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Russian spymaster says Belarus protests fueled from abroad

Russia's foreign intelligence chief said Thursday during a visit to Belarus that the 2 1/2 months of protests since the country's presidential election have been fomented from abroad.

Belarus has been rocked by massive demonstrations against authoritarian President Alexander Lukashenko's reelection to a sixth term in an Aug. 9 vote that the opposition argues was rigged. Lukashenko, who has ruled the ex-Soviet nation with an iron fist for more than 26 years, has accused the United States and its allies of fueling the protests.

Sergei Naryshkin, the director of Russia's Foreign Intelligence Service, echoed the Belarusian leader's claims during a visit to the capital, Minsk. Belarus is a former Soviet republic that maintains close economic ties with Moscow.

FILE - In this file photo taken on Friday, Feb. 21, 2020, Sergei Naryshkin, head of the Russian Foreign Intelligence Service attends a meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin at the Novo-Ogaryovo residence outside Moscow, Russia. Naryshkin on Wednesday, Sept. 16, 2020 accused the United States of fomenting protests in Belarus where massive demonstrations against the country's authoritarian president have entered their sixth week. (Alexei Druzhinin, Sputnik, Kremlin Pool Photo via AP, File)

“We are seeing a desire to try to change the existing order, the existing political system, by unconstitutional means,” Naryshkin said after a meeting with Lukashenko. “The outside influence is quite obvious.”

Naryshkin hailed a constitutional amendment process proposed by Lukashenko, saying that it would “give answers to many questions” while preserving stability in Belarus. The opposition has rejected the reform as an attempt by Lukashenko to buy time and remain in office while assuaging public anger.

The United States and the European Union have rejected the August election as neither free nor fair and introduced sanctions against top Belarusian officials accused of vote manipulation and a crackdown on peaceful protesters.

Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko, right, greets Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu during their meeting in Minsk, Belarus, Wednesday, Sept. 16, 2020. Sergei Naryshkin, director of Russia's Foreign Intelligence Service, on Wednesday accused the United States of fomenting massive demonstrations against Belarus' authoritarian president that have entered their sixth week. (Maxim GuchekBelTA Pool Photo via AP)

The EU has warned it was ready to sanction Lukashenko himself if he fails to enter talks with the opposition. The president has ignored demands to negotiate and relied instead on political and economic support from Russia, his main ally and sponsor.

On Thursday, the EU awarded its top human rights prize to the Belarus opposition movement and its leader, Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya, who was Lukashenko's main challenger in the presidential election. A basis for the opposition's claim of a rigged election is the official results showed Tsikhanouskaya receiving 10% of the vote to Lukashenko's 80%.

A 38-year old former English teacher with no previous political experience, Tsikhanouskaya joined the race after her husband was jailed in Belarus and prevented from running. He remains in prison.

Sergei Naryshkin, head of the Russian Foreign Intelligence Service, left, speaks to Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko, right, in Minsk, Belarus, Thursday, Oct. 22, 2020. Lukashenko thanked Naryshkin for sharing intelligence information with Belarus. Ivan Tertel, chief of the Belarusian state security service, KGB, second left, and Valery Vakulchik, State Secretary of the Security Council of Belarus, second right, attend the meeting. (Nikolai PetrovBelTA Pool Photo via AP)

Tsikhanouskaya, who moved to Lithuania after the election under pressure from Belarusian authorities, put forward an ultimatum to Lukashenko: announce his resignation by Oct. 25 or face a nationwide strike.

Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko, right, greets Sergei Naryshkin, head of the Russian Foreign Intelligence Service, during their meeting in Minsk, Belarus, Thursday, Oct. 22, 2020. Lukashenko thanked Naryshkin for sharing intelligence information with Belarus. (Nikolai PetrovBelTA Pool Photo via AP)

Ivan Tertel, chief of the Belarusian state security service, KGB, left, and Valery Vakulchik, State Secretary of the Security Council of Belarus, right, attend the meeting of Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko with Sergei Naryshkin, head of the Russian Foreign Intelligence Service in Minsk, Belarus, Thursday, Oct. 22, 2020. Lukashenko thanked Naryshkin for sharing intelligence information with Belarus. (Nikolai PetrovBelTA Pool Photo via AP)

Sergei Naryshkin, head of the Russian Foreign Intelligence Service, centre, talks with Ivan Tertel, chief of the Belarusian state security service, KGB, left, and Valery Vakulchik, State Secretary of the Security Council of Belarus, right, ahead of their meeting with Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko in Minsk, Belarus, Thursday, Oct. 22, 2020. Lukashenko thanked Naryshkin for sharing intelligence information with Belarus. (Nikolai PetrovBelTA Pool Photo via AP)

Belarusian opposition politician Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya gives a press conference at Christiansborg, in Copenhagen, Denmark, Thursday Oct. 22, 2020. The European Union has awarded its top human rights Sakharov Prize to the Belarus opposition movement and its leader Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya for their challenge to President Alexander Lukashenko’s long, hard-line reign. (Liselotte Sabroe Scanpix via AP)