Belarus unrest continues

Joe Malmkvist, NATO Watch

22 August 2020

Following the presidential elections in Belarus held on 9 August, large protests are taking place in the country’s capital Minsk. The Belarusian opposition leader, Svetlana Tikhanovskaya, urged the EU to reject the results of the election to which the EU complied stating that “The 9 August elections were neither free nor fair”.

Belarus’ incumbent president, Alexander Lukashenko, who has been in power since 1994 has responded to the Minsk protests saying that “"There should no longer be any disorder in Minsk of any kind” and that “People are tired. People demand peace and quiet".

At a 16 August rally in Minsk Lukashenko stated that “NATO troops are at our gates” and that “Ukraine are ordering us to hold new elections,”. Lukashenko subsequently warned Belarusians that their country would “die as a state” if new elections were held, according to Reuters.

In a phone call with Polish President Andrzej Duda on 18 August, NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg stressed that NATO does not have any military buildup in the region and poses no threat to Belarus. Stoltenberg and President Duda agreed that peaceful Minsk protests must be allowed and that the alliance policy remains strictly defensive and ready to deter any attacks against NATO allies.

NATO continues to monitor the protests in Belarus as recent developments suggest further complications are likely. Kremlin sources have said that Russian President Vladimir Putin offered Moscow’s assistance to Lukashenko, if necessary. According to Lukashenko, there is already a Belarus-Russian agreement stating the terms by which Russia would intervene if Belarus required assistance in dealing with the protests.

According to columnist and former military professor Frederick W. Kagan, Russian meddling in Belarus could pose a threat to NATO’s ability to defend Baltic allies, if, for example, Russia was to place troops in the region.

However, on 19 August, Charles Michel, the European Council president, referring to recent Kremlin statements and discussions with Putin, said that the Russian Government did not intend any military interference in Belarus, Michel also told journalists that “The future of Belarus has to be decided by the people in Belarus, not in Brussels, not in Moscow”.

Despite ongoing Minsk protests Lukashenko is showing no signs of stepping down refusing to enter into any talks that would remove him from power, according to Politico. The Belarusian opposition leader, Ms. Tikhanovskaya, has responded in her most recent video urging protestors to " ( . . . ) continue and expand strikes... don't be fooled by intimidation".

Further reading:

Carl Bildt, The Armenian model for Belarus, ECFR Commentary, 19 August, 2020

Ian Anthony, The Belarus election: A challenge to stability and security in Northern Europe, SIPRI Commentary, 19 August 2020

Gustav Gressel, Russia’s military manoeuvres at the Belarus border – a message to the West, ECFR Commentary, 18 August 2020

NATO Secretary General discusses Belarus with President of Poland, NATO News Release, 18 August 2020

How to Help Belarus, Statement by the International Crisis Group, 18 August 2020