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Belarus Uprising - 2020

For a long time, President of Belarus Alexander Lukashenko built his foreign policy based on the contradictions between Russia and the West. Batka received economic support from Moscow, at the same time trying to improve relations with the United States and the EU, where he is still considered "the last dictator of Europe." But the strategy of sitting on two chairs may have cracked: the West and Russia can unite and send the Belarusian leader to rest. The Moldovan oligarch Vladimir Plahotniuc and the former President of Kyrgyzstan Kurmanbek Bakiyev both maneuvered between Russia and the West, but at one point they ceased to suit the world's leading players.

Where Alyaksandr Lukashenka might flee was unclear. The President of Belarus has managed to break the pots with Russia, which has supported him throughout the 26 years of his presidency. During a recent message to parliament, the Old Man attacked Moscow with reproaches and accusations. The Belarusian leader remembered everything: both unfair, in his opinion, energy prices, and expensive loans. Meanwhile, according to experts, over the years of independence of Belarus, Russia had invested more than $ 120 billion in its economy.

Belarus was rocked by mass protests since authoritarian President Alexander Lukashenko claimed a landslide victory in elections on 09 August 2020. As many as 100,000 people turned out against the President, who organized counter-demonstrations to support his continued rule. The anti-Lukashenko manifestations were large, and generally composed of yousger people, most seemingly in their 20s. The pro-regime demonstrations were much much smaller - a few thousand people at most - and were generally composed of much older people, seemingly in their 50s or 60s. The pro-regime demonstrators carried the current two-color flag, associated with Lukashenko, while the anti-regime protests featured the earlier tri-color flag [but unlike the Maidan, there were no EU flags in evidence].

Week 1 - 10 August - 17 August 2020

The opposition accused the 65-year-old of rigging the vote to secure a sixth term after 26 years in power. Opposition candidate Svyatlana Tsikhanouskaya, who drew tens of thousands of people to her campaign rallies, claims to have actually received between 60 and 70 percent of the vote. Belarusian police clashed with protesters in Minsk for the second evening in a row after President Alexander Lukashenko won a landslide victory in a contested election. The interior ministry said 89 people were injured during the protests late Sunday and early Monday, including 39 law enforcement officers, and about 3,000 people were detained, some 1,000 of them in Minsk.

In December 2010, after President Alexander Lukashenko claimed 80 percent of the votes in the presidential election amid allegations of vote-rigging, protests erupted in the capital Minsk but were swiftly suppressed by police forces.

The Belarusian opposition uses the white-red-white flag. At the turn of the 19th20th century, a flag with this pattern was used among the first Belarusian nationalist circles and associations. After the collapse of the USSR, independent Belarus adopted the white-and-red tricolor once again. In the 1995 referendum granting the president the right to dissolve parliament and set a course towards integration with Russia, the majority of Belarusian citizens voted for restoration of a modified variant of the Soviet era red over green bicolor At first, the white-red-white flag was only used by patriotic nationalists, but it eventually became a symbol for anyone actively opposing Lukashenko. In contrast to the Euromaidan protests in Ukraine and the 2010 protests in Belarus, for example, EU flags weve noticeably absent during the 2020 demonstrations.

Belarus opposition challenger Svetlana Tikhanouskaya was in Lithuania, the foreign minister said on Tuesday 11 August 2020, following a second night of clashes after a disputed election in the authoritarian former Soviet republic. Tikhanouskaya said that she had made a difficult decision to leave her country for Lithuania. She indicated she had left Belarus to be with her two children, who had earlier been taken out of the authoritarian ex-Soviet country for their own safety.

The calls for regime change in Belarus were unlikely to be silenced. Even the officers and commanders of the country's security and defense organs seem to have understood that the situation cannot go on as it is. If the president's rule survives the present protests, it might be thanks to rubber bullets, water cannon, truncheons and censorship. Russian officials already had plans for the army and the secret services should Lukashenko be overthrown.

Despite Russias importance as a traditional ally to Belarus, whose economy Moscow has been instrumental in propping up, few analysts in Russia expected the Kremlin to repeat Russias intervention in Ukraine in 2014. In that case the issue was Ukrainian shifting alleigance from Russia to the EU, and geopolitical shift that was not on the agenda in Belarus. With tens of thousands joining peaceful protests across Belarus and popular support for Lukashenka plummeting, Russia had little to gain from sweeping in to help him suppress the unrest. For Moscow to back a losing side, it would need too many forces. But Putin wouldnt like to see the direct overthrow of an existing autocrataic power by riotous masses.

About 6,000 people had been taken into custody within days after the election. On 14 August 2020 tens of thousands of people marched in a fresh show of anger over the brutal police crackdown following the contested Belarusian election result. Many of the detained protesters say they were beaten in custody.

