5:00 EDT: The Kremlin is leveraging the Belarusian President’s weakening position to coerce Lukashenko to advance the Union State. Lukashenko met with Russian Prime Minister Mikhail Mishustin in Minsk on September 3. Mishustin claimed they made progress on formalizing the Union State’s “Union Cabinet of Ministers” and other “economic measures.” The Kremlin claimed Lukashenko said he would “finally dot the i's” on “very sensitive and painful” Union State agreements in his upcoming meeting with Putin in Moscow. Lukashenko thanked the Kremlin for all its support during the crisis and framed his decisions to advance the Union State as a necessity to protect Belarus and Russia from NATO aggression.
5:00 EDT: Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko’s upcoming meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin in Moscow may culminate in Lukashenko ceding more of Belarus’ remaining sovereignty to Russia. The Kremlin is conducting ministerial meetings with Belarus to set conditions to exploit Lukashenko’s vulnerability at an upcoming meeting with Putin. The Kremlin confirmed Lukashenko will meet Putin in Moscow “in the coming weeks” on August 30. Lukashenko will reportedly meet Putin around September 10. Belarusian Foreign Minister Vladimir Makei met with Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov in Moscow on September 2. Lavrov articulated some of the Kremlin’s likely demands by expressing support for further formalizing Russia and Belarus’ interactions in the Union State, Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO), Eurasian Economic Union (EAEU), and Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS). All are Kremlin-dominated international organizations Moscow leverages to reconsolidate control over the former Soviet Union.
5:30 EDT: Kremlin media is overtly discussing Russia’s absorption of Belarus. Kremlin-run wire service RIA Novosti argued Belarusians and Russians are “one people with two states” and that “two states of one people are always a temporary phenomenon” on September 1 – implying the inevitable incorporation of Belarus and Russia. The Kremlin used similar talking points to justify Russia’s intervention in Ukraine in 2014.
6:00 EDT: The Belarusian opposition is developing a new weekly protest rhythm. No significant protests occurred in Belarus on August 31. The size of weekday protests has decreased over the last two weeks from regular nationwide protests with hundreds of participants to scattered protests primarily in Minsk with dozens of participants. Belarusian President Lukashenko’s renewed crackdown and detention campaign since August 26 and the inability of protesters to sustain missing work has likely deterred protesters. The opposition will likely primarily use weekdays to plan and prepare for large Sunday protests.
9:00 am EDT: The NEXTA Telegram channel published its first public strategy for the protest movement on August 28. NEXTA released a “plan for victory” for the opposition on August 28 at 10:49 pm Minsk time. NEXTA stated the plan’s purpose is to implement three “popular demands”: remove Lukashenko and enable new free elections; ensure the release of all political prisoners; and conduct fair trials for security personnel who abused detainees – in line with NEXTA’s preexisting stated goals. NEXTA called for the opposition to unify behind Svetlana Tikhanouskaya and the Coordination Council, create activist networks inside Belarus, and implement six coordinated campaigns against Lukashenko. Tikhanouskaya has not commented on NEXTA’s strategy as of this writing.
7:30 pm EDT: The Kremlin and Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko consolidated control over the international information space ahead of a likely crackdown. Belarusian authorities stripped accreditation from at least 17 international journalists working in Minsk and demanded they leave the country on August 29. The journalists worked for major Western news organizations including Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty (RFE/RL), the BBC, the Associated Press, Reuters, Agence-France Presse, Germany’s ARD television, Deutsche Welle, and Radio France. Belarusian authorities arrested at least two RFE/RL journalists while they were reporting live on air in Minsk on August 29. Belarusian authorities additionally blocked Naviny and Nasha Niva – two of Belarus’ remaining independent news agencies - and arrested the operator of the KYKY Belarusian news site on August 28. Independent Belarusian media and foreign journalists are crucial for covering protests and security force responses in the absence of a free media space. Lukashenko partially blocked the internet on August 9 and Russian personnel began running Belarusian state media on August 19. Lukashenko’s coordinated effort to consolidate control over the Belarusian information space, primarily targeting international coverage, may be a prelude to a crackdown against protesters.
4:00 pm EDT: President Alexander Lukashenko asserted he was in control of the situation in Belarus and does not require Russian help on August 28. Lukashenko gave a defiant speech downplaying the need for Russian assistance during a visit to the city of Orsha in eastern Belarus on August 28. Lukashenko stated the protests in the country and his claims of NATO pressure “are my problems, and I will solve them.” Lukashenko downplayed the possibility of a Russian intervention in Belarus, following Russian President Vladimir Putin’s August 27 announcement that Russia has prepared a unit of security forces to deploy to Belarus if necessary. Lukashenko stated “we [Belarusians] will defend ourselves” and stated the Kremlin only seeks to defend itself through Belarus. Lukashenko claimed the Russian forces will only deploy in the event of NATO deployments on the “western border of the Union State.” The Kremlin, however, framed the reserve unit as “law enforcement officers” – not a military force aimed at protecting Belarus’ western border against NATO.
12:30 pm EDT: The Kremlin announced it has created a reserve force to intervene in Belarus if necessary. Russian President Vladimir Putin gave an interview to the state-run Russia 1 TV channel on August 27. Putin stated the Kremlin has prepared a “reserve of law enforcement officers” but will not deploy it to Belarus unless the situation “gets out of control.” The Kremlin previously pledged it would intervene in Belarus in response to foreign intervention on August 15 and has claimed foreign intervention is ongoing since August 19. Putin’s statement is the first Kremlin acknowledgment of preparations to intervene in Belarus. The Kremlin has supported Lukashenko with RT technical personnel, information support, and potentially covert security coordination since August 19. ISW has previously assessed the Kremlin is prepared to intervene in Belarus to support Lukashenko if he is unable to control protests.
5:30 EDT: President Alexander Lukashenko effectively dispersed limited protests on August 26. There were almost no protests in Belarus on August 26, likely in part because NEXTA did not provide protest directions for August 26. A few hundred protesters arrived at the Belarusian parliament to initiate the recall of Belarusian MPs, but riot police dispersed the crowd and detained some participants. Some protesters held small gatherings around Belarus, most of which consisted of fewer than 100 people. Riot police dispersed these small gatherings, detaining some participants.
5:30 pm EDT: President Alexander Lukashenko effectively dispersed limited protests on August 25. Belarusian security forces dispersed protests across Belarus on August 25. Lukashenko resumed dispersing protests on August 24, but Belarusian security forces have not used violence against protesters since August 13. NEXTA’s call for Belarusians to gather at the Investigative Committee to support opposition leader Pavel Latushko only drew a small number of protesters. The Investigative committee released Latushko after interrogating him for 3.5 hours and forcing him to sign a non-disclosure agreement. An estimated 5,000 protesters gathered without interference on Independence Square in Minsk from 6:00 pm to approximately 9:00 pm local time. The Belarusian government organized a parallel pro-Lukashenko rally across the city in the Komarovsky market. Security personnel and several popular singers made speeches in favor of Lukashenko. Security forces detained small numbers of protesters in Minsk the evening of August 25 after protests ended. Security forces successfully deterred most protests and dispersed the remainder with little violence. Belarusian security forces likely seek to contain the scale of protests through intimidation and targeted detentions, rather than risking full-scale crackdowns.