(Reuters) – Belarus’s long-standing foreign minister has died suddenly, the state news agency Belta reported on Saturday, two days before he was meant to meet his Russian counterpart.
“Foreign Minister Vladimir Makei has passed away suddenly,” Belta reported without giving further detail. Makei had held his post 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 Russian counterpart Sergei Lavrov on Monday.
Before the 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 criticised Russia.
However, he abruptly changed his stance after the start of the protests, saying they were inspired by agents of the West.
After Russia’s invasion of Ukraine began in February, Makei, a supporter of close ties between Moscow and Minsk, said the West had provoked the war and that the Ukrainian authorities should agree to the Russian terms of peace.
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 that he was wrong.
“We are shocked by the 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 posted in her Telegram channel. “Official condolences will be published soon.”
Belarus President Alexander Lukashenko, who retained power despite the protests of 2020, 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.
(Reporting by Reuters; Editing by Mark Heinrich, David Holmes and Barbara Lewis)