Belarus Warning Update: Lukashenko Appears to Resist Kremlin Pressure to Request Russian Intervention in Belarus

August 28, 2020 - Press ISW

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.

Belarus Warning Update: Kremlin Announces Reserve Force is Prepared to Intervene in Belarus

August 27, 2020 - Press ISW

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.

Northeast Syria Patrol Routes Map: Russian and US Forces Collide

August 26, 2020 - Press ISW

US and Russian forces are engaged in a competition for influence and control of the major roads in northeast Syria, threatening the safety of US personnel. Russia seeks to expand its presence toward the Syria-Iraq border in the far northeast corner of Hasakah Province to cut off key US ground supply lines between Iraq and Syria. US and Russian forces routinely disrupt each other’s patrols, leading to confrontations and risking escalation between the forces. A recent confrontation in the far northeast corner of Hasakah Province resulted in several US injuries after US and Russian vehicles collided. Russian helicopters also flew over US vehicles in an attempt to disperse them. Russia will continue its efforts to pressure the US presence through confrontations like these, while also threatening the security of US ground supply lines connecting US forces in Syria to Iraq.

Belarus Warning Update: Opposition Continues to Unify as Lukashenko Continues Crackdown

August 26, 2020 -

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.

Belarus Warning Update: Lukashenko Targets Opposition Leadership with Non-military Kremlin Support

August 25, 2020 - Press ISW

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.

Belarus Warning Update: Lukashenko’s Security Forces Detain Belarusian Opposition Leaders

August 24, 2020 - Press ISW

6:30 pm EDT: The Lukashenko regime began a new phase in its crackdown by starting to disperse and arrest protesters and conduct targeted arrests against opposition leaders in Minsk for the first time since August 19. Belarusian authorities detained Minsk Tractor Works (MTZ) strike leader Sergei Dvlevsky and opposition leader Olga Kovalkova – both members of opposition leader Svitlana Tikanouskaya’s Coordination Council – on August 24. Belarusian security forces also detained Alexander Lavrinovich – the strike leader at the state-owned Minsk Wheel Tractor Plant (MZKT) – and Anatoly Bokun – the strike leader at the Belaruskali potash fertilizer plant – on August 24. Authorities released Bokun after fining him 675 rubles on August 24. Authorities had previously arrested a key Belaruskali strike organizer on August 20, but he reportedly managed to escape his detention facility. Lavrinovich’s status is unknown as of this update. Authorities brought Kovalkova to the Akrestin St. detention facility – a location the opposition associates with the physical abuse of detainees. The opposition had marched on the Akrestin St. detention facility in a poorly organized effort directed by the NEXTA Telegram channel on August 18. The Belarusian Ministry of Internal Affairs (MVD) has not attempted to disperse any protests in Minsk or detain protesters since August 19.[8] Belarusian authorities ended the last round of mass detentions on August 14 when they released a large number of detainees. The renewed dispersions and arrests are likely intended to intimidate protesters. The Lukashenko regime will likely increase the scope of targeted arrests against opposition leaders and use force against protesters in the coming week.

Warning: Lukashenko and NEXTA Apparently Move Toward Confrontation After Sunday Protests

August 23, 2020 - Press ISW

7:00 pm EDT: Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko militarized his response to protests the evening of August 23. Lukashenko made a staged propaganda trip to the Presidential Palace in Minsk the evening of August 23. He and his 15-year-old son arrived via helicopter in military gear carrying rifles. Lukashenko briefly toured the barricades around the Presidential Palace and spoke with security personnel, who shouted “we’re with you until the end!” Lukashenko’s press office released a video as he departed Minsk via helicopter in which Lukashenko can be heard commenting “look at how the rats [referring to protesters] scatter.” Belarusian authorities cut internet access in Minsk for the duration of Lukashenko’s visit. Lukashenko’s press secretary issued a statement that Lukashenko was “controlling the situation” and directing security forces (who were predominantly stationary) throughout the day and falsely claimed protesters “literally ran” when security forces deployed. Belarusian security forces did not take any action against protesters on August 23. Lukashenko likely made the trip to frame himself as a strongman in the face of mass protests. Lukashenko will likely increasingly militarize his response to protesters in the coming week.

Belarus Warning Update: Anti-Lukashenko Protests Erupt across Belarus

August 23, 2020 - Press ISW

2:45 pm EDT: Massive protests in the Belarusian capital of Minsk have naturally seized the world’s attention. But Belarusians are protesting throughout the entire country and in almost every significant urban area. Most protests outside Minsk are relatively small and have been peaceful despite persistent intimidation from Belarusian authorities and regime-organized counter-protests. The extent of the protest wave suggests no significant regional variations in opposition to Alexander Lukashenko. This pattern contrasts with that observed during the 2014 Euromaidan protests in Ukraine, which saw significant regional differences. Lukashenko appears to have alienated the Belarusian population across the board and brought into being a country-wide opposition to his oppression and possibly to his continued rule.

Belarus Warning Update: NEXTA Telegram Channel Divides Protests in Minsk as Lukashenko Prepares for Crackdown

August 23, 2020 - Press ISW

1:00 pm EDT: Telegram channel NEXTA has disrupted the August 23 protest in Minsk. NEXTA unexpectedly changed plans for today’s march in Minsk’s Independence Square by directing protesters to instead move toward Belarusian army positions at Victory Park around 4:00 pm local time, a move that could be portrayed as intended to provoke a confrontation with the Belarusian military. Representatives of opposition presidential candidate Svetlana Tikanouskaya’s Coordination Council arrived and asked protesters to move away from security forces, defusing the situation. As the crowd was beginning to draw back at 5:50 pm local time, NEXTA issued new instructions directing protesters to march on Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko’s palace, approximately one mile northwest of Victory Park. Thousands of protesters began moving up the road toward the palace. The Belarusian military quickly began assembling defensive positions in front of the palace. After 30 minutes, as protesters were nearing the palace, NEXTA issued new instructions asking protesters to disperse and return to Independence Square, the original stated focus of the Sunday protests. NEXTA claimed Lukashenko is currently in the Presidential Palace and planning an evacuation. Protesters remain in place around the Presidential palace.

Belarus Warning Update: Violent Confrontation between Protesters and Military Likely

August 23, 2020 - Press ISW

10:00 am EDT: Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko is likely preparing to suppress protests in Minsk by force. Lukashenko appeared in a military uniform during public appearances on August 22, likely to signal a new phase of his response. The Belarusian Ministry of Defense released a statement on Telegram the morning of August 23 claiming protesters are waving the flags of “fascists” and stated the military will directly protect World War II memorials in Belarus. The defense of World War II monuments has been a major theme of Russian information operations for years. The Belarusian military began deploying in Minsk the morning of August 23. The military is assembling in Victory Park, about two miles north of the main protest location at Independence Square. Belarusian army units are preparing barricades and setting up barbed wire. The head of the Minsk Metropolitan Police additionally warned protesters to halt two weeks of illegal protests that have ”damaged” Minsk and not to take part in planned “provocations.”