Nov 26 (Reuters) – Belarus’ longtime foreign minister died suddenly, the official Belta news agency reported on Saturday, two days before he was due to meet his Russian counterpart.
“Foreign Minister Vladimir Makei died suddenly,” Belta reported without giving further details. Makei had held the position since 2012.
Makei, 64, attended a conference of the Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO) – a military alliance of several post-Soviet states – in Yerevan earlier this week and was due to meet his Russian counterpart Sergei Lavrov on Monday.
Ahead of presidential elections and mass anti-government protests in Belarus in 2020, Makei had been one of the initiators of efforts to improve Belarus’ relations with the West and had been critical of Russia.
However, he abruptly changed his position after the protests began, saying they were inspired by agents of the West.
After Russia began its invasion of Ukraine in February, Makei, a proponent of close ties between Moscow and Minsk, said the West had provoked the war and Ukrainian authorities had to accept Russian peace terms .
A few days before the start of the war, Makei promised that there would be no attack on Ukraine from the territory of Belarus. A few days later, Russian troops proved him wrong.
“We are shocked by reports of the death of the head of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Republic of Belarus Vladimir Makei,” Russian Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova said on her Telegram channel. “Official condolences will be released soon.”
Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko, who retained power despite the 2020 protests, also expressed his condolences.
Exiled opposition leader Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya, commenting on the minister’s death, called Makei a traitor to the Belarusian people.
“In 2020, Makei betrayed the Belarusian people and supported tyranny. This is how the Belarusian people will remember him,” Tsikhanouskaya said.
Reuters reporting; Editing by Mark Heinrich, David Holmes and Barbara Lewis
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