A new round of protests began in Minsk on 13 August 2020. One spontaneous August 14 march was led by workers from the Minsk Tractor Works, one of numerous plants around the country where workers have walked off the job. Drivers in passing cars honked their horns in support, and there were few signs of police or security forces. By early evening, more than 20,000 protesters filled central Independence Square. About a dozen soldiers guarding the nearby government headquarters lowered their shields and, seeing it as a sign of solidarity, demonstrators embraced and kissed the guards. Earlier, police didn't interfere as the protesters marched across Minsk.

In one of the latest work stoppages, thousands of workers at the Hrodna Azot chemical plant in the western Belarusian city of Hrodna walked off the job and met plant administrators and city authorities. The workers held up posters, saying "We demand Lukashenka's resignation," "We did not elect him," and "Our votes have been stolen." Media reports say thousands of workers at more than 20 other industrial facilities and organizations across Belarus are on strike or are about to.

Lukashenko cautioned people against turning out for the protests, saying Belarus is facing foreign "aggression." "Don't get out into the streets. You should understand that you and your children are being used as cannon fodder,'' he said, adding: "Do you want me to sit and wait until they turn Minsk upside down?... We must take a break, collect ourselves and calm down. And let us restore order and deal with those who have come here." He instructed officials, however, to avoid excessive force.

The protests in Belarus were not the first against authoritarian ruler Alexander Lukashenko. They were, however, the first in which a majority of citizens had taken to the streets. The vast crowds baying for Lukashenka's resignation across the country were a testament to how far his support had slipped. Lukashenka's support hit a record low this year. It was low before the elections, but now it was irreversibly lost. He had exhausted his legitimacy in the eyes of the population.

State-television presenters in Belarus were signing off for good, fed up with putting a positive spin on the countrys turmoil, as some of their viewers take a beating while protesting what they believe to be a rigged presidential election. The television personalities are joining a growing numbers of police officers and factory workers who are walking off the job to send a message to the authorities and the government of President Alyaksandr Lukashenka.

In an unusual move, Igor Leshchenya, the Belarusian ambassador to Slovakia, declared solidarity with protesters in an undated video posted by Nasha Niva media. Other state employees, including police officers and state TV staff, also came out in support of the protests. Some of the country's biggest state- run industrial plants, the backbone of Lukashenko's Soviet-style economic model, have been hit by protests and walkouts in the past week. Factory workers had been the pillar of the Lukashenko regime for the last 26 years.

Lukashenko called in Moscow's help and spoke on the phone with Putin 15 August 2020, after warning there was "a threat not only to Belarus". "To talk about the military element, we have an agreement with Russia as part of the union state and the Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO). Such situations fall under that agreement," Lukashenko told defence chiefs according to by Belta state news agency. "I had a long, substantial conversation today with the Russian president ... We agreed that at our very first request, comprehensive help will be given to ensure the security of Belarus." He told military chiefs that Putin had offered "comprehensive help" to "ensure the security of Belarus in the event of external military threats". Lukashenko dismissed the demonstrators as foreign-controlled "sheep" and "people with a criminal past who are now unemployed", repeatedly accusing foreign governments of plotting his downfall.

Lukashenko said 15 August 2020: "We see what is happening. We do not need to lull us with peaceful actions and demonstrations. We see what is happening in the depths, Valery Pavlovich (Vakulchik, Chairman of the State Security Committee - ed.). We see this very well. And then, we read the manuals of the so-called color revolutions. Moreover, to the manuals of color revolutions (this is a feature, we will talk about this today in the Ministry of Defense at the Strategic Management Center), elements of external interference have already appeared.

"That is, what I said - in fact, according to the scenario, aggression against Belarus unfolds. We need to contact Putin, the president of Russia, so that I can talk with him now. Because this is already a threat not only to Belarus. You know, some Russians, I see, there, too smart, start shouting: here, Belarus, this is not that way ... I want to say that the protection of Belarus today is no less than the protection of our entire space, the Union State, and an example to others ... If the Belarusians fail, this wave will roll there. That's why they clung to us so."

The Kremlin said the leaders agreed the "problems" in Belarus would be "resolved soon" and the countries' ties strengthened. A Kremlin statement said Putin and Lukashenko both expressed hope for a quick resolution to the tensions. "It is important that these problems are not used by destructive forces aimed at causing injury to the cooperation of the two countries in the framework of the union state," the Kremlin said.

Lukashenko said 16 August 2020 "I am more worried about the situation unfolding on the territory of our neighboring states - in Poland and Lithuania. As you know, there are military exercises of NATO troops. But that would also be fine, but there is an escalation and a build-up of the armed component in these territories. Naturally, we cannot fail to see this, observe it calmly. And when early this morning I talked and listened to the report of the Chief of the General Staff, I noticed that our military is also worried about this problem. We talked about this last year and worked out some algorithm for responding to such events.

"When it comes to the military component, we have an agreement with the Russian Federation within the framework of the Union State and the Collective Security Treaty Organization. These are the moments that fit this agreement, so today I had a long and detailed conversation with the Russian President about the situation. I must say, I was even somewhat surprised that he is absolutely privy to what is happening. And we agreed with him: at our first request, comprehensive assistance will be provided to ensure the security of the Republic of Belarus."

