Vladimir Putin says he has formed a reserve of law-enforcement officers to send to Belarus to help President Alexander Lukashenko if necessary, Russian media reported Thursday.
Putin said he will not deploy these forces unless “extremist elements in Belarus cross a line and start plundering.”
Speaking to the state-run Rossia 1 broadcaster, he said the agents would be on standby in case pro-democracy protests strengthened.
“We’ve agreed that [the reserve] will not be used until the situation starts getting out of control,” Putin said, according to The Moscow Times.
Earlier in the week, Russian media reported Putin had offered to help, but it was yet unclear in what way.
The Washington Post reported Wednesday that Russian journalists replaced striking Belarus journalists at the country’s state television station in mid-August, and have been spreading Russian propaganda ever since. The Belarus journalists who walked off the job have not been allowed to return, creating a vacuum that likely helped fuel Lukashenko’s highly contested presidential win, which sparked country-wide protests calling for his ouster.
The Belarus population has long been anti-Russia, with a recent poll showing that 93 percent of the population against Moscow taking over the country, but Lukashenko has been demonstrably pro-Putin.
Protests raged after Lukashenko’s suspicious re-election against the popular opposition candidate Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya, who has become the figurehead of the protests and a target of Russian misinformation.