Vladimir Putin has formed an elite special operation force ready to intervene in Belarus if ‘extremist elements’ are judged to have ‘crossed the line’ .
The Russian President said he acted after a conversation with Alexander Lukashenko, in which the incumbent president of Belarus asked if Russia would stand by its commitments to defend his country.
‘I said that Russia will fulfill all its obligations,’ Putin said from Crimea, which Russia annexed from Ukraine in 2014 after the overthrow of the pro-Russian government.
Vladimir Putin has said he is ready to intervene in Belarus if protesters ‘get out of control’ and begin burning cars or looting shops
Putin, speaking from Crimea which was annexed by barely-disguised Russian troops in 2014 (pictured), said he has formed a special force to complete the task
‘Lukashenko asked me to form a certain reserve of law enforcement officers, and I did it,’ he added.
‘But we agreed that it will not be used until the situation starts to get out of control.’
Asked by reporters for the Russia-1 TV channel what ‘crossing a line’ would mean, Putin gave the examples of ‘burning cars and looting’.
Lukashenko has been facing unprecedented protests against his rule following an August 9 election in which he claimed victory with 80 per cent of the vote.
However, the result was widely viewed both at home and abroad as rigged, and western leaders have refused to acknowledge it.
Belarus is a close ally of Russia, and Lukashenko is a personal friend of Putin. The two countries share a mutual defence pact, while the two men play ice hockey together.
World leaders including President Donald Trump have warned Putin that they are watching events in Belarus closely for any sign of Russian intervention.
Putin said he acted after Alexander Lukashenko (pictured together) asked him to honour the mutual defence pact that exists between Russia and Belarus
Thousands of marchers took to the streets of Minsk after August 9 elections which Lukashenko claimed to have won with 80 per cent of the vote, but which are widely seen as fraudulent
Should Putin move forces in to the neighbouring country, it would trigger the worst crisis in Europe since the annexation of Crimea.
Belarus borders three NATO states: Poland, Lithuania and Latvia.
Lukashenko has accused the alliance of building up forces on his border, while NATO chiefs have insisted that the moves are merely defensive.
It is believed a Russian force has been on standby for at least one week as Belarus sees massive protests against Lukashenko.
Puitin cited a “union state” of Russia and Belarus, which has a customs union and defence protection element.
‘Of course we have obligations to Belarus,” he said. ‘And [Lukashenko] asked me in that respect: He asked to be given relevant help when it was needed.
‘I said that Russia will comply with all its obligations.’
He said: ‘As members of the Union State we are obliged to provide each other help in protecting sovereignty, the external borders, and in protecting stability.’