Week 2 - 17 August - 24 August 2020

Belarus MoD announces "planned" military exercises on the border with NATO member Lithuania starting 17 August 2020. Lukashenko played up external threat as peaceful protesters take over capital. From 17 to 20 August, in accordance with the Training Plan of the Belarusian Armed Forces, a number of tactical exercises with batteries of rocket battalions will be held at military training grounds and individual sections of the terrain, with a move to a section of terrain near Ostrovets, the Gozhsky and Neman training grounds.

A video from the M1 highway has appeared on the Voenny Obozrevatel Telegram channel. The author of the video says that he has already met the third column of trucks without license plates, which are moving in the direction of Belarus. Earlier, Fontanka published a photo of a convoy, which seemed suspicious to a driver heading from Pskov to St. Petersburg. Soldiers in black clothing with no insignia were inside.

In the period from August 18 to August 21, 2020, on the territory of the Luga and Mulinsky territorial garrisons, special exercises of the organs and units of the Russian military police of the Western Military District "Guard-2020" will be held. The head of the regional military police department (for the Western Military District), Colonel Alexander Bezklubov, said that during the exercises at the Gorokhovetsky and Lugsky training grounds, military police, together with employees of the military automobile inspection, will work out the use of military police forces and means to protect control points and leadership, as well as the fight against sabotage and reconnaissance groups of the enemy. In total, it is planned to use about 230 servicemen and 40 units of military and special equipment.

On August 17, the morning after a rally urging his ouster gathered an estimated 200,000 people in Minsk, Lukashenka arrived by helicopter at the Minsk Wheeled Tractor Plant in a bid to reenergize the support of workers, whom he'd always considered his most robust, core electorate. "I'll tell you man-to-man, the worst thing in life is betrayal," he said. Met with jeers, he warned of further violence if protests continued and said striking workers would not be welcomed back. "You, working people,... have always supported the president," he told them. "No!" came the reply. Outside the factory entrance, a large crowd chanted, "Get Lukashenka into a prison truck!" Belarusian opposition politician Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya said 17 August 2020 that Belarus should create a legal framework for a new fair election. She also called on security forces to switch sides from President Alexander Lukashenko. Tsikhanouskaya called for the creation of a legal framework to allow such new elections to be held. She has already proposed setting up a "coordination council" to ensure a peaceful transfer of power. "I did not want to be a politician. But fate decreed that I'd find myself on the frontline of a confrontation against arbitrary rule and injustice," she said. "I am ready to take responsibility and act as a national leader during this period."

The headquarters of Tsikhanouskaya released a statement calling for a general strike as a way to get the resignation of President Lukashenko. "We urge all labor collectives to join the indefinite strike demanding the resignation of Alexander Lukashenko, as well as to delegate representatives of the strike committees to the Coordinating Council," read the statement, which was published on social networks.

Workers across Belarus have downed tools after the country's opposition called for a nationwide strike on Monday. Staff at the country's state broadcaster have walked off the job in support of mass protests, and about 5,000 striking workers from the Minsk Tractor Works plant marched down the streets of Minsk demanding that Lukashenko step down and cede his post to Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya.

President Lukashenko announced that new elections could be held after Belarus adopts a new constitution - hours after telling a crowd of striking workers that elections would not be held "unless you kill me." Lukashenko said in a fragment of a speech shown on TV channel Belarus 24 : "We need to adopt a new constitution... You would need to ratify it at a referendum, and then, under the new constitution, if you want, have parliamentary elections, presidential elections, and elections for the local officials." The latest remarks mark a major change of tack for the besieged Lukashenko who has so far defied calls to give up power amid mass protests.

some commentators, such as former Swedish Prime Minister Carl Bildt, argued that the 2018 revolution in Armenia -- where mass demonstrations led to the resignation of longtime President Serzh Sarkisian -- is a more instructive example for Belarus. In an August 18 op-ed, Bildt said Armenia offered the best template for current developments in Belarus, where fresh elections could pave the way for a new government. While Armenian protests pushed out Sarkisian, the new administration led by Prime Minister Nikol Pashinian has retained the country's pro-Russian policies.

The opposition in Belarus launched a coordinating council to organize a transfer of power, a move embattled President Alyaksandr Lukashenka described as an attempt to seize power following a controversial election and brutal crackdown on his opponents. The opposition council composed of civil society members met on August 18, saying it represents the people and is seeking to negotiate a peaceful transition of power "without political goals or a program."

Belarusian protesters and opposition candidate Svetlana Tikhanovskaya have repeatedly emphasised that they do not want a "Maidan" in Belarus, referring to the protest movement in Ukraine in 2013-2014. The Belarusian protests have not adopted any nationalistic narratives that would alienate the Russian-speaking communities in the country and encourage local support for Russian military action.

