Belarus president says western states are trying to overthrow him

The authoritarian ruler of Belarus has accused Germany and the United States, as well as neighboring countries Lithuania, Ukraine and Poland, of attempting to take him from power.

Alexander Lukashenko, who has ruled Belarus for 26 years, said “terrorist sleeper cells” had been exposed and had already attacked a Russian military facility.

Lukashenko also closed the border with Ukraine on Friday, arguing that weapons are being smuggled across it to force a “violent regime change”.

“They will try to lead our people, our country there,” he said at a ceremony marking the 30th anniversary of Belarus’ independence from the Soviet Union.

“Coordinators are Lithuania, Poland, the USA, Ukraine and Germany.”

It comes as Western nations target key sectors of the ailing Belarusian economy with sanctions to punish the Lukashenko regime for cracking down on protests and intercepting a Ryanair flight in May that carried a prominent dissident and journalist.

Lukashenko said he plans to confront Chancellor Angela Merkel with the plan to take him from power.

He said the sleeper cells attempted to attack a Russian naval communications center near the Belarusian city of Vileyka, around 100 kilometers northwest of the capital Minsk.

He had discussed the incident with Russian President Vladimir Putin “in the most serious way”.

“You understand the outcome of this discussion. All those involved in the terrorist act – including those who organized and carried out it – were found and arrested within two days.”

Franak Viacorka, a senior adviser to Belarusian opposition leader Svetlana Tikhanovskaya, said Lukashenko’s recent outbreak bodes ill for foreigners and that he may be looking for an excuse to crack down on diplomats.

He also alleged that unidentified assailants attempted to kill a state television personality, Grigory Azarenok, and accused of trying to kidnap him “last night” and “cut off his tongue.”

Belarus has been in a political crisis since last August’s elections that erupted after Lukashenko secured his sixth term as president.

The opposition says the election was rigged, but the authorities imposed a crackdown that killed several people and arrested thousands.

Lukashenko, who has been in power since 1994, sparked international outrage when he dispatched a fighter jet to intercept a Ryanair plane from Greece to Lithuania in May.

When the plane had to land in Minsk, Belarus arrested the dissident journalist Roman Protasevich and his girlfriend on board.

In June, the West imposed sanctions on key sectors of the Belarusian economy, increasing pressure on the regime.

In response to the recent round of Western sanctions, Minsk announced that it would suspend its participation in the Eastern Partnership, an initiative to strengthen relations between the EU and its former Soviet neighbors.

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