President of Belarus Alexander Lukashenko on Tuesday accused Russia of lying about the presence of mercenaries in Belarus and said that some forces are trying to carry out a coup in his country, but will fail.
Elections will be held in Belarus on Sunday, following which Lukashenka, who has been in power since 1994, expects to be re-elected. However, he faced serious competition for the first time in years amid public outrage over his response to the coronavirus pandemic and the economic and human rights situation.
Last week, the Belarusian authorities detained Russian mercenaries and opened a criminal case on suspicion of plotting terrorist attacks. It is alleged that the detainees may be associated with political rivals of Lukashenka.
Russia claims that the detainees were simply transit through Belarus on their way to a third country and did not plan to interfere in Belarusian domestic politics.
On Tuesday, Lukashenka made an appeal to the country, in which he called these allegations “lies” and said that the detainees had confessed to everything. According to him, they were ordered to enter Belarus and await further instructions.
So far, there has been no reaction from Moscow.
Lukashenko called himself the guarantor of stability in a chaotic world and promised to protect the country from competitors led by foreign “puppeteers”.
According to the Belarusian leader, the pandemic and the economic crisis have highlighted the need for a strong state.
“Do not believe those who, without understanding anything, promise you mountains of gold. Miracles don’t happen, ”he said, promising to double salaries over five years and protect pensions from inflation.
Lukashenko, now running for a sixth presidential term, has also rejected calls from opponents to restore an earlier version of the constitution, which prohibits serving more than two terms. He called this step “a gift to crime.”
Meanwhile, early voting has already begun in Belarus.
Lukashenka’s main rival Svetlana Tikhanovskaya called on voters to boycott early voting, warning that this is one of the ways to rig the results.