On 19 August 2020 Lukashenka instructed the Interior Ministry to prevent unrest in the country and tighten border controls to keep foreign influences from fomenting instability in the face of an 11th day of street protests and strikes over a controversial presidential election. "There should be no more riots in Minsk. People are tired. People demand peace and quiet," Lukashenka said on August 19, according to the BelTA state news agency. "I instruct the State Border Committee, we see this from the discussion, to strengthen the protection of the state border along the entire perimeter in order to prevent militants, weapons, ammunition, and money from other countries from entering Belarus to finance the riots. We see that this money is coming." Lukashenka accused the opposition of planning to join NATO and the European Union, ban the Russian language, and establish an Orthodox church independent of the Moscow Patriarchate - policies that Ukrainian nationalists have pursued since 2014, angering Russia.

In a joint statement, the presidents of the Czech Republic, Hungary, Poland and Slovakia -- known as the Visegrad Four -- called on Belarusian authorities to "open the way for a political solution, and to abide by the fundamental human rights and freedoms while refraining from the use of violence against the peaceful demonstrators." In a veiled reference to neighboring Russia, the four leaders urged "foreign actors to refrain from actions that would undermine Belarus' independence and sovereignty."

EU leaders, including German Chancellor Angela Merkel, said the bloc does not recognize Belarus' presidential elections. German Parliamentary Speaker Wolfgang Schuble said " ... people would be wrong to think that we want to change spheres of influence... If we stand up for human rights, non-violence and democracy, that is not directed against anyone, and certainly not against Russia."

Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov accused foreign powers of using the unrest to interfere in Belarus. He said there was no need for outside mediation in the ex-Soviet state, adding that statements from EU countries were driven by geopolitics. But the Kremlin said it saw no need for Russia to help Belarus militarily or otherwise. Spokesman Dmitry Peskov said outside interference in Belarus was unacceptable, and that the situation should be solved internally by Belarusians themselves.

On August 19, U.S. Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden warned Russia not to interfere in the Belarus crisis, which he said "is not about geopolitics but the right to choose one's leaders." Biden, who on August 18 won his party's presidential endorsement at the ongoing Democratic convention, stated, "The brave citizens of Belarus are showing their voices will not be silenced by terror or torture. The U.S. should support Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya's call for fair elections. Russia must be told not to interfere -- this is not about geopolitics but the right to choose one's leaders."

Nicknamed "Batka" -- Father -- Lukashenka had successes since his election in 1994, when a society rocked by the collapse of the Soviet Union sought a strong hand to stabilize the country. He did many things, in particular, he saved the Belarusian industry. Therefore, if Tikhanovskaya, for example, said that the president once had successes, but now his role has become destructive and everyone needs to leave on time, this would allow her to cover a larger volume of the electorate with the simple demand for fair elections that resonated with a society fed up by years of economic stagnation and a lack of alternatives.

On August 21, Lukashenka finally confirmed that he had "asked the Russians" to send "two or three teams" of Russian journalists to work in the state media holding company. State journalists across Belarus quit or were fired for supporting the opposition movement. The jobs weren't filled by fellow Belarusians, though, but by state TV journalists from Russia, which has backed Lukashenka and was now apparently assisting his efforts to retain power. With opposition protests convulsing the country almost daily, gone were the staid updates about harvest yields or the latest coronavirus figures. Slick propaganda videos slamming protesters as agents of the West began appearing.

Lukashenka came to the state news agency Belta in uniform 21 August 2020, saying Poland and NATO wanted to occupy Hrodra region (north-western Belarus, a region with very strong protests). Large-scale military drills announced in Hrodna and Brest regions. Therefore, I warned the Russian President about the situation in Belarus. We have complete mutual understanding, we have a corresponding Treaty within the framework of the CSTO and the Union State, he added. He clarified that at that time he was forced to transfer a significant number of military personnel to the "western direction, especially in the Grodno region." Escalation was expected. I dont want to plunge the country into full martial law. It is not normal. I want to live in peace, as it always has been. And this is my main task - to respond there, to stabilize the situation here, he summed up.

According to Lukashenko, the majority of the Armed Forces of Belarus have been placed on full combat alert (reportedly the first time since the cold war) and deployed to the western border. According to KFM936, Lukashenko gave security officials two days to restore order in the country. According to him, the scenario of color revolutions is used against Belarus. The peculiarity of the situation is in the use of an external factor. As we expected, everything is going according to the plan of the color revolutions. Usually they spin inside, overthrow the current government. But since the authorities are in place, they are firmly resisting, they have connected an external factor, Lukashenka said.

Tikhanovskaya said I want to address people in uniform: Belarusians are people who do not accept violence, Belarusians are generous and fair, and if you decide not to carry out criminal orders and go over to the side of the people, they will forgive you, support you, and will not reproach you in the future. I think that you yourself know and understand this very well, because we are all one whole, which someone wants to tear apart and play off.

