Putin and Lukashenko meet privately in Sochi – their first tête-à-tête since mass unrest erupted in Belarus
Vladimir Putin and Alexander Lukashenko have begun negotiations in Sochi, where the two leaders are meeting in person for the first time since mass protests began in Belarus, following a contested presidential election on August 9. The meeting is taking place at Putin’s Bocharov Ruchey summer residence located in Sochi’s Tsentralny City District. Sources told the Russian state news agency RIA Novosti that Putin and Lukashenko are speaking one-on-one, alone in a room.
It’s unknown what topics the two presidents planned to address, but the Kremlin clarified before the meeting that no joint documents or press conference are expected afterward.
Svetlana Tikhanovskaya (Svyatlana Tsikhanouskaya), the leader of the Belarusian opposition and Lukashenko’s main rival in the recently concluded election, criticized Putin’s decision to meet with Lukashenko, arguing that the Russian president “decided to conduct a dialogue with a usurper and not with the Belarusian people.” But this isn’t Putin’s first public support for Alexander Lukashenko since the August 9 election. The Russian president was one of the first foreign leaders to congratulate him on his re-election, and the Kremlin says it’s assembled a reserve police force to assist the Belarusian authorities, if necessary.
“While Moscow doesn’t trust Lukashenko, it can’t accept the opposition coming to power via street demonstrations and will back him while encouraging steps toward an eventual succession,” sources told Bloomberg. Sources told the news outlet RBC, meanwhile, that Minsk has presented a plan to Moscow and the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe that would involve constitutional reforms by 2022 and new elections. The Belarusian opposition demands Lukashenko’s immediate resignation.