Moscow, Aug 4 (efe-epa).- Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko on Tuesday said Russia feared losing his country as an ally just five days ahead of elections in which he faces one of the strongest opposition camps since he came to power in 1994.
Lukashenko, Europe’s longest-serving leader, is running for a sixth term in office but the election campaign has so far been rocked by an increasingly organized and bold opposition pushback as well as the arrest of 33 suspected members of Russian private military contractor Wagner.
“Russia is scared of losing us,” he said in his address to the nation on the day that early voting for the 9 August ballot got underway.
“Because apart from us, they don’t have any true allies left,” he added.
Lukashenko said that the 33 suspected members of the Wagner group recently detained by elite Belarusian forces “had confessed to everything,” although fell short of giving further details.
Belarusian officials said the Wagner group members had been sent to destabilize Belarus during the election campaign, while Russia insisted they were using Belarus as a transit stop before traveling elsewhere in the world.
Officials said another 200 suspected Wagner group members were in the country, although critics of the government have warned it was a ploy to drum up support before the crucial vote on Sunday.
Lukashenko is running against four other candidates in the presidential vote, among them Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya, who stepped in to take the place of her blogger husband Siarhei Tsikhanouski in the campaign after he was detained in May.
She has amassed wide public support with thousands of people coming to the streets of Minsk to back her against Lukashenko.
She has also attracted supporters of banker Victor Babariko and entrepreneur Valery Tsepkalo, who were barred from running against the president.