Poland does not have any claims to the Belarusian territory and is not planning to violate its territorial integrity, Polish presidential spokesman Krzysztof Szczerski said on 22 August 2020. Earlier in the day, Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko said during an address in the city of Grodno [home of the 6th Guards Mechanized Brigade and adjacent to the Suwalki Gap] to pro-government protesters that "that are enough of those" in Poland who would like to annex some western Belarusian lands. "At the western border, the situation is unstable, they [Western countries] rattle the saber, threaten, openly interfere in the internal affairs of our sovereign state", Lukashenko said, adding that if he was not the country's president, Belarus would be "destroyed." According to Lukashenko, all those who coordinated and triggered unrest in Belarus are in neighbouring countries and receive support from foreign governments. Lukashenko said that putting the army on combat alert and deploying troops on the countrys western borders was his main decision in 25 years.

As we expected, everything is going according to the plan of color revolutions with the agitation of the internal political situation in the country. The originality and peculiarity of the situation lies in the fact that an external factor is connected, which is not always the case. Usually they spin inside, overthrow the current government. But since the authorities are in place, they are toughly resisting, they have connected an external factor," BelTA quotes Alexander Lukashenko.

Lukashenko said he and Vladimir Putin agree that the forces allegedly directing the ongoing political crisis in Belarus are aiming to attack Russia next. In Russia, I often see the media saying: Oh, in Belarus, in Belarus But its happening right here, on the western border [of Russia], Lukashenko told RT in the city of Grodno. Were being pressured, hounded. Myself and Putin have agreed that theyre hounding us here to jump on Russia later. Its a trampoline, and we must destroy it. Its an opinion we share with President Putin, Lukashenko said. Lukashenka believes that it is through the western border that NATO troops will invade, "to drag the supposedly new president here." The rally was broadcast live on the RT in Russian YouTube channel. He was not on any of the Belarusian channels.

Tikhanovskaya has said her country's people have changed and will no longer accept President Alexander Lukashenko. "Sooner or later he will have to step away. It's better for everybody. It's better for the country if it will happen in the shortest time," the 37-year-old leader said. "The Belarusian people have changed. They will never accept the old authorities." Lithuania will not recognize the legitimacy of Alexander Lukashenko. 120 votes in favor, no "against", two people abstained. Members of parliament put white-red-white flags in solidarity with Belarusian people. Lithuania organized the Freedom Way in solidarity with Belarus. The 39km human chain will connect Vilnius downtown and Belarus border! President Dalia Grybauskaite and Gitanas Nauseda as well as thousands Lithuanians and Belarusians will join.

A massive crowd of protesters gathered in Minsk on Sunday 23 August 2020, answering an opposition call for President Alexander Lukashenkos resignation and defying the Belarusian strongmans warning that stringent measures would be employed to defend the country. Waving red-and-white opposition flags, protesters chanted "Freedom" as a sea of people, exceeding tens of thousands, according to initial estimates, made their way to Independence Square in the heart of the Belarusian capital.

There were no official figures on crowd size, but The Associated Press estimated that 150,000 people took part. "This is a huge demonstration of something that, frankly, would have been unthinkable in Belarus just a few months ago," Nick Connolly, DW's correspondent in the Belarusian capital said.

Week 3 - 24 August - 31 August 2020

The Defense Ministry announced it would deploy the army to protect national monuments from protesters and any unrest near these sites will not be tolerated. The ministry said it would intervene to protect World War II memorials, which it described as "sacred places," and ordered the closure of four metro stations in central Minsk. "We categorically warn: any violation of peace and order in such places - you will have the army to deal with now, not the police," it said in a statement. "We, soldiers, will not allow these places to be desecrated, there can be no fascism there!" The news of the army deployment outraged some people. So far only the riot police had been used against the protesters. It was unclear whether these soldiers would be willing to use force against unarmed demonstrators. DTozens of military trucks were spotted near a fenced-off WWII stele in the city center. The Defence Ministry said it would protect memorials that protesters use as landmarks for their gatherings.

The West had been seeking to remake Belarus in its own design, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said at a youth forum in the Moscow region. "The inability of our Western partners to engage in a dialogue is a rather serious fact that we have to take into account, and not only we. And now, when they are trying to redraw Belarus according to their own design and offer their mediation Of course, we will not be against any decision that the Belarusian leadership will make regarding dialogue with its population," Lavrov said.

Al Jazeera's Step Vaessen, reporting from Minsk, said that along with riot police, dozens of military trucks carrying soldiers had also made their way to the centre of the capital. "It was the first time we saw the military being deployed right here in the heart of Minsk. There was a lot of concern that there would be this violent crackdown but that didn't deter anyone. People just came streaming in," Vaessen said, adding that protesters say "they have no fear anymore".

Lukashenko went out to the security personnel surrounding his residence in Minsk. The security forces told Lukashenko that they would be with him until the end, to which the president responded that he would deal with the situation and thanked them. The head of state approached the riot policemen, while in his hands was a submachine gun with a fastened magazine. Thank you, you are handsome! He said. In response, the security forces began to applaud and promised that they would be "with him until the end." Earlier, a video of Lukashenka's arrival by helicopter to his residence with an assault rifle in his hands appeared on the network. The footage shows the head of state getting out of the helicopter with guards and carrying a Kalashnikov assault rifle in his left hand [he seemed to be channeling the last days of Allende]. Next to him walked his son Kolya, dressed in special forces uniform.

