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24 Nov, 2020 16:43

Belarusian opposition figure Babariko faces long jail term as Russia’s Lavrov heads to Minsk for meeting with embattled Lukashenko

Belarusian opposition figure Babariko faces long jail term as Russia’s Lavrov heads to Minsk for meeting with embattled Lukashenko

Leading opposition figure Viktor Babariko has been formally charged with money laundering and taking bribes by authorities in Belarus, as Russia expresses growing concern and frustration over the situation in the country.

A statement posted on the website of Minsk’s domestic security agency, the KGB, said on Tuesday that Babariko had received funds from “an organised group on an especially large scale” when he was chairman of Belgazprombank, a financial institution owned by Russian investors and based in Belarus.

Five former deputy chairmen of the board were also indicted on the same charges. According to officers, all of those charged have apparently pleaded guilty, except Babariko.

Also on rt.com As protests continue in Belarus, embattled President Lukashenko fails to grasp ‘seriousness’ of situation – Moscow expert

The opposition figure was originally arrested in June ahead of the country’s presidential elections. He had declared his intention to stand against veteran leader Alexander Lukashenko, but his candidacy was rejected by the Central Election Commission.

Lukashenko went on to claim victory with over 80 percent of the vote, which opposition groups and many international observers allege was rigged in his favor. Since then, the country has been paralysed by protests that have brought hundreds of thousands of people onto the streets to call for new elections, followed by crackdowns by the authorities.

According to Vladimir Zharikhin, the deputy director of the CIS Institute, Russian Foreign Intelligence Service (SVR) head Sergey Naryshkin “was told to explain the real situation to Alexander Grigorievich [Lukashenko] in private – the situation where he is, and which he clearly underestimates.”

Lukashenko apparently believes the unrest to be sponsored by Belarus’ regional neighbors. Zharikin, however, said “the statements that the Poles and the Lithuanians have invented it are unjust. There were serious problems, which Russian authorities have pointed out.”

On Tuesday, a spokeswoman for Russia’s Foreign Ministry told journalists that the country’s top diplomat, Sergei Lavrov, would visit Minsk for talks on Wednesday. She said he “plans to discuss the situation in the republic, as well as key issues on bilateral and international agendas.”

Last week, Russian President Vladimir Putin’s spokesman, Dmitry Peskov, spoke out after clashes in Belarus left protestors injured and incarcerated. “As President Lukashenko said himself, brutality that was not provoked by the actions of protesters is undesirable and unacceptable, of course,” Peskov said. He went on to add that “we would like to see Belarus calm, stable, and prosperous, and we hope that this will be the case.”

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