Russian President Vladimir Putin has warned he stands ready to send police to Belarus if protests there turn violent.
Belarus’s authoritarian president of 26 years, Alexander Lukashenko, is facing widespread daily protests against his re-election to a sixth term, which came in a vote on August 9 the opposition claims was rigged.
Mr Putin told Russia’s state television that Mr Lukashenko has asked him to prepare a Russian law enforcement contingent to deploy to Belarus if necessary to help stabilise the country.
Mr Putin has agreed, but said there is no such need now, and “I hope there won’t be”.
He said he and Mr Lukashenko agreed Russia will send a contingent to help only if “the situation spins out of control” and extremist groups unleash violence and try to seize government buildings.
In an apparent jab at the West that condemned Mr Lukashenko’s crackdown on protesters and urged him to launch a dialogue with the opposition, Mr Putin accused unidentified foreign forces of trying to win political advantages from the turmoil in Belarus.
Russia has a union agreement with Belarus for close political, economic and military ties, and sees its neighbour as a key bulwark against Western expansion and an important conduit for Russian energy exports.
Mr Lukashenko on Thursday accused Belarus’s other neighbours of open interference in its affairs with a push for a new election in what he described as a “hybrid war” and “diplomatic carnage”.
He claimed Poland is harbouring plans to take over the Grodno region on the border, prompting the deployment of additional Belarusian troops to the frontier.
The United States and the European Union have criticised the August 9 election that extended Mr Lukashenko’s rule as neither free nor fair, and have encouraged Belarusian authorities to engage in a dialogue with the opposition.
The Belarusian leader, who has ruled the nation of 9.5 million with an iron fist since 1994, has dismissed the protesters as Western puppets.
After a brutal crackdown on demonstrators in the first days of post-election protests, which caused international outrage and helped swell protesters’ numbers, the authorities changed tactics and let daily demonstrations go unhindered for nearly two weeks.
The government, meanwhile, has maintained pressure on the opposition with threats and selective jailing of its leaders.
On Wednesday, police dispersed protesters who gathered on the capital’s main Independence Square, detaining dozens. The action signalled a return to force, albeit without violence that marked the post-election crackdown when nearly 7,000 people were detained, hundreds were injured and at least three protesters died.