The imagery drew derision from many observers, including Carl Bildt, a former prime minister of Sweden and ex-European Union envoy, who said that entire day, including him brandishing the weapon, was "deeply humiliating" for Lukashenka, and suggested he was scared and lacked confidence. Tikhanovskaya's campaign ally and Coordination Council member Maria Kolesnikova on Monday called for an official investigation into how Nikolai, a minor, was allowed to carry a combat weapon, and ridiculed Lukashenko. "We think it's very strange when someone who heads a country allows himself to run about in very strange clothing, with a very strange weapon in the centre of Minsk," she said.

Belarusian authorities stepped up arrests of political opponents and strike leaders after the latest unprecedented demonstration against President Alexander Lukashenko's disputed re-election. Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov praised protesters for lack of "provocations" and said law enforcement behaved "very appropriately" during the demonstration. Two members of he opposition Coordination Council were detained on Monday: Sergei Dylevsky, a tractor plant worker who has come to prominence as a strike leader and Olga Kovalkova, a member of Tikhanovskaya's staff. In the industrial city of Soligorsk, police detained a strike leader at the Belaruskaly potash plant, Anatoly Bokun, and another, Alexander Lavrinovich, at the MZKT plant, which makes heavy-duty trucks.

The Belarusian army will protect the nation from threats and ensure that order be preserved amid "uneasy circumstances," Chief of the Belarusian General Staff Alexander Volfovich said on 25 August 2020. "The troops will exercise combat training tasks at the training ranges. We can see what is happening in and around the country. In these complicated circumstances, the army is ensuring and will be ensuring the military security of the state, people and every given individual who wants to peacefully live and work in Belarus," Volfovich said, as quoted in a press release by the Belarusian Defense Ministry. "We will not let [anyone] to vandalize our monuments, destroy the education system, intimidate citizens, paralyze transport communications and confuse the moral values of the Belarusian youth. The army categorically rejects all this and is ready to defend the country from these threats," the military official added.

Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said 25 August 2020 that at a meeting with US Deputy Secretary of State Stephen Biegun he had drawn attention to the proposal of Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko to carry out a constitutional reform in Belarus. "We drew attention to the initiative of Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko, which he put forward even before the presidential election and repeated already in the post-election period the initiative for constitutional reform as a basis for the consolidation of society with the subsequent organization of presidential, parliamentary and local government elections. I believe a hand is offered to all those who are interested in a stable, united Belarus. Of course, it should be noticed by the opposition and those of our Western partners who are now leading this opposition," the minister said.

Tens of thousands of opposition supporters marched through the Belarusian capital of Minsk on 30 August 2020 calling for an end to strongman Alexander Lukashenko's rule, despite heavily armed police and troops blocking streets and detaining dozens of demonstrators. Protests had entered a third week since the disputed presidential election on August 9 in which Lukashenko claimed victory, while opposition rival Svetlana Tikhanovskaya said she was the true winner. An AFP journalist and local media estimated that more than 100,000 people came to Sunday's protest, equalling the scale of the rallies on previous weekends, the largest demonstrations the country has seen since independence from the USSR. Some protesters gathered around Lukashenko's official residence in the centre of Minsk, the Palace of Independence, which was guarded by a cordon of riot police and special forces with helmets and anti-riot shields, equipped with water cannons.

UN human rights experts on 01 September 2020 received reports of 450 documented cases of torture and ill-treatment of people deprived of their liberty after the disputed presidential election on 09 August that led to mass protests and arrests. We are extremely alarmed at the hundreds of allegations of torture and other ill-treatment in police custody, they said. Most people reported missing have been accounted for, but it is alarming that the whereabouts and the state of health of at least 6 individuals are reportedly unknown to their relatives. We also remain concerned that cases of enforced disappearances may proliferate should heavy-handed response to peaceful protests continue, they said. Among some 6,700 people detained in recent weeks while exercising their right to freedom of peaceful assembly were journalists and passers-by who were arbitrarily arrested and hastily sentenced.

Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov slammed Lithuanias alleged undemocratic methods to support the Belarusian opposition. "We see attempts to unbalance the situation, said Lavrov, according to Russias Interfax news agency. As a matter of fact, no one is concealing this. "Our Lithuanian neighbours have already overstepped all bounds of decency in the demands that they are putting forth, said Lavrov at the Moscow State Institute of International Relations. And we have reasons to presume that they are working with Svetlana Tikhanovskaya via undemocratic methods [...] that do not show much respect for the sovereignty of Belarus."

Lithuania's Foreign Minister said Lithuania had no intention of meddling into Belarus' affairs, but it would assist people prosecuted by the Minsk government. In the opinion of Lithuania and other EU countries, a new and transparent election, accepted by both the people of Belarus and the international community, is what could take Belarus out of the political deadlock.

