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Belarus crowds rally against closer Russia relations

December 7, 2019

Belarusians have been demonstrating against warmer relations with Moscow. The presidents of the respective nations have met in Sochi over economic agreements as Belarus eyes closer integration.

 A protester holds a banner reading 'No to integration!' during a rally in downtown Minsk
Image: picture-alliance/AP Photo/S. Grits

More than 1,000 people took to the streets of Belarus on Saturday to protest against closer ties with Russia as President Vladimir Putin hosted his Belarusian counterpart, Alexander Lukashenko, in the Russian city of Sochi.

Longtime ruler Lukashenko was meeting with Putin to discuss "key issues in our bilateral relations, including the prospects for deepening integration," according to the Kremlin.

Read more: Belarus releases DW journalist Paulyuk Bykowski

Frustrated by the apparent ties between the two nations, crowds gathered and headed towards the government headquarters in Minsk brandishing signs that read "It's not integration, it's an occupation" and "The president is selling our country."

A number of demonstrators waved European Union flags or those of the opposition. Police were quickly on the scene but made no arrests.

Young people oppose Russia as they look to the West

The EU is seen by many, particularly young Belarusians, as a step away from the Soviet past. The landlocked country, which borders Russia to the east, is a former Soviet republic and formed a nominal union with Moscow in the 1990s following its independence after the breakup of the Soviet bloc.

Anti-Russia rally in Minsk
Residents brandished EU flags, as well as those of the opposition party, during the anti-Russia protests in MinskImage: picture-alliance/dpa/V. Drachev

The union meant close trade and military cooperation between Moscow and Minsk, but speculation has also grown that Lukashenko intends to recognize a formal unification of the two countries, something opposition leader Vladimir Neklyayev strongly opposes.

"It is forbidden to touch the country without the permission of the people," Neklyayev said.

President Lukashenko, who has been described as Europe's last dictator due to being in power since the role's inception a quarter of a century ago, has repeatedly denied suggestions of a unification with Russia. Just last month he complained that Moscow was constantly "sneaking in new conditions" to the deal he is currently trying to strike.

A fraction shy of half of Belarusians want their country to remain completely independent of Moscow, a survey by the Minsk Academy of Sciences revealed earlier this week.

Those in favor of a union with shared political institutions numbered 36% while 7.7% wanted full unification with Russia, according to the study.

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jsi/aw (AP, AFP)

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