Belarus President Alexander Lukashenko on Thursday accused Russia and Poland of interfering in an upcoming presidential election, claims that were quickly denied by the Kremlin.
The strongman leader of authoritarian ex-Soviet state is seeking his sixth term as president in the election scheduled for August 9.
The interference is coming from “those who live in Poland and those who incite from Russia,” Lukashenko said at a meeting with newly appointed government officials.
Lukashenko said he would discuss the issue with Russian President Vladimir Putin at a meeting in the near future but cautioned that the situation remained “extremely difficult”.
Many of Lukashenko’s critics have been jailed in recent weeks and opposition figures who enjoy robust support from the public have fought hard to get on the ballot, observers say.
Lukashenko, who just Wednesday was in Moscow, said there are “horrific fakes” being spread about him, some in Russian anonymous social media accounts.
“It’s not ours, the information is coming from Russia,” he said.
“There are the most modern false technologies being used, there is interference from abroad into our elections, our domestic affairs.”
The Belarusian interior ministry later accused “Telegram channels” of orchestrating protests.
Several bloggers have been arrested in Belarus, starting with former presidential hopeful Sergei Tikhanovsky, who has been charged with hurting a police officer and arrested in May.
On Thursday, popular opposition Telegram channel Belarus of the Brain, which has about 170 thousand followers, said police has detained one of its authors Igor Losik and was searching his flat.
Another blogger arrested in Slutsk, a city south of Minsk, was charged with “insulting a public official” and plotting unrest, rights group Viasna said Thursday.
The Kremlin meanwhile flatly denied the allegations.
Russia “isn’t meddling, and isn’t going to meddle in the electoral processes of any country, let alone those under way in our ally, Belarus,” Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov told reporters.
Lukashenko’s main election rival Viktor Babaryko was arrested this month over suspected financial crimes and the next day the president announced his government had foiled a foreign plot to stage a popular uprising.
“Obviously, puppeteers are behind them,” Lukashenko said of his political opponents. “They are from both sides. They contribute from Poland and from Russia.”
The deputy head of the opposition BNF party, Alexei Yanukevych, called the accusations “pure propaganda to discredit the opposition.
“If Russia is really trying to interfere, why not fight Russia, why fight Belarusian society?” he told AFP.
The run-up to the vote has seen a flurry of opposition activity sparked by the campaign of Tikhanovsky, a popular video blogger, which has stood in stark contrast to the incumbent’s traditional Soviet approach to campaigning.
The Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe, an international election and war monitor, has not recognised any polls in Belarus as free and fair since 1995.
Lukashenko visited Moscow this week to participate in a military parade to mark 75 years since the Nazi Germany’s defeat in World War II.
Russia and Belarus have long had close trade and military cooperation, but the Kremlin has called for deeper integration while Lukashenko has opposed outright unification.