More than 100 people were arrested 06 September 2020 after ignoring threats not to assemble. Authorities have sealed off roads and deployed heavy vehicles to prevent protesters from trying to reach Independence Square. Tens of thousands of people rallied in the Belarusian capital, Minsk, on Sunday despite warnings of a heavy-handed response by authorities. Carrying red-and-white flags and chanting slogans against strongman President Alexander Lukashenko, protesters marched in the presence of police personnel carriers and water cannon.

Attempts to clamp down on the protest movement and the use of propaganda including a recent image of Lukashenko holding a Kalashnikov seem to have had the opposite effect. People are laughing at the regime rather than fearing it and coming out in ever greater numbers. People don't give the impression of being scared or being willing to stay sitting at home while Lukashenko regains control of this country. Similar protests were seen in other cities such as Brest, Mogilev, Gomel and Vitebsk.

Lukashenko reportedly acknowledged on Russian television that he "maybe overstayed a bit" as anger mounts over the disappearance and subsequent detention of a leading opposition organizer on 08 September 2020. Belarusian border officials said they detained Maryya Kalesnikava at the border with Ukraine after a full day of Belarusian and international calls mount for answers from Minsk on her suspected abduction and other disappearances of influential Lukashenka critics.

Security forces in balaclavas arrested hundreds of protesters during the latest massive demo in central Minsk 13 September 2020. Dozens were immediately transferred to prison as rights groups again complained of police brutality. The police stepped in towards the end of the protest, which was reported to have been 100,000 people strong. As soon as the numbers thinned out and the police could get at people stragglers on their way home, they came in for the arrests. Thee demonstrations were different as they took place in residential areas because police prevented downtown areas from being used.

Putin and Lukashenko agreed on 14 September 2020 that Moscow would withdraw reserves of troops that were deployed at the border with Belarus, Russian news agency TASS reported. "An important result of the two presidents' talks in Sochi became an agreement that Russia removes the reserve of law enforcement bodies and the national guard, which was deployed near the Russia-Belarus border, and withdraws people to their permanent bases," Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov was quoted as saying by TASS.

Subdivisions of the Armed Forces of the Russian Federation will return to their places of permanent deployment after the implementation of the program of joint exercises with Belarus, Putin said, opening negotiations with Lukashenko. "After completing the program of joint exercises, Russian units will return to their places of permanent deployment," Putin assured. The head of the Russian state recalled that on September 14, the military exercises planned back in 2019 began, which will last several days. "To a certain extent, for military people this is a routine matter, it is connected with the training of troops. I repeat again so that there is no speculation: this is an event that was planned and even announced last year," Putin said.

Anti-Lukashenko protests had grown "extremely radicalized," a senior Belarus interior ministry official said 12 October 2020, warning that police were ready to use "firearms" if necessary. Hundreds were detained over the weekend. Commenting on the rallies against strongman Alexander Lukashenko, Kazakevich said that crowds attending the protests were getting smaller, but the rallies were also getting more organized and "extremely radicalized", especially in Minsk. He said the protesters were using "rocks, bottles, knives and shivs" during the marches and then proceeded to set up barricades and burn tires during the night.

Belarus opposition leader Svetlana Tikhanovskaya said on 13 October 2020 she would announce a country-wide strike unless President Alexander Lukashenko announces his resignation, halts violence and releases political prisoners by Oct. 25. "If our demands are not met by Oct. 25, the whole country will be out on the streets, peacefully," Tikhanovskaya, who is in exile in Vilnius, said in a statement. "On Oct. 26, all enterprises will begin a strike, all roads will be blocked, state-owned stores will no longer have any sales," she added. Tikhanovskayas ultimatum came as police in Belarus detained 186 people at protests across the country, according to the Interior Ministry.

Belarus opposition leader Svetlana Tikhanovskaya said 16 October 2020 supporters were beginning a nationwide strike after her deadline expired for strongman Alexander Lukashenko to step down. Factory workers on Monday chanted slogans, students took to the streets and police made detentions as Belarusians answered the opposition call for a national strike, local media footage showed.

If sustained, the strikes could open a new phase in the crisis, testing whether the opposition has the mass support it needs to bring companies across the country of 9.5 million people to a halt. Previously, the opposition mounted some strikes at state-run factories, but they were not sustained. Local media reported groups of strikers at many major state-controlled enterprises. However, the prime minister's spokeswoman said all the country's major industrial companies were working normally.

More than 1,000 anti-government demonstrators were detained across Belarus on 08 November 2020, the 13th consecutive Sunday of protests calling for the resignation of Alyaksandr Lukashenka and a new presidential election following a disputed vote three months ago. The Vyasna human rights group said a total of 1,024 people were detained by security forces, with video and photographs on social media showing men, often in plainclothes, brutally wrestling demonstrators to the ground and forcing them into police transport.

