Russian president Vladimir Putin has said he is willing to send military or law enforcement assistance to Alexander Lukashenko, who is hanging on to power in neighbouring Belarus in the face of popular opposition.

In an interview on Russian state television on Thursday, Putin said: ““[Lukashenko] asked me to form a certain reserve of law enforcement employees, and I have done so. But we also agreed that they would not be used unless the situation gets out of control.”

“There is no need to make it a secret. There are relevant articles which say that all member states of these organisations, including the union state, should assist one another in the protection of sovereignty, external borders, and stability,” Putin said, in reference to the supposed threat to Belarus from NATO countries.

The prime minister of neighbouring Poland, one of the presumed would-be aggressors, replied in strong terms. “The Polish government urges Russia to immediately withdraw from plans of a military intervention in Belarus under (the) false excuse of ‘restoring control’ – a hostile act, in breach of international law and human rights of (the) Belarusian people, who should be free to decide their own fate,” he said on Twitter.

So far, Russia has only engaged with words, accusing the West of meddling in Belarus affairs by supporting the democratic aspirations of presidential candidate and de facto opposition leader Svetlana Tikhanovskaya, who left for Lithuania following the August 9 election amid threats to herself and her family.

FILE PHOTO: 2019 European Games – Closing Ceremony – Dinamo Stadium, Minsk, Belarus – June 30, 2019. President of Russia Vladimir Putin and President of Belarus Alexander Lukashenko speak in the stands during the closing ceremony REUTERS/Vasily Fedosenko//File Photo