After previous elections, Lukashenko easily crushed protests that were generally small, short-lived and confined to the capital. But in 2020, thousands took to the streets nightly in more than 30 towns and cities, defying riot police armed with flash grenades and water cannons and calling for nationwide strikes. More than 6,000 people were detained in the first three nights alone, sparking international condemnation. Facing further sanctions and economic strain, Lukashenko turned to his closest ally, Vladimir Putin. The Russian president offered him loans, energy supplies and, if needed, police support. Putin also backed Lukashenko’s nominal concession on conducting constitutional reform, something the Belarusian leader had announced previously without result. Russia views Belarus as a buffer against NATO and EU encroachment toward its borders.