During his weekslong standoff with demonstrators, it hasn't been clear what Alexander Lukashenko plans to do to resolve the situation. Vladimir Putin raised one possibility Thursday, Reuters reports. The president of Belarus asked Putin "to create a reserve police force, and I have done that," the Russian president said. "But we agreed this would not be used unless the situation got out of control." Mass demonstrations and strikes have been held since Lukashenko, who has been in office for 26 years, was reelected Aug. 9—an outcome the demonstrators don't accept. Thousands of them have been arrested this month. Russia and Belarus belong to the Collective Security Treaty Organization, which includes other countries once part of the Soviet Union. The two nations formed closer ties in 1996, per the BBC.
The opposition in Belarus called the existence of the Russian force a violation of international law. Poland, a neighbor, agreed and said the offer should be taken off the table. The people of Belarus "should be free to decide their own fate," Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki said. Putin told state television that "Russia would fulfill all its obligations." About 1,000 people demonstrated in the main square of Minsk on Thursday, and many were arrested. Putin said he wouldn't send his force unless demonstrators "cross a certain boundary and start armed robbery, setting fire to cars, houses, banks, try to seize government buildings and so forth." Overall, he said, "the situation now is leveling out." (Lukashenko has told opponents there will be no new election "until you kill me.")