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‘Belarusians must solve their problems themselves’ Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov finally comments on the crisis in Belarus

Source: Meduza
STR / EPA / Scanpix / LETA

Belarus has witnessed sustained opposition protests since August 9, when state officials declared a landslide re-election victory for long-time incumbent President Alexander Lukashenko (Alyaksandr Lukashenka). The united opposition, led by presidential candidate Svetlana Tikhanovskaya (Svyatlana Tsikhanouskaya), says the election was rigged and refuses to recognize the results of the vote. Meanwhile, Vladimir Putin was among the first world leaders to congratulate Lukashenko on his alleged win. Here’s what Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov told the press on August 19 about the crisis still unfolding in Belarus.

Kommersant FM: How does the Kremlin assess what’s happening in Belarus? Today they started arresting protesters again and many countries have condemned the use of violence against them. Is Moscow prepared to do this?

Dmitry Peskov: Belarus is our Union State and a brotherly country to us. And the Belarusian people are a brotherly people to us. We treat everything that happens in Belarus as the internal affairs of that country. We believe that everyone should do everything required to create conditions for managing the situation within a legal framework, in which the necessary dialogue could take place. And, of course, we believe that in the current situation, the main thing is that there’s no outside interference in what is happening in Belarus now. We regret that attempts at this kind of direct intervention are taking place. We ourselves consider this kind of interference unacceptable. 

Kommersant FM: Could you offer an example of this kind of interference?

Dmitry Peskov: I’ve said everything that I wanted to say at this time.

Kommersant FM: Several countries aren’t recognizing the results of the recent elections and are calling for new ones. Will the Kremlin recognize the election results? Does Belarus need new elections with the involvement of international observers?

Dmitry Peskov: First of all, international observers were present during the elections. You know that a lot of organizations, such as PACE and the OSCE, abandoned monitoring missions for these elections. The international observers that were [there] recorded the vote that took place. This is the de jure and de facto situation with regard to international observers. We’ll repeat it one more time: we are in favor of the situation staying within a legal framework; the Belarusians must solve their problems themselves, within this legal framework and within the framework of a dialogue. 

Kommersant FM: Alexander Lukashenko talked about some kind of assistance from the Russian side after his conversation with Vladimir Putin. There was one quote in particular: “When it comes to the military dimension, we have an agreement with the Russian Federation within the framework of the Union State and the [Collective Security Treaty Organization].” What does this refer to? And can the Kremlin comment on reports that appeared in the media about convoys with Russian military equipment being sent to Belarus’s borders?

Dmitry Peskov: There’s Russian military equipment located all across the territory of the Russian Federation. So there’s nothing to comment on here. As for the treaty on collective security and the Union State treaty, there are in fact a number of mutual assistance obligations provided for there. But you know that there is currently no need [for this] and, in fact, the Belarusian leadership itself has admitted that there’s no such need now.

Govorit Mosvka: If the authorities in Belarus pass power to the opposition forces, would Russia be prepared to cooperate with these forces? What’s the Kremlin’s position? Is this scenario under consideration?

Dmitry Peskov: I think that I have already given comprehensive comments on Belarus at this point. I have nothing to add to what has been said.

TV Rain: Does that mean that the Kremlin recognizes the Belarusian elections?

Dmitry Peskov: [As] you know, President Putin congratulated President Lukashenko.

BBC News: What’s the Kremlin’s position on the Coordination Council that [Svetlana] Tikhanovskaya established? You are also talking about a dialogue. And what, then, is this dialogue about? About new elections?

Dmitry Peskov: I already answered your question, as well.

BBC News: You didn’t respond with regard to the council.

Dmitry Peskov: I’ve said everything I wanted to say on the topic of Belarus.

Journalist: What did [Putin] talk about with [French President Emmanuel] Macron regarding Belarus? What were the main conclusions?

Dmitry Peskov: [They] specifically discussed the fact that avoiding outside interference is very important. The fact that Belarusians must solve their problems themselves was also discussed. The fact that Russia and Belarus are a Union State was discussed. These are two very close countries. They are economically, culturally, and historically very close. Therefore, we are all watching what is happening very carefully and with great concern.

BBC News: Yesterday we saw that [FSB Director Alexander] Bortnikov’s plane flew to Belarus, to Minsk. Can you comment on what that was about? And if you’re talking about outside interference, is Russia simply advising, rather than interfering? 

Dmitry Peskov: I can’t tell you anything about the plane. I simply don’t have information about flights. That said, air traffic between the two countries is rather lively.

BBC News: But if the head of the FSB flew to Minsk you would probably know about it.

Dmitry Peskov: I don’t have such information, I can’t tell you anything. 

Journalist: If Russia’s position is entirely clear, why is Lukashenko calling Putin so often? Why do you need several phone calls [over] several days? The situation is changing, does he want some kind of guarantee? 

Dmitry Peskov: No, it’s completely normal [for] the heads of two states to be in the process of a constant, regular exchange of views against the backdrop of the kind of situation that is currently unfolding in Belarus.

Meduza: Allow me to clarify [the question] regarding the harsh crackdown on protests. Do you know that many Russian citizens were among the victims, including our fellow journalists who were covering the protests? How does the Kremlin assess such actions from Belarusian law enforcement agencies? 

Dmitry Peskov: We are certainly always concerned when our journalists face ill-treatment in connection with their work. But we also strongly remind our journalists that carrying out journalistic activity without proper accreditation significantly weakens their legal position. But certainly it doesn’t matter if we are talking about journalists or not, of course the safety of Russian citizens is an absolute priority for our interests. 

BBC News: And what about the Belarusian citizens who were severely beaten at the protests?

Dmitry Peskov: We’re done with the topic of Belarus, thanks. 

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