Belarus President Alexander Lukashenko was nearly mauled to death by a pack of wild wolves on Sunday after a failed attempt to show off his strength and bravery, state media and witnesses said.
The longtime president of the Eastern European country was rushed to a hospital in the capital Minsk, where he remains in serious condition, according to state media.
Witnesses said Lukashenko attempted to kill six gray wolves by himself in an apparent effort to imitate Russia’s President Vladimir Putin, who recently killed a grizzly bear with his hands while rescuing a group of babies and pregnant women from attack.
But Lukashenko was “bitten many times by the wolves” before his armed guards intervened and scared off the wolves, witnesses said.
State broadcaster Belarusian TV reported that Lukashenko “heroically defended the Belarusian motherland from aggressive wolves, saving people’s lives and defending the integrity of our sovereign state.
“God blesses the Belarusian people with our leader’s strength and bravery,” it reported.
Lukashenko has been president of Belarus, a former Soviet republic, since 1994. He is often described as a dictator, owing to his iron grip over the country and his intolerance of dissent.
Although Lukashenko has sought close ties with Russia, regional analysts say he is intensely jealous of Putin’s public image as a macho leader.
President on the prowl
The wolf attack reportedly occurred Sunday morning in a forest reserve outside Minsk, where Lukashenko was hosting a dozen European diplomats and businessmen at his private cottage.
The group was strolling along a forest path after breakfast when it encountered a pack of six gray wolves that were eating a deer.
One witness, who wished to remain anonymous for fear of retaliation, said Lukashenko “waved off his guards, took his jacket off, rolled up his sleeves and told us, ‘Leave this to me. I show you tough president in action.’
“He then crouch down and approach the wolves, like ninja. He tell us, ‘I’ll kill these bastards with my hands. Who want wolf steaks for lunch?’
“He was shouting at the wolves. He say, ‘Come at me, I kill you! You scared of Putin? You should be scared of me, Lukashenko!’ ”
But the wolves lunged at Lukashenko, who “was bitten many times by the wolves; there was blood everywhere. I’ve never heard screaming from a man like that.”
Another witness confirmed the account and said Lukashenko’s four armed guards hesitated at intervening in the attack out of fear they might accidentally shoot Lukashenko.
It was only after Lukashenko screamed, “Help me you idiots!” that the guards stepped in and rescued the president, the witness said. The guards fired their guns in the air and the wolves ran off into the forest, the witness said.
“It was very stupid (of Lukashenko) to fight wolves like that. Why did he act so stupid?” the witness said.
A spokesman for Lukashenko said the witness accounts of the wolf attack “are troubling lies that must be dealt with immediately” and demanded to know the witnesses’ names.
Little malchik complex
Belarus observers say Lukashenko’s failed attempt to show off is evidence of his inferiority complex in regards to Russia and President Vladimir Putin.
Throughout his 19-year presidency, Lukashenko has sought closer ties with Russia. However, relations between Lukashenko and Putin have worsened in recent years.
Sources inside Belarus say Lukashenko was furious after learning Putin had killed a grizzly bear with his hands while rescuing a group of babies and pregnant women from attack earlier this month.
Malina Varenye, an independent journalist in Belarus, said Lukashenko has been attempting to bolster his own macho image among the people.
Varenye said state media is required to run digitally-enhanced images of Lukashenko that depict him with more hair, bronze skin, a thicker, darker mustache and “a large bulge in his tight pants.”
A WikiLeaks cable last year revealed Lukashenko tried to commission a Belarusian remake of the 2012 movie “Skyfall” in which he would star in the title role as a James Bond-type “who kills enemies of the state and sexually satisfies many beautiful women.”