also considered that if people go out, “everyone must take it into account, listen and react.”
And he recalled that Lukashenko was willing to study the possibility of undertaking a constitutional reform and calling new parliamentary and presidential elections under the new Constitution.
Meanwhile, he specified, “one cannot go outside the framework of the current Constitution,” in clear allusion to the opposition coordinating council, which Minsk considers unconstitutional.
In this regard, Lukashenko assured that “no one from the Government” will sit down to negotiate with the “brats” who are protesting in the streets and that the only possible dialogue is with workers, students, specialists, teachers and doctors.
“If there are people in their right mind in the opposition who see their country as free and independent, let them express their opinion, but not in the street. Under pressure from the street there will be no dialogue in Belarus,” he said.
Lukashenko, in power since 1994, admitted that “everyone wants a new political system,” so he encouraged Belarusians to submit proposals for constitutional reform.
And to the young people protesting in the streets, whom he threatened to abolish the extensions for military service, he reminded him that he has the support of 3 million people, including veterans, specialists and pensioners.
“They do not want to study, because to defend the mother country. It is in danger,” he said.