Russian PM to Visit Minsk Thursday

Russian Prime Minister Mikhail Mishustin will visit Belarus on Thursday, Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said Wednesday, after weeks of protests in Minsk against a disputed presidential election.

Lavrov also confirmed that President Vladimir Putin would host Belarus’s authoritarian leader Alexander Lukashenko in Moscow “in the next couple of weeks.”

He made the announcements at the start of a meeting with his Belarusian counterpart in Moscow, Russian news agencies reported.

Unprecedented protests broke out in ex-Soviet Belarus after Lukashenko, who has ruled the ex-Soviet state for 26 years, claimed re-election with 80 percent of the vote in the August 9 poll.

The 66-year-old strongman has refused to give in to protesters’ demands to quit.

Putin has backed Lukashenko and raised the possibility of sending military support if Belarus “starts to get out of control.”

Belarus has for years relied on Russia for cheap oil and loans and further economic assistance is likely to top the agenda of Mishustin’s visit to Minsk.

In recent years the Kremlin has pushed for closer economic and political integration between the two ex-Soviet countries but Lukashenko has resisted an outright unification.

Separately, Belarus’s Defense Minister Viktor Khrenin will visit Russia on Friday, his office said in a statement.

Khrenin will take part in a meeting of defense ministers of post-Soviet countries, it said.

Russian Peacekeepers Should Monitor Nagorno-Karabakh Ceasefire

Russian peacekeepers should be sent to Nagorno-Karabakh to observe a shaky Moscow-brokered ceasefire between Armenia and Azerbaijan, Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said Wednesday.

Russia’s top diplomat made the proposal as new fighting erupted between the Caucasus rivals despite a truce that they reached in Moscow over the weekend.

According to the state-run RIA Novosti news agency, Lavrov said that a peacekeeping force is needed to observe the ceasefire.

“Not even peacekeepers, but military observers would be enough,” Lavrov told Russian radio stations in an interview, according to the state-run TASS news agency.

“We believe it would be absolutely correct if they were our Russian military observers” but the final decision would be up to Baku and Yerevan, he said.

Lavrov said he had sent signals to his Armenian and Azerbaijani colleagues that their militaries need to meet to agree on a mechanism to monitor and enforce the Moscow ceasefire agreement.

More than two weeks of fighting between the Caucasus rivals has left almost 600 dead, including 73 civilians, according to a tally based on partial tolls from both sides.

The Nagorno-Karabakh region of Azerbaijan, overwhelmingly populated by Armenians, has been controlled by Armenians since a 1990s war that erupted as the Soviet Union fell.

The latest fighting that broke out on Sept. 27 has been the most intense flare-up since a 1994 ceasefire ended the initial post-Soviet war.

The search for a long-term solution to the conflict, one of the most enduring problems left after the fall of the Soviet Union, is in the hands of the Minsk Group of regional powers chaired by France, Russia and the United States.

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