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Belarus leader ready to invite Russian troops 'if necessary'

KYIV, Ukraine (AP) — Belarus’ authoritarian president said Friday he is prepared to invite Russian troops into the country, if such a move is necessary to ensure the security of both Belarus and Russia.

But, President Alexander Lukashenko said, at the moment “there is absolutely no need” to do that.

In remarks carried by the state-run Belta news agency, Lukashenko stressed that he had dealt with last year’s antigovernment protests without involving other countries’ armed forces, but added that he would not hesitate to bring in Russian troops if necessary.

Belarus is able to quickly call to arms 500,000 of its own personnel, but “if it is not enough, all Russian armed forces will be brought in,” Lukashenko said, according to Belta. “If it is necessary, we won’t hesitate.”

Russia and Belarus have close military and defense ties. Two Russian radar stations providing communication with nuclear submarines in the Atlantic, Indian and parts of the Pacific are based in Belarus. In September, the two ex-Soviet nations are scheduled to conduct large-scale joint military exercises.

Until recently, Belarus had resisted Russia’s attempts to expand its military presence there and rejected Moscow’s requests to open an airbase and station additional troops in the country.

But in the political crisis that unfolded in Belarus after Lukashenko’s reelection to a sixth term in Aug. 2020, Russia promised its neighbor military support and allocated a $1.5 billion loan for Belarus.

Lukashenko faced months of protests that were triggered by his being announced the winner of an August 2020 vote that the opposition and the West saw as rigged. He responded to demonstrations with a massive crackdown that saw more than 35,000 people arrested and thousands beaten by police.

The United States and the European Union have imposed multiple sanctions targeting the Belarusian leadership and key sectors of its economy in the wake of the crisis.

Lukashenko has accused the West of an attempt to orchestrate a revolution in the country and plotting a coup, including by pressuring the country with sanctions.

“They seem to seek out our sore spots. They hit primarily the export sectors of the Belarusian economy: petrochemistry, mechanical engineering, potash, and so on. But the main goal is to leave the people without pensions, salaries, benefits, education, medical care and cause discontent among Belarusians,” Lukashenko said.

Yuras Karmanau, The Associated Press