Belarus EX President to Visit Russia on Monday: Kremlin

The Kremlin said Friday that Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko will hold talks with Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin on Monday as he faces popular protests against his rule.

Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov told journalists the location of the “working visit” in Russia was yet to be announced and there was no plan for the leaders to hold a press conference. 

The visit will be the first to Russia by the Belarusian leader since protests broke out over his disputed election win.

It comes as Lukashenko has vowed that he will not give up power to the opposition, which claims its candidate Svetlana Tikhanovskaya was the rightful winner of the August 9 polls. She has taken shelter in Lithuania after coming under official pressure.

Lukashenko has had a volatile relationship with Russia, sometimes playing it off against the European Union, but since mass demonstrations against him began he has sought advice and help from Putin, with regular phone calls between the leaders.

Huge protests with a turnout of some 100,000 people have been held three weekends in a row in the capital Minsk, with another planned for the coming weekend.

The Kremlin previously said Lukashenko would visit in the next few weeks.

Russia is Lukashenko’s strongest ally and has offered the embattled leader military aid while pressing for closer integration with Belarus.

The two countries have already formed a “union state” that links their economies and militaries. Lukashenko has opposed full unification, but Putin has repeatedly called for closer ties.

In a symbolic gesture, the Russian Ambassador to Minsk, Dmitry Mezentsev, on Thursday handed a gift of a book of historic maps depicting Belarus when it was part of the Russian Empire to Lukashenko, who recently turned 66.

The authoritarian president in power for 26 years has harshly cracked down on the protest movement with thousands detained and those held in custody giving accounts of police violence and torture.

The opposition formed a Coordination Council to organize a peaceful handover of power but the Belarusian authorities have detained senior members and pressured them to leave the country.

One leading activist, Maria Kolesnikova, who is currently in jail in Minsk, issued a statement through lawyers saying security officers threatened to force her out of the country “alive or in pieces.”

She said she ripped up her passport to resist forced expulsion but has been jailed on suspicion of making calls for actions “aimed at harming national security.”

(c) The Moscow Times

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