Belarus, Russia could unite troops if West poses threat: Lukashenko

Belarusian leader also threatens to retaliate if sanctions are imposed over disputed election

MOSCOW • Belarusian leader Alexander Lukashenko said yesterday he had agreed with Russian President Vladimir Putin that their countries could unite their troops in the event of a threat from the West, the Belta state news agency reported.

Mr Lukashenko, who is facing the biggest challenge in his 26 years in power after protests and strikes erupted following a contested Aug 9 election, added that not a single Russian soldier has yet crossed the border into Belarus.

Mr Lukashenko also ordered half of the country's army to enter combat preparedness in response to what he said were threats from the West.

Yesterday, he also threatened to retaliate with reciprocal measures if any sanctions were imposed against his country over the disputed presidential election.

Speaking during a dairy factory visit in the country's east, Mr Lukashenko threatened to cut off transit routes through the country and boycott Lithuanian ports if sanctions were imposed.

"I've instructed the government to submit a proposal on reorienting all trade flows from Lithuanian ports to other ones," Belta quoted Mr Lukashenko as saying. "Let's see how they live with that."

However, Lithuania will continue working towards imposing sanctions on Belarus officials, President Gitanas Nauseda's spokesman told Reuters.

"The President supports effective sanctions on Belarus, at European, regional and national levels. They are used as an answer to violence of government institutions and human rights violations in the country", spokesman Antanas Bubnelis said.

European Union foreign ministers on Thursday sought sanctions against Belarus to pressure Mr Lukashenko into holding new elections. Mr Lukashenko denies electoral fraud and has persistently rejected the opposition's calls to hold a new vote.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel told reporters she had tried to speak to Mr Lukashenko by phone but he had declined.

Speaking of a reserve police force which Mr Putin said had been created at Mr Lukashenko's request, she said: "I hope that such troops are not deployed."

PROPOSED MOVE

I've instructed the government to submit a proposal on reorienting all trade flows from Lithuanian ports to other ones. Let's see how they live with that.

BELARUSIAN PRESIDENT ALEXANDER LUKASHENKO, threatening to cut off transit routes through the country and boycott Lithuanian ports if sanctions were imposed.

EU ministers are currently considering travel bans and asset freezes on up to 20 people responsible for a crackdown on demonstrators two weeks after the election they say was rigged.

The EU already has an arms embargo on Belarus, but in 2015, in a bid to improve ties with Mr Lukashenko, the bloc eased economic sanctions.

However, Western powers are keen to balance sympathy for a nascent Belarusian pro-democracy movement with concern that this could trigger a Russia-backed crackdown. Disruptions to energy supplies are also a fear.

Belarus is a conduit for Russian oil exports to Europe via the Druzhba pipeline. Energy supplies continue to flow smoothly, Polish oil and gas pipeline operators told Reuters.

REUTERS

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on August 29, 2020, with the headline 'Belarus, Russia could unite troops if West poses threat: Lukashenko'. Print Edition | Subscribe