Isolated from the west and besieged by mass protests, the Belarusian leader Alexander Lukashenko has made repeated calls for Vladimir Putin to intervene and save his 26-year-old regime.
In telephone calls to the Kremlin on Saturday and Sunday, he sought confirmation that Russia would provide military assistance against external threats, while warning supporters that the country was under foreign pressure.
“Lithuania, Latvia, Poland and our native Ukraine, their leadership are ordering us to hold new elections,” Lukashenko said in a speech. “If we follow their lead, we will go into a tailspin … we will perish as a people, as a state, as a nation.”
In a statement, the Kremlin said Moscow stood ready to provide help in accordance with a collective military pact. It also said Belarus was under external pressure, without naming the source.
But Putin has stopped short of offering support or an endorsement of Lukashenko, who is facing the gravest crisis of his career. It is likely that Moscow will wait and see whether Lukashenko can survive the next weeks or even days, as protests and labour strikes grow and pressure mounts on him to leave office.
“Now it’s clear that Lukashenko’s era is over, and I think that’s clear for everyone in Moscow, including in the Kremlin,” said Dmitry Suslov, a professor and foreign affairs expert at Moscow’s Higher School of Economics.
Even if the Belarusian leader does limp through this crisis, Suslov said, his model of president-for-life probably will not. People around Lukashenko are reported to have already sounded out the Kremlin on fleeing to Russia if he is deposed, according to a Bloomberg report.
The images of popular revolution in another post-Soviet nation have evoked nervous comparisons to Russia’s intervention in Ukraine in 2014. Others have looked back to Soviet-era crackdowns. Andrej Babiš, the prime minister of the Czech Republic, tweeted on Sunday: “What happened to us in 1968 must not happen in Belarus. The European Union must act.”