Lukashenka Meeting Putin In Sochi After Weeks Of Mass Protests

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Belarusian President Alyaksandr Lukashenka will meet on September 14 with Russian President Vladimir Putin in the first face-to-face talks between the two leaders since a wave of demonstrations demanding Lukashenka’s resignation erupted following his disputed reelection last month.

Lukashenka will sit down for the crucial talks with the man he calls his “older brother” in the Russian Black Sea resort of Sochi as the Belarusian leader faces protests that show no sign of abating.

Belarus has witnessed daily demonstrations since Lukashenka, in power since 1994, was declared the winner of the August 9 poll. Thousands have been detained and hundreds beaten by police in a brutal crackdown that has been condemned by the United States and European Union.

The meeting follows the fifth consecutive weekend of large protests in Minsk and other cities in the former Soviet republic. Protests on September 13 drew tens of thousands of Belarusians into the streets, with chants of, “You’re a rat!” and, “Sasha, you’re fired!”

The Interior Ministry reported more than 400 arrests.

The Belarusian opposition, led by Svyatlana Tsikhanouskaya, accuses Lukashenka of rigging the election, which handed Lukashenka a sixth term with 80 percent of the vote. Since then, thousands of people have been arrested and nearly all the opposition’s key leaders have been arrested or forced to leave the country.

Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said on September 11 that the talks would focus on energy cooperation and bilateral ties.

Lukashenka could also request economic and military support from Moscow. Russia and Belarus plan to take part in joint Slavic Brotherhood military drills set to begin on September 14.

Russia’s Defense Ministry said on September 13 that a Russian paratrooper division would participate alongside Belarusian soldiers in the annual tactical exercise at a training range in western Belarus.

Putin and Lukashenka have discussed the situation in Belarus several times by phone. Last month, the Russian president called on both the Belarusian authorities and the opposition to find a political solution to the crisis.

He also promised military assistance under a bilateral military pact between the two countries and said a contingent of Russian security forces had been assembled but wouldn’t be used “unless extremist elements in Belarus cross the line and begin acts of looting.”

He praised the Belarusian response to the protests and said in an interview with the state TV channel Rossia-24 on August 27 that Russia’s reactions had been “much more reserved and neutral that of other countries, Europeans and Americans.”

But he also said Russia is not “indifferent to what is going on there,” noting the close ethnic and linguistic ties and economic cooperation between the two states.

Putin in the past has pressed Lukashenka on closer political and economic integration, but Lukashenka has resisted. His need for Moscow’s backing now, however, might mean Lukashenka will have to reconsider Russia’s overtures.

With reporting by Reuters

News – Radio Free Europe / Radio Liberty

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