Belarus leader looks to Putin to help him cling on to power


Belarus’s embattled strongman Alexander Lukashenko mopped his brow under Vladimir Putin‘s gaze today as he flew to Russia to beg for the Kremlin’s support.

The man nicknamed the ‘last dictator in Europe’ cut a submissive figure as he pleaded with Putin to back his regime while the bored-looking Russian president said he was ‘sure’ that Lukashenko could survive in power.  

Lukashenko is facing the gravest crisis of his 26-year rule and has failed to reclaim the streets from protesters since claiming victory in a disputed election last month. 

But economic and military support from Moscow – including a $1.5billion loan which Putin offered today – could help tip the balance in Lukashenko’s favour as his security forces crack down hard on the opposition.

The key meeting in Sochi today came as the UN rights chief decried hundreds of allegations of torture amid the crackdown on protests in Belarus, calling for investigations into all reports of ill-treatment, and for perpetrators to be tried. 

Feeling the heat: Alexander Lukashenko (left) mops his brow under the gaze of Russia's president Vladimir Putin today as he pleads for Russia's support to stay in power in Belarus

Feeling the heat: Alexander Lukashenko (left) mops his brow under the gaze of Russia’s president Vladimir Putin today as he pleads for Russia’s support to stay in power in Belarus 

Plea for help: Lukashenko leaned towards the Russian president as he begged for the Kremlin's support while the bored-looking Putin said he was 'sure' the crisis would be resolved

Plea for help: Lukashenko leaned towards the Russian president as he begged for the Kremlin’s support while the bored-looking Putin said he was ‘sure’ the crisis would be resolved 

Make or break: The 'last dictator in Europe' appeared to be feeling the pressure as he battles to extend his 26-year term in power

Make or break: The ‘last dictator in Europe’ appeared to be feeling the pressure as he battles to extend his 26-year term in power 

At ease: Putin made himself comfortable during the summit at the Black Sea resort of Sochi

At ease: Putin made himself comfortable during the summit at the Black Sea resort of Sochi 

‘Emotional’ Lukashenko meets ‘distracted’ Putin: Body language expert on Sochi summit

Body language expert Judi James said Lukashenko appeared ’emotional’ and ‘under pressure’ as he pleaded with Vladimir Putin to save his regime. 

Putin looked ‘distracted’ and showed signs of ‘impatience’, she said – but spread his legs to show ‘confidence and status’ compared to his embattled visitor. 

‘The power signals all seem to belong to Putin here as he sits in full alpha splay mode, facing front and with his arms and knees spread to register confidence and status,’ she said. 

‘His role seems to be mainly that of listener as Lukashenko offers something of a monologue so emotional it lacks much in the way of pauses. 

‘In contrast, Lukashenko sits slewed diagonally in his chair, facing Putin and, with his feet stretched off to his right and his forearm on the chair arm between the them, he appears to want to minimize the spatial distance caused by the round table. 

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‘Lukashenko’s gestures suggest a desire to convince or persuade when his hands open, palms displayed, but when he closes his hands the clasp forms what looks like a plead gesture and the thumb-rub looks like a self-comfort ritual. 

‘His eyebrows are raised like his tone and when he pats his brow with a hankie it makes it appear he is under some pressure here.’

Putin was picking at the arm of his chair, tapping his fingertips on the furniture and playing with his tie while Lukashenko spoke, she said. 

‘Distraction rituals can have several meanings, including links with hunting in the animal kingdom, but some of these look like metronomic rituals to suggest Putin is keen to move onto the proper discussions,’ she said. 

‘Apart from signals of what could be impatience his mood looks good in terms of cool confidence as his thumbs are up and one of his toes also raises.’

Body language expert Judi James told MailOnline that Putin appeared ‘distracted’ at today’s summit, fidgeting with his armchair and playing with his tie while listening to Lukashenko’s pleas for support. 

‘The power signals all seem to belong to Putin here as he sits in full alpha splay mode, facing front and with his arms and knees spread to register confidence and status,’ she said. 

‘His role seems to be mainly that of listener as Lukashenko offers something of a monologue so emotional it lacks much in the way of pauses.’

At one point Lukashenko closed his hand in ‘what looks like a plead gesture’, she said, while patting his brow with a handkerchief in a gesture which ‘makes it appear he is under some pressure here’.  

The Belarusian opposition accuses Lukashenko of rigging last month’s presidential election, which he says he won fairly with 80 per cent of the vote. 

Since then, thousands of people have been arrested and nearly all the opposition’s key leaders have been detained, deported or forced to flee the country.

At least 100,000 protesters took to the streets of the capital Minsk on Sunday, taunting Lukashenko with chants of ‘You’re a rat’. Police said they detained over 400 people.

Footage showed crowds of women taking on security forces despite one female protester being bundled into a vehicle by Lukashenko’s riot police. 

One elderly woman was loudly cheered after whacking a man with a broom as he tried to escape a crowd of protesters. 

‘Given their scale and number, all allegations of torture and other forms of ill-treatment by the security forces should be documented and investigated, with a view to bringing the perpetrators to justice,’ Michelle Bachelet told the opening of the UN Human Rights Council’s 45th session in Geneva. 

