Belarus's leader pleads for Putin's help as post-election protests grow | World news | The Guardian


Summary generated on August 15, 2020

    The embattled Belarusian president, Alexander Lukashenko, has called on Vladimir Putin to help him quell the growing wave of protest inside the country, which has left his legitimacy in tatters and his regime facing its biggest crisis since he first came to power 26 years ago.

    Lukashenko appealed to the Russian president's visceral fear of revolution at home and suggested that if his regime fell, Putin too was in danger.

    "This is a threat not just to Belarus if Belarusians do not hold out, the wave will head over there too," he said in televised remarks to a meeting of advisers on Saturday, claiming that the protests were organised by shadowy figures from abroad. "Both sides expressed confidence that all the problems that have arisen will be resolved soon," said a Kremlin transcript of a phone call between the two men, which took place later yesterday.

    Lukashenko's words came as protest organisers said they would hold what they believe would be the biggest demonstration in Belarusian history on Sunday, following a week in which events moved with remarkable speed after Lukashenko claimed to have secured 80% of the vote in last Sunday's presidential election.

    Tens of thousands of protesters yesterday again took over the centre of Minsk, some chanting Tikhanovskaya's name.

    After horrific violence last week, riot police have left protesters alone since Thursday, but the appeal to Putin, plus a threat that those who continue to come out on to the streets would be "Cannon fodder", suggestthat Lukashenko is considering a new crackdown.

    At midday yesterday, thousands gathered at Pushkinskaya, an intersection on the outskirts of Minsk, to pay their respects to Alexander Taraikovsky, who was the first confirmed death of the protest last Monday night.

    It was hard to believe only five days had passed since the incident, as protesters gathered in the sunshine yesterday.

    The level of violence was shocking even in a region where the riot police are known for showing little mercy towards political protesters.

    Throughout last week, Lukashenko provided a masterclass in how to win an election and lose all legitimacy within the space of a few days.

    It is possible that if he had acted with more restraint - rigging the vote with a more plausible margin of victory, or crushing the protests but without the systematic sadism - he could now be sailing towards another term of stagnant authoritarianism.

    Columns of protesting teachers and doctors have marched through Minsk in recent days; miners and factory workers have gone on strike along with musicians and IT professionals.

    A young man on a scooter held up flowers; a heavy-set track-suited taxi driver pulled his car closer to the pavement so he could high-five the protesters as he drove by; an elderly woman with a nest of bleached blond hair unexpectedly flashed a victory sign from aboard a bus.

    In the regions, too, there have been daily protests.

    She said she has never voted nor attended a protest before Thursday.

    On Friday evening, Lukashenko angrily warned people not go out to the streets, telling them they were being used by shadowy foreign forces as "Cannon fodder", an ominous statement given that he is the man holding the cannon.

    In the end riot police did not move against protesters outside parliament later in the evening.

    Still, Putin will be keen to keep Belarus as a strategic ally and not to see street protests win out in yet another neighbouring state.

    Protest organisers have called for everyone to converge on central Minsk at lunchtime today, in what may be a crunch moment for both the protesters and the regime.

    For some, the cheering and celebrations of protesters seem dangerously premature.