20 January 2021,   01:23
Belarus leader pledges allegiance to Russia ahead of vote

Belarus’s authoritarian leader vowed Tuesday to maintain a close alliance with Russia despite the latest tensions as he seeks a sixth term in office amid a surge of opposition protests, writes Associated Press.

In a state-of-the-nation address ahead of Sunday’s election, President Alexander Lukashenko said the partnership between the neighbors reflects historic ties: “Russia has always been and will remain our close ally irrespective of who takes power in Belarus or Russia”.

That contrasts with Lukashenko’s diatribes against Russia last week, when Belarus’s security agency arrested 33 Russian security contractors at a sanitarium outside the Belarusian capital on charges of planning to stage mass riots. Moscow has dismissed the accusations, saying the contractors were heading to another country and stayed in Belarus after missing their transfer.

Even as he vowed to preserve warm relations with Russia, Lukashenko stood his ground on the arrested contractors, dismissing Moscow"s claim as lies. He asserted that those arrested told Belarusian investigators that they had been specifically sent to Belarus and told to wait for further orders.

He alleged that another group of “militants” had been sent to southern Belarus, adding that “we will have to run through the forests to catch them, but we will get them all.” He gave no details.

The Belarusian leader warned Moscow against trying to stoke tensions, adding that the instability could spread across the border and engulf Russia: “It will explode in such a way that it would reverberate all the way to Vladivostok”.