Hardline Belarus dictator Alexander Lukashenko fears he could be the next target after his foreign minister was ‘murdered’ with a poison produced by Russia’s spy agency, it is claimed.
The death of Vladimir Makei has sparked panic in Belarusian political circles with president Lukashenko said to be in a state of shock.
According to a Russian opposition figure, the president has ‘ordered that his cooks, servants and guards be replaced… and his children provided with additional protection’.
It comes after Mr Makei, 64, died last weekend, reportedly of a heart attack, days before he was due to meet his Kremlin counterpart Sergey Lavrov in Belarusian capital Minsk.
Exiled Israeli businessman Leonid Nevzlin, who was born in Russia but later renounced his citizenship, said sources told him Mr Makei had been killed ‘with a poison developed in a special laboratory of the FSB [Federal Security Service]’.
Satellite images shows the extent of Ukraine’s power shortages
The claim has been disputed by some experts. But Mr Nevzlin tweeted that his theory was ‘confirmed’ – pointing out the veteran politician ‘had no health problems, led an active lifestyle and made plans’.
He added: ‘It is very easy to poison a person so that everyone thinks he died of natural causes.’ He believes the ‘assassination’ was carried out to ensure Belarus keeps backing Vladimir Putin’s invasion of Ukraine.
‘The dictator trusts no-one,’ said Mr Nevzlin. ‘Not without reason. He believes that after Makei, a magnificent funeral can be arranged for him… the Kremlin is ready to use all levers to put pressure on the Belarusian regime.’
But other commentators put forward different theories, including unfounded claims that Polish security forces may have been behind the death.
Others said the minister was too well protected to be assassinated.
Mr Makei had publicly backed the Kremlin, saying his country would not be a ‘traitor’ over the invasion.
Mr Lavrov’s office called him a ‘real patriot’ but exiled Belarusian opposition leader Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya accused him of betraying his people and ‘supporting tyranny’.