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Putin backs Minsk’s response to protesters, says Russian troops prepared to deploy

Vladimir Putin and Aleksandr Lukashenko (Пресс-служба Президента России/WikiCommons)

This article was originally published by Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty and is reprinted with permission.

Russian President Vladimir Putin has praised Minsk’s response to postelection protests — claiming after he announced Moscow’s preparations to bolster President Alyaksandr Lukashenka’s regime with Russian security forces that the Kremlin is more “neutral” on the Belarusian crisis than the United States or the European Union.

“In my opinion, our behavior in relation to events in Belarus is much more reserved and neutral that of other countries, Europeans and Americans,” Putin said during an interview with the state TV channel Rossia-24 on August 27.

“However, we are certainly not indifferent to what is going on there,” Putin said, listing close ethnic and linguistic ties and economic cooperation between the two states.

Putin also called on both the Belarusian authorities and the opposition to find a political solution to the crisis over Lukashenka’s disputed reelection and the brutal crackdown by Belarusian police against protesters since the August 9 vote.

Despite international condemnation of the crackdown, Putin said that “Belarusian law enforcement agencies are demonstrating fairly reserved behavior, no matter what.”

Putin said a contingent of Russian security forces has been assembled and is prepared to deploy to Belarus in the event of “looting” by demonstrators who claim the official vote tally was rigged in Lukashenka’s favor.

“Russian forces won’t be used unless extremist elements in Belarus cross the line and begin acts of looting,” Putin said.

Putin and Lukashenka have discussed the situation in Belarus several times.

Shortly after mass protests broke out across Belarus over the official election results, Russia offered military assistance to Lukashenka under the terms of the Collective Security Treaty Organization alliance — although the Kremlin later walked back on that pledge.

Putin also claimed that the detention by Belarus of 33 Russian mercenaries ahead of the contentious vote had been set up by Ukrainian and U.S. intelligence agencies.

The discovery of members of the private mercenary group Vagner on Belarusian soil in July had led Lukashenka to claim that Russia was seeking to “destabilize the situation during the election campaign.”

Putin, however, said their detention was “a joint operation of Ukrainian and American intelligence agencies.”

He did not offer evidence to support the claim other than to say “well-informed people do not even hide this at this point.”

Vaccine Concerns

Putin also touched on a variety of other topics during his interview, including the COVID-19 pandemic and Russia’s ailing economy.

He urged Russians to comply with coronavirus restrictions, reminding them that “the virus is still here, no matter how inconvenient that might be.”

The Russian president also repeated his claim that Russia’s COVID-19 vaccine is safe and effective.

The Russian vaccine has been touted by Putin and other Russian authorities. But is has prompted concerns among medical experts because it was registered by Moscow before undergoing sufficient testing on humans.

“We passed pre-clinical and clinical trials on animals and volunteers,” Putin said. “It is clear today to our specialists that this vaccine gives a sustainable immunity, antibodies emerge, just like they did in my daughter’s case, and is harmless.”

“Thank God, my daughter is feeling well,” Putin said, following up on his earlier announcement that his daughter was among the handful of people who had voluntarily taken part in the vaccine’s initial test trial on humans.

Turning to the economy, Putin said Russia’s inflation rate would remain stable at about 3.4 percent through 2020.

“It would be better if [the price of oil] is slightly higher,” Putin said. “Nevertheless, our reserves are growing.”