Belarus accuses Russia of election meddling, seeks talks with Putin
By Andrei Makhovsky
MINSK (Reuters) - Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko accused the Russian and Polish armed forces on Thursday of interfering in his country's presidential campaign and trying to discredit him.
The former head of the collective farm, who has ruled Belarus for 26 years and allows little opposition, said he would discuss the alleged interference with Russian President Vladimir Putin. He didn't say when.
The 65-year-old Lukashenko faces the biggest challenge in years to hold his power in the August 9 elections as frustration with his handling of the coronavirus pandemic increases and grievances about the economy and human rights increase.
In comments made on the appointment of new ambassadors, Lukashenko said that outside forces were behind his opponents and spread information that discredited him and his family members.
"It is clear that the puppeteers are behind them. They are on one side and the other. They live in Poland and are supplied from Russia," he said. "We will talk about this in a meeting with President Putin in the near future."
According to Lukashenko, Belarusian government bonds fell by up to 2.5 cents.
Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov denied Lukashenko's allegations.
"Russia has never, is not, and does not intend to interfere in electoral processes, particularly those of our Belarusian ally," he told reporters.
Relations between Belarus and the traditional ally Russia have been tense in recent months when Moscow reduced the subsidies that supported Lukashenko. But Lukashenko’s crackdown on opponents should hamper his efforts to repair fences with the West.
A senior security officer under Lukashenko has accused Viktor Babariko, widely regarded as Lukashenko's most powerful opponent, by being controlled by Russian "puppeteers".
Babariko was head of Belgazprombank, the local unit of Russian Gazprombank, before applying for president. Lukashenko said the bank's money will be used to fund Babariko's campaign and the authorities have launched criminal proceedings against the lender.
Babariko's campaign team called the allegations against him "an absurdity". He was arrested last week and sparked another round of protests. Human rights defenders say 360 people have been arrested over the past few days.
(Letter from Matthias Williams, editor at Timothy Heritage)
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