Russia said it was prepared to provide security support to Alexander Lukashenko, as tens of thousands of opponents of the Belarusian strongman took to the streets for an eighth day, calling for him to step down.
The Kremlin said President Vladimir Putin had spoken to his Belarusian counterpart taking into account “pressure exerted on [Belarus] from the outside”, and had offered to provide assistance “if necessary” through a collective security pact of former Soviet states.
The Kremlin’s backing came as Mr Lukashenko delivered a defiant speech to a rally of his supporters in the Belarusian capital Minsk, in which he accused Nato of massing on the country’s western border, and insisted that he would not rerun last week’s presidential election.
“If someone wants to give away the country, even when I am dead, I will not allow it,” he said, according to the state-run news agency, Belta. “Remember: I have never betrayed you and I never will betray you.”
However, Mr Lukashenko’s rally was overshadowed by a huge opposition gathering around the Stela second world war monument in Minsk, where thousands of protesters rallied chanting “Leave! Leave!”, amid a cacophony of blaring car horns.
The eastern European nation has endured