Russian annexation would spark Nato war: Lukashenko
The dictatorial president said the west would see any Russian attempts to annex the country as a threat, pointing to rising tensions between the former Soviet allies.
Belarus still suffers from atomic contamination as a result of the Chernobyl disaster in neighbouring Ukraine in 1986.
Lukashenko has run Belarus with an iron fist for around 25 years while relying on cheap Russian energy imports and loans.
But Russia has recently raised energy prices and cut loans, which forced Belarus to take out a US$500-million Chinese loan.
Russia and Belarus signed a 1997 union agreement that agreed closer political, economic and military links but fell short of a formal union.
Minsk has feared annexation since the 2014 occupation of the Crimean peninsula by Ukraine and the invasion of eastern Ukraine.
Russian President Vladimir Putin has raised energy prices and reduced subsidies, saying the country of 10 million should accept closer economic integration in exchange for energy at domestic Russian prices.
“It’s a huge work and it can be done only if there is a political will shared by both sides,” Putin, who marks two decades in power this month, told his major annual news conference last week.
Putin might use a merger to justify extending his presidency by creating a new Russian-Belarusian state after his current presidential term ends in 2024.
Putin avoided a question on Thursday on whether he could potentially extend his rule through a union between Russia and Belarus.
Lukashenko and Putin have met twice this month and failed to agree on deeper integration.
More than 1,000 protesters gathered in Minsk, holding placards reading “First Crimea, then Belarus” and “Stop annexation”.
The police allowed the unsanctioned protest to proceed, although Lukashenko’s security services normally break up opposition events. The authorities probably tolerated the protests because a foreign state was the target.
“Lukashenko doesn’t want to become a Russian provincial governor,” said protester Pyotr Rudkevich, a 20-year-old student.
“We will not allow Putin to become the president of a new Russia-Belarus state in 2024. We will never come back to the empire,” said Pavel Severinets, the organiser of Friday’s demonstration.
Lukashenko has emphasised his role as a military and security ally, an argument he has used repeatedly to secure concessions from the Kremlin.
“We have created a single defence space and our security agencies gave worked in close contact,” Lukashenko told Putin in St Petersburg on Friday.
Lukashenko said: “If Russia tries to violate our sovereignty as some people say, you know how the global community will respond; they will be drawn into a war.
“The west and Nato won’t tolerate that because they would see it as a threat to themselves. In that sense, they would be right,” he said during a radio interview.
Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko and Vladimir Putin at the Gozhsky test ground during shared military exercises. Picture credit: Kremlin