By Tom Balmforth
MOSCOW – Belarusian leader Alexander Lukashenko played ice hockey on Saturday, apparently brushing off the threat of new international sanctions over a migrant crisis on the border with the European Union.
The 67-year-old, in power for 27 years, appeared in red kit posing for cameras on the rink in images published on his website which said his team beat a Minsk region side 5-2.
In footage that may have been timed to project an air of indifference to his standoff with the West, Lukashenko could be seen taking a shot at goal and bumping fists with fellow team mates, at one point drawing cheers from the crowd.
Like his main supporter, Russian President Vladimir Putin, Lukashenko is a long-time hockey fan and has used it to project a strongman image at home.
Lukashenko has infuriated the European Union which has accused Minsk of mounting a “hybrid attack” on it by flying in thousands of migrants, mainly from the Middle East, and pushing them to try to cross illegally into Poland.
The EU is gearing up to impose sanctions on Belarus.
The hockey footage did not allude to the crisis, but the president’s office said earlier on Saturday that Lukashenko had ordered the distribution and delivery of humanitarian aid to the migrants at the border.
Separately, Lukashenko said he wanted to receive Russian nuclear-capable Iskander missile systems to deploy them in the south and west of the country in an interview with a Russian defence magazine published on Saturday.