Russia Backs Lukashenko’s Constitution Reform for Belarus

Russia praised its embattled ally Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko’s proposals for constitutional changes, describing them as the best way to resolve unprecedented mass protests against his 26-year rule.

Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov urged Belarusian civil society groups to participate in drafting the country’s new basic law on Tuesday.

“They should take part if they want to get out of this crisis with a strengthened country and not stir up conflict,” Lavrov said in a question-and-answer session with students at the Moscow State Institute of International Relations. “We see attempts to rock the situation.”

Tens of thousands of Belarusians have been protesting each weekend since Lukashenko, 66, secured a sixth term with over 80% of the vote on Aug. 9, sparking accusations of fraud. Russian President Vladimir Putin last week said he’d agreed to send police reinforcements to help quell the unrest in Belarus if needed and rejected the possibility of reviewing the presidential ballot’s results. The U.S. the European Union have refused to accept Lukashenko’s re-election.

Read More: Why the Strongman of Belarus Is Fighting for Survival: QuickTake

The opposition claims candidate Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya won the election and has called on Lukashenko to begin talks on handing over power. His offer of constitutional changes — something he’s proposed in the past without following through on — has won little support among his critics.

On Monday, he announced plans to hold a referendum on constitutional revisions focused on court reforms. Lukashenko has rejected opposition calls to return to the 1994 constitution that was later amended to strengthen the presidency’s powers.

The Belarusian leader responded with mass arrests and a brutal security crackdown which has failed to stamp out the demonstrations and strike actions by workers. Students marching in Minsk Tuesday against the government were met by riot police.

Belarus, a nation of 9.5 million sandwiched between Russia and three members of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, is seen as a key bulwark by the Kremlin against encroachment by the U.S.-led military alliance.

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