Sat, 19 Sep 2020

Belarusian President Alyaksandr Lukashenka has discussed the mass street protests rocking his country with Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin, Belarusian state media report.

The phone conversation on August 15 came as Lukashenka faces growing pressure to step down following a disputed election that has triggered unprecedented protests and a harsh government crackdown.

'The presidents discussed the situation that is unfolding inside and around Belarus,' state news agency BelTA reported, citing Lukashenka's press service, without providing any details.

Thousands of Belarusians staged a seventh day of peaceful protests on August 15 over the rigged August 9 vote and a bloody crackdown that has drawn international outrage.

Postelection Crackdown In Belarus

Read our coverage as Belarusian security forces violently crack down on protesters who are disputing official results that gave incumbent President Alyaksandr Lukashenka a landslide victory in the August 9 vote.

The nationwide protests pose the biggest challenge yet to Lukashenka's 26-year rule.

Earlier, Lukashenka said he wanted to speak to Putin, warning that street protests were not just a threat to Belarus.

'There is a need to contact Putin so that I can talk to him now, because it is not a threat to just Belarus anymore,' he said, according to BelTA.

Over the years, Lukashenka has cemented his reputation as a political survivor -- weaving between Moscow and the West to leverage Belarus's strategic position -- while in recent years welcoming in Chinese influence and investment to gain space to rebuff Russia.

SEE ALSO: Belarusian Protests Upend Lukashenka's Geopolitical Game With Russia, China, The West

The postelection turmoil comes after a period of rising tensions between Minsk and Moscow over Russian loans, subsidized energy, and Kremlin efforts to further integrate Belarus through a union-state treaty.

While Putin did congratulate Lukashenka on his 'victory' at the polls, his statement implied conditions for Russian support, and Moscow is looking for ways to gain leverage over a weakened Lukashenka, who is desperate for help.

'Defending Belarus today is no less than defending our entire space, the union state, and an example to others,' Lukashenka added. 'If Belarus cannot withstand it, this wave will roll there.'

With reporting by Reuters and AFP

Copyright (c) 2018. RFE/RL, Inc. Republished with the permission of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, 1201 Connecticut Ave NW, Ste 400, Washington DC 20036

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