Opposition fears sellout as Belarus leader holds talks with Putin


Russian President Vladimir Putin attends a meeting with his Belarusian counterpart Alexander Lukashenko in Moscow, Russia April 22, 2021. Sputnik/Mikhail Klimentyev/Kremlin via REUTERS

MOSCOW (Reuters) - Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko met Russian President Vladimir Putin in Moscow on Thursday for talks in which opponents fear he could trade off chunks of national sovereignty in return for Russian support.

Lukashenko said at the weekend an alleged coup plot against him had been thwarted and stoked speculation about the significance of the talks by saying he was about to take one of the most fundamental decisions of his nearly 27-year rule.

The comment prompted opposition fears that he might agree to let Russia establish a military base in Belarus, or to abandon the national currency in favour of the rouble.

"We need to understand that the sovereignty of Belarus is today under threat," opposition politician Pavel Latushko said.

Kremlin backing helped Lukashenko weather the biggest challenge to his nearly 27-year rule when Belarus was rocked by months of mass protests after a presidential election last August that the opposition said was rigged in his favour.

The rallies subsided after a harsh crackdown and thousands of arrest. Some opposition leaders were jailed, others went into exile abroad.

Russia's FSB security service said on Saturday it had detained two Belarusian citizens in Russia for what it said was an attempted coup and assassination attempt against Lukashenko.

Belarus has charged four people there with conspiracy to seize power in the country.

Lukashenko has said the plotters intended to murder him, kidnap members of his family and shut down the country's electricity system, and has pointed the finger at U.S. intelligence, without providing evidence.

Putin highlighted the alleged plot in a speech on Wednesday, describing it as evidence that the West was undermining stability in Russia and its former Soviet neighbours.

(Reporting by Tom Balmforth and Mark Trevelyan, Editing by Timothy Heritage)

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