Tens of thousands of people again took to the streets of cities across Belarus on Sunday 14 November 2020, as post election protests continue. This weekend saw heightened tensions following the alleged killing of an opposition activist by police. Demonstrators in the capital Minsk clashed with OMON, the country's specialist riot squad, and members of the military who were deployed by authorities in an attempt to stymie the rallies, footage from the scene showed. Security forces used flash grenades to disperse crowds, according to local media. Plumes of tear gas rose into the sky as columns of marchers headed for the center of the city. At least 500 people were reportedly detained across Belarus on Sunday, according to observers from Viasna, which is funded by a London-based Belarusian businessman though not registered with authorities in Minsk. While the majority were arrested in the capital, others were reportedly picked up by officers in Brest and Molodechno, as well as Vitebsk, Gomel, Grodno and other regions.

Tens of thousands of people protested against Belarusian leader Alexander Lukashenko for the 15th consecutive Sunday in Minsk on 22 November 2020, demanding he step down. Protesters gathered in residential areas and then came together in the capital city to avoid getting shut down early by police. Several metro stations were closed and communications were cut at times. Sunday's protests were called a "March Against Fascism" after Lukashenko accused protesters of being fascists. More than 30 rallies took place in Minsk today, and dozens in the regions. For the first time, people gathered not in the center but in their neighborhoods and marching on different routes. Police detained dozens of protesters and used stun grenades to disperse the crowd. The Vesna-96 rights group said at least 205 people had been detained by police. Police have arrested about 1,000 people during each of the last two Sundays' protests.

Lukashenka, who had ruled Belarus for 26 years, has said he would leave his post after a new constitution had been adopted. "I will not work as president with you under the new constitution," Lukashenka said during a visit to a Minsk hospital on November 27. He stressed the need for amendments to the constitution and adjustments to presidential powers but did not give a timeline for when a new constitution might be adopted.

More than 16,000 people have been detained in Belarus since the election campaign began. The total number of citizens against whom criminal cases were initiated in the election and post-election period is more than 700 people. The total number of detainees for participating in peaceful assemblies since the beginning of the election campaign is more than 16,000. Belarusian security forces detained hundreds of protesters at rallies in Minsk the opposition had billed as the march of neighbours, local police and a rights group reported 29 November 2020. Thousands of demonstrators met at various locations on Sunday, mostly in remote residential areas of the capital, and marched through the streets demanding the resignation of President Alexander Lukashenko.

2021

Protesters carrying banned white-and-red national flags marched in parks and residential areas in several towns on 09 January 2021 demanding the resignation of Alyaksandr Lukashenka and accountability for those responsible for an often violent crackdown against opposition protesters. Demonstrations have been going on since the August 9 presidential election seen as rigged in favor of Lukashenka. In an effort to avoid detention, protesters have resorted to flash-mob tactics and engage in smaller and shorter marches outside city centers as opposed to large-scale demonstrations that have become an easier target for the security forces.

After a crackdown by police that saw many protestors beaten and arrested, the rallies died down in November 2020 and morphed into smaller, local protests. Opposition leader Svetlana Tikhanovskaya on 22 February 2021 called on supporters to take to the streets again on March 25th to place pressure on Lukashenko to step down. The resumption of the campaign promises to revive the battle between Lukashenko, who is backed by Russia and has so far faced down demands to resign, and an opposition supported by the West.

The Belarusian opposition started celebrating Freedom Day on March 25 back in 1989. The date marks the anniversary of the creation of the first independent Belarussian republic in 1918, which was overthrown a year later by the Bolsheviks. The opposition movement against President Lukashenko chose the white, red and white striped flag of this short-lived first republic as their symbol. In 2021, the government banned protests on March 25, citing coronavirus and calls to extremism that had been circulating on the messaging app Telegram. When the Belarusian opposition leader in exile, Svetlana Tikhanovskaya, called for protesters to take to the streets on Freedom Day on March 25, only a few brave souls responded. Police flooded the streets of Minsk, as the government led by President Alexander Lukashenko continues to clamp down on opposition across the country.

Belarus and its president, Alexander Lukashenko, faced international condemnation and possible sanctions after forcing the landing of a commercial Ryanair flight 23 May 2021 in order to arrest an opposition journalist and activist. The United States joined international leaders in condemning the actions of Belarus after it forced the landing of a Lithuania-bound Ryanair flight carrying an opposition journalist and activist, arresting him after the plane touched down in Minsk. Roman Protasevich, the 26-year-old detained journalist, formerly worked for the opposition Telegram channel NEXTA, which broadcast news updates and footage from mass protests that took place in the wake of Belarus' August 2020 election. Opposition activists have accused longtime Belarussian President Alexander Lukashenkowho has been dubbed Europe's "last dictator"of rigging the election in the Eastern European nation.

The plane was flying from Athens, Greece, and had almost crossed over into Lithuania when Belarussian authorities warned the crew of a "potential security threat," Reuters reported. Ryanair's CEO Michael O'Leary called the forced diversion a "state-sponsored hijacking". U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken said in a statement: "This shocking act perpetrated by the Lukashenka regime endangered the lives of more than 120 passengers, including U.S. citizens."





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