Russian intervention in the crisis in Belarus following disputed presidential elections is the worst thing that could happen, French President Emmanuel Macron said on Friday, after Vladimir Putin said the Kremlin could step in if the situation deteriorated.
“All external intervention in Belarus will internationalise this issue,” Macron told reporters, adding that the “worst thing would be Russian intervention”.
Putin said Thursday Russia had set up a reserve group of law enforcement officers to support President Alexander Lukashenko if the post-vote situation deteriorated.
Macron said that both he and German Chancellor Angela Merkel agreed that there “could be no repeat of what happened in Ukraine” when after an uprising in 2014 Russia annexed the Ukrainian Black Sea peninsula of Crimea and pro-Moscow forces declared breakaway republics in Ukrainian regions in the east.
“Our desire is to engage Russia in a dialogue on Belarus and to help us convince President Lukashenko of the necessity to accept mediation” by the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE).
Macron added that it should be up to Putin, who has spoken repeatedly to the Belarusian leader in the last days, to sway Lukashenko.
“What President Putin could say to Chancellor Merkel and to myself was that he was in favour of OSCE mediation, but President Lukashenko was not.
“So he (Putin) has to make efforts to help us in this direction.”
Belarus has seen almost three weeks of protests following elections in which Lukashenko was declared a landslide winner but the opposition says was rigged.
France under Macron has pursued a policy of dialogue with Russia, even on issues where they disagree, a position that has sometimes put him at odds with EU allies.
But over recent days it has started to match Berlin’s tougher rhetoric, with the French foreign ministry describing the poisoning of Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny as a “criminal act”.