Belarus’ government projected the end of “brotherly” ties with Russia after accusations that Moscow is interfering in the Belarussian election.
The announcement comes as the Belarusian leader, Alexander Lukashenko, is facing opposition protests as a result of his treatment of opponents. Lukashenko has arrested Russian citizens and raided a bank with ties to Russia that was formerly headed by a now-jailed opposition candidate.
The Belarussian strongman has accused Russia of meddling in their election, in which Lukashenko is expected to secure a sixth term. He said that “puppeteers” and “Telegram channels” with ties to Russia are interfering in the vote.
The last straw – for both sides – was when Lukashenko’s KGB security forces arrested 33 Russians who he claimed were mercenaries dispatched over the border to stir unrest in the European country.
Russia and Belarus have long had a close relationship, both being part of the Soviet Union. The two countries form a “union state” that includes an integrated economic zone and military alliance. However, the relationship has recently been under tension.
Arseniy Sivitski, the director of the Center of Strategic and Foreign Policy Studies in Minsk, introduced the potentiality of a “point of no return, when relations between the two countries turn from brotherly and strategic into ordinary and practical.”
He continued to claim that Moscow “does not have any other close allies left” and cited it as the reason Belarus is so important to Russia.
Moscow has yet to comment on potential meddling in the election, describing the election as a domestic issue in Belarus.
Belarus’ Upcoming Election
Belarus’ upcoming election on Augustus 9 has caused uncommon protests and rallies in the tightly controlled country. The ex-Soviet state has seen increased persecution of political adversaries in the months leading up to the vote.
Most recently Valery Tsepkalo, Lukashenko’s main political opponent, fled to Russia due to fear of being arrested and stripped of parental rights if he stayed in Belarus. This development comes after Victor Babariko, a former political rival of Lukashenko, was arrested over claims of fraud and embezzlement.
Currently, three women are running against the incumbent leader. Veronica Tsepkalo and Maria Kolesnikova replaced Babariko after his arrest. Soon after, they announced that they would also back candidate Sventlana Tikhanovskaya.
The candidates are looking to end Lukashenko’s 25-year rule. The leader has been described as Europe’s last dictator and is facing increasing international criticism over the election and his handling of the coronavirus pandemic.