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‘An internal issue’: Russia has shown ‘much more restraint’ in its response to events in Belarus than EU & US, says Putin

Russia is closely following events in Belarus, which is gripped by post-election protests, but it has shown much more prudence than the West in doing so, President Vladimir Putin said, firing back at claims of meddling by Moscow.

‘An internal issue’: Russia has shown ‘much more restraint’ in its response to events in Belarus than EU & US, says Putin

Photo: www.rt.com

“We believe this is, first and foremost, an internal matter for Belarusian society and the people of Belarus,” Putin told the Russia-1 TV channel in an interview aired on Saturday. He was referring to mass protests that have rumbled on for weeks after officials declared a landslide victory for incumbent Alexander Lukashenko in the presidential election. The outcome has prompted accusations of electoral fraud from the opposition.

After the protests broke out, some European Union leaders called on Moscow not to interfere in Belarus amid media speculation that Russia would be sending or has already dispatched military to the country. Both Minsk and the Kremlin have rubbished the claims.

On the other hand, the EU, which, unlike Moscow, has refused to recognize the election, agreed this week to slap sanctions on about 20 Belarusian officials whom it deems responsible for the post-election crackdown. Poland and the Czech Republic went a step further and called for a new election to be held.

Likewise, the US has already signaled its support for Svetlana Tikhanovskaya, officially the runner up in the contest. On Monday, the exiled former candidate met with US Deputy Secretary of State Stephen Biegun in Lithuania to discuss “strengthening democracy and human rights in the country."

“We are acting in a much more restrained and unbiased way than many other nations in Europe and America, including the US, as far as the events in Belarus are concerned,” Putin said, adding that Russia still keeps close tabs on Belarus, since it is “probably the closest country to Russia ethnically, culturally and spiritually.” 

Russia and Belarus are part of the Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO), a collection of six former Soviet countries that pledged to provide “necessary assistance, including military" to each other "in case of an act of aggression.” Putin clarified, however, that Lukashenko has asked him to have a detail of law enforcement officers on standby rather than military if the situation escalates.

The group has been formed, the Russian leader confirmed, saying Moscow expects the crisis to be resolved “peacefully,” and all those who violated the law, be they police officers or protesters, will be brought to justice.

We agreed that the group would not be deployed unless the situation in Belarus spirals completely out of control

Outlining the circumstances that may call for Russia’s assistance, Putin said that Moscow would not involve itself in Belarus unless “extremist elements acting under the cover of political slogans cross certain red lines and engage in banditry, start burning houses and banks, try storming government buildings.”

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