Putin puts Russian police on standby to be sent to Belarus

Moscow: Vladimir Putin has put Russian police on standby to be sent to Belarus to curb "extremist elements" taking part in mass protests against Alexander Lukashenko, the president.

Belarusian police launched a brutal crackdown on demonstrations this month after Lukashenko, who has ruled the country for 26 years, claimed 80 per cent of the vote in a presidential election widely seen as rigged.

Russian President Vladimir Putin.Credit:AP

The Russian president said Lukashenko had asked him "to form a reserve of law enforcement employees, and I have done so".

He added: "We also agreed they would not be used unless the situation gets out of control." Russia would intervene if "extremist elements, using political slogans as cover, overstep a certain boundary… in general, however, the situation is levelling out".

Nato chief Jens Stoltenberg on Thursday called on Russia not to meddle in the crisis engulfing Belarus. "Belarus is a sovereign and independent state. And nobody, including Russia, should interfere there," Stoltenberg told Germany's Bild newspaper.

Putin has dismissed accusations that Alexei Navalny was poisoned as "hasty and unfounded" in his first comments since the Russian opposition leader was taken ill on a flight a week ago.

The Russian president said he would back a "thorough and objective investigation", despite the Kremlin saying earlier that it saw no need for a criminal probe.

Russian opposition activist Alexei Navalny.Credit:AP

Doctors at the German hospital where Navalny remains unconscious said multiple tests had shown that he had been poisoned.

Navalny, 44, was airlifted to Germany on Saturday after collapsing during a flight from the Siberian city of Tomsk to Moscow. He is in a medically-induced coma in a Berlin hospital and his supporters said on Thursday his condition remained serious, with no major reason for optimism.

The hospital said its initial medical examination pointed to poisoning, though Russian doctors who had treated Navalny in a Siberian hospital have contradicted that diagnosis.

Belarus President Alexander Lukashenko armed with a Kalashnikov-type rifle near the Palace of Independence in Minsk, Belarus.Credit:AP

The Kremlin has so far defied calls from Germany, the United States and other powers to investigate the circumstances around Navalny's illness, saying there is no reason to do so until poisoning is definitively confirmed.

While a statement by the Russian Prosecutor General's office said it did not see the need for an investigation, it said German authorities have agreed to cooperate with Russia on the case. The office said it had asked Germany to share information about Navalny's treatment and promised to give some back in exchange.

Telegraph, London, Reuters

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