Putin vows military support for Belarus' Lukashenko
Russian President Vladimir Putin vowed military support for embattled Belarusian leader Alexander Lukashenko on Thursday, while urging a peaceful resolution to unrest and demonstrations that erupted after a disputed election.
After the August 9 presidential poll, Lukashenko claimed a landslide reelection with some 80 percent of the vote.
The 65-year-old Belarusian strongman's relationship with Putin had soured ahead of the ballot because Minsk refused closer integration with Russia -- and even claimed Moscow had sent mercenaries across the border to organise riots.
"It won't be used unless the situation starts to get out of control," Putin said, unless "extremist elements ... begin setting fire to cars, houses and banks, begin seizing administrative buildings".
NATO chief Jens Stoltenberg said Russia should stay out of the crisis saying it was a "sovereign and independent state."
Polish Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki meanwhile said any Russian intervention would be a breach of international law and the "human rights of Belarusian people, who should be free to decide their own fate".
But Putin also called on the authorities in Minsk and the opposition to "find a way out" of the crisis peacefully.
He conceded there were problems in Belarus, saying, "otherwise people wouldn't take to the streets".
The Russian leader's calls for calm came after the European Union and ambassadors of member states in Minsk condemned a crackdown on government critics seeking new elections and Lukashenko's resignation.