President Alexander Lukashenko said Thursday that Belarus had beaten back a foreign-led onslaught to overthrow his government, after months of protests against his decades-long rule.
"The blitzkrieg did not succeed, we held on to our country," Lukashenko said in a speech at the opening of the All-Belarusian People's Assembly that brought together hundreds of loyal delegates for a two-day convention in the capital Minsk.
Using language especially resonant in a country that suffered huge losses at the hands of German forces in World War II, Lukashenko painted his country as under siege from abroad.
"Despite the tensions in society artificially created by external forces, we survived," Lukashenko said, adding that Belarus "will hold out no matter what".
"We have to resist at all costs. And 2021, this year, will be decisive," he added.
"Very powerful forces are involved and they cannot afford to lose in this war."
Ahead of the assembly, Europe's longest-serving leader promised to unveil reforms, including changes to the constitution, that have been viewed as an attempt to placate opponents.
"We must closely consider issues of social development... think about the possibility of adjusting the basic law," Lukashenko told delegates, without specifying when the proposed changes will be revealed.
In his speech Lukashenko slammed the experience of the Arab Spring in the Middle East and the "Colour Revolutions" across the post-Soviet space, saying they led to "chronic instability and the impoverishment of people".
He said that it is not about him and "there will come a time and you will elect a new Lukashenko, or somebody else".
"They want to break us, (because) we are unwanted, we shouldn't have appeared on the international stage and we will be constantly attacked," Lukashenko said adding that "we must endure".
Protesters in Belarus took to the streets for months to demand Lukashenko's resignation after he claimed a sixth term as president in an August election the opposition says was rigged.
The authorities unleashed a violent crackdown on protesters, detaining thousands, many of whom reported torture and abuse in custody.
Several Western nations refused to recognise the election results while the European Union slapped sanctions on Lukashenko and his allies.