Putin ‘could send troops into Belarus to prop up dictator pal’ as thousands take to streets over ‘sham’ election

VLADIMIR Putin could send troops into Belarus to prop up his dictator pal after thousands took to the streets to protest the “sham” election.

Alexander Lukashenko, who has ruled the country for 26 years, yesterday declared he had won again with 80 per cent of the vote.

But there are fears of widespread vote-rigging by the Kremlin ally, with independent experts placing his actual support at as little as three per cent.

The main opposition, which drew some of the biggest crowds since the fall of the Soviet Union in 1991 to its rallies, has rejected the result.

And there were violent clashes with cops for the second night running last night after thousands of furious Belarusians poured onto the streets to demonstrate.

Analysts say this is the deepest crisis Lukashenko has faced during his rule.

Professor David Marples of the University of Alberta said: “It’s certainly the biggest protest I’ve ever seen in Belarus since Lukashenko came to power.

“In terms of the elections that Lukashenko’s held, there’s been nothing like it.

“It seems to me that the whole country really is in favour of change.”


But Russia has a vested interest in neighbouring Belarus and Putin was quick to congratulate “Europe's last dictator” on his victory.

If it appears Lukashenko’s time is up, Vlad could try to hijack the transition to make sure power passes to another pro-Russia tyrant, an expert has warned.

But if that fails he could send in troops and tanks like he did in Ukraine if he feels his despot pal is about to be replaced by a pro-Western government, they added.

Gustav Gressel is a senior policy fellow with the Wider Europe Programme at the European Council on Foreign Relations' Berlin office.

He told Sun Online: “Moscow is following this closely and they have very deep ties with the country, including intelligence, financial, and economic ties.

“Now if the new leaders are seen as being in the interest of Moscow, Moscow might come along with them.

“Moscow has managed leadership transitions in its dominions (Abkhazia, Armenia), so if they think it contributes to their interests, they will try to puppeteer the transition.

“If on the other hand they are unsure or suspicious of the new leaders that emerge, they will use pressure, intimidation, subversion – and as a last resort also military force.”

Putin has showed before he will stop at nothing to make sure Russia’s neighbours are run by his friends.

When the pro-Kremlin Ukrainian president Viktor Yanukovych was toppled by popular protests in 2014, thousands of Russian soldiers poured into the country within days.

The troops were dubbed “little green men” as they were masked and carried no Russian insignia, allowing Putin to brazenly deny they were his men.

But Russia soon officially annexed Ukraine’s Crimea region, as well as propping up a breakaway pro-Russian state in Ukraine’s east in a war that killed thousands and is still rumbling on to this day.


Some fear Putin could follow a similar course of action in Belarus, if he senses things aren’t going his way.

But Gressel says the world faces a nervous wait as the situation there is slightly different to Ukraine six years ago, and the unrest could rumble on for some time yet before the Kremlin reveals its hand.

He said: “In Belarus things are different. Hence, the Kremlin keeps its hand close and hidden.

“In Ukraine the threats against Kyiv became gradually more since summer 2013.

“Now they are silent. They wait and see.”

Lukashenko has met this week’s protests with a brutal crackdown that has already seen at least two demonstrators killed.

Gangs of cops were pictured battering helpless protesters with truncheons, firing rubber bullets and tear gas.

The dictator called the demonstrators “sheep” under foreign control who were “wanting to spoil the holiday”.

“I warned that there wouldn’t be a Maidan, however much some people want that,” Lukashenko said on Monday, referring to the 2014 Ukraine uprising. “People need to settle down, calm down.”

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