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Putin’s actions so far suggest he has no desire to see the leader of a neighbouring ex-Soviet country toppled by pressure from the streets – even if Lukashenko has often proved a prickly and difficult ally.

The opposition has dismissed Lukashenko’s talk about constitutional reform as an attempt to win time and assuage the protesters’ anger. 

But Putin hailed it as a ‘timely and reasonable’ move that would help ‘reach a new level in the development of the political system.’ 

Putin also said that Russia would provide a $1.5billion loan to Belarus and fulfill all its obligations under a union treaty between the two neighbours. 

‘We want Belarusians themselves, without prompting and pressure from outside, to sort out this situation in a calm manner and through dialogue and to find a common solution,’ Putin said. 

‘I’m sure that considering your experience… work in this direction will be organised at the highest level and allow the development of the country’s political system to reach new heights,’ he told Lukashenko.  

‘First of all, I want to thank you…personally thank you and all Russians, all those, and I will not list them, who were involved in supporting us during this post-election time,’ Lukashenko said after the talks. 

The 66-year-old, who has played down the dangers of the coronavirus, arrived without a mask at the Black Sea resort earlier today.  

Belarusian opposition supporters take part in a rally on Sunday where at least 100,000 protesters took to the streets of Minsk, taunting Lukashenko with chants of 'You're a rat'

Belarusian opposition supporters take part in a rally on Sunday where at least 100,000 protesters took to the streets of Minsk, taunting Lukashenko with chants of ‘You’re a rat’

President Alexander Lukashenko of Belarus is seeking the backing of Russia's Vladimir Putin at a crucial meeting today (pictured, the pair in calmer times in February 2019)

President Alexander Lukashenko of Belarus is seeking the backing of Russia’s Vladimir Putin at a crucial meeting today (pictured, the pair in calmer times in February 2019) 

Belarusian women take on Lukashenko’s security forces 

Belarusian women were at the forefront of the protests in Minsk this weekend – with one woman taking on the regime armed with a broom. 

The elderly woman was loudly cheered after whacking a man, reputedly a Belarusian security agent, over the head as he tried to escape protesters.  

Footage showed another crowd of women trying to rip the balaclavas from the faces of Lukashenko’s riot police, who fought back by trying to bundle one of the women away. 

Separate footage showed a woman being thrown into the back of a van while masked troopers look on. 

Three women – Svetlana Tikhanovskaya, Maria Kolesnikova and Veronika Tsepkalo – were at the forefront of the opposition’s election campaign, with Tikhanovskaya claiming victory in a poll that her supporters say was rigged. 

She has since fled to Lithuania while Kolesnikova allegedly fended off an attempt to deport her to Ukraine by tearing up her passport.     

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The Kremlin leader said last month he had set up a ‘reserve police force’ at Lukashenko’s request, but it would be deployed only if needed. 

Hours before the summit, Russian news agencies reported Moscow was sending paratroopers for joint ‘Slavic Brotherhood’ military drills with Belarus which will last until September 25.  

Russia has also offered to restructure Belarusian debt and support the banking system.

The cost of further backing from the Kremlin could be Lukashenko’s acceptance of even greater Russian dominance in the relationship between the two countries.

The Kremlin has long pushed for closer political and economic integration with Minsk, including a joint currency, but Lukashenko has resisted the pressure from his more powerful neighbour.

But his position could become increasingly precarious if the protests persist and continue to grow.

The Kremlin said the talks would cover the ‘prospects for moving forward integration processes’, adding that the leaders would discuss the countries’ strategic partnership as well as trade and energy ties.

Russia dwarfs Belarus and provides it with cheap fuel, while Belarus is strategically important to Russia as a buffer zone against the EU and NATO. 

The two countries have already formed a close relationship as a ‘union state’ with strong military and economic links and an open border until the coronavirus outbreak.  

The latest mass protest, called the March of Heroes, saw police detain more than 500 demonstrators in Minsk as well as more than two hundred in other cities, according to the interior ministry. 

‘We have to show with this march that he doesn’t control the country, that he is not in a position to speak on behalf of Belarusians,’ said Gennady, 35, a logistics worker. 

The most brutal crackdown came in the days after the August 9 election when police detained nearly 7,000 people and three people died on the streets or in custody . 

Opposition leader Svetlana Tikhanovskaya, who claims she was the true winner of the election, condemned Putin for negotiating with ‘illegitimate Lukashenko.’ 

‘I really regret you decided to hold dialogue with a usurper and not with the Belarusian people,’ said Tikhanovskaya, who has taken refuge in Lithuania. 

Opposition leaders Svetlana Tikhanovskaya (left) and Maria Kolesnikova (right) during a rally before the disputed August election

Opposition leaders Svetlana Tikhanovskaya (left) and Maria Kolesnikova (right) during a rally before the disputed August election 

Belarusian opposition supporters take part in a rally against presidential election results, in central Minsk, Belarus on September 13

Belarusian opposition supporters take part in a rally against presidential election results, in central Minsk, Belarus on September 13



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