Belarus leader would 'not hesitate' to invite Russian troops if needed

Russian President Vladimir Putin and Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko talk during a meeting in Saint Petersburg, Russia July 13, 2021. Sputnik/Alexei Nikolskyi/Kremlin via REUTERS

MOSCOW (Reuters) - Belarus would not hesitate to invite Russian troops if needed, President Alexander Lukashenko said on Friday, although he said there was no need for them now.

Russia has maintained close military and economic ties with its ally Belarus, even as Western countries have ostracised the country since Lukashenko cracked down on mass protests following a contested presidential election last year.

Lukashenko said Belarus had coped with the unrest without any external forces and could muster around 500,000 personnel in a short period of time, but was prepared to bring in Russian armed forces if necessary.

"There is no need for that now. We have quite a strong, united and compact armed force.... If it is not enough, Russian armed forces will be introduced.... If it is necessary, we will not hesitate," Belarus' state-run news agency Belta cited Lukashenko as saying.

Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said Belarus had made no approach requesting troops, and that Minsk would need to submit a formal request before any could be deployed.

In the year since the disputed election, Belarus has arrested thousands of protesters, and rights groups say hundreds were abused or tortured in detention, which Minsk denies. Nearly all major opposition figures are now imprisoned or in exile.

(Reporting by Alexander Marrow; Additional reporting by Gleb Stolyarov; Editing by Peter Graff)

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