Thursday, September 17, 2020

Belarus Warning Update: Russian Force Deployment to Belarus is Likely Imminent

 September 17, 2020 7:15 pm EDT

By George Barros

The Kremlin will likely deploy Russian conventional military forces into Belarus on a long-term basis under the pretext of expanding bilateral exercises.  Multiple indicators ISW had identified as presaging the stationing of Russian troops in Belarus have now tripped, including the presence of Russian troops during extended exercises and specific changes in Belarusian rhetoric.

Russian President Vladimir Putin let it be known that he had discussed Belarus at a meeting of his national security council on September 17.[1]  Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko spoke some hours later using bellicose and pro-Russian rhetoric dramatically different from the tone of his speech on September 14.  He announced the currently underway Russian-Belarusian Slavic Brotherhood exercises will have a “second stage” in Belarus but provided no additional details.[2]  Putin likely took a decision or issued some directive relevant to Lukashenko’s speech at his national security council meeting.

Lukashenko said unspecified Polish and Lithuanian provocations could transform Poland, Lithuania, and Belarus “into a theater of military operations,” and called on Poland, Lithuania, and Ukraine to prevent a “hot war.”[3] Lukashenko has accused Poland and Lithuania of foreign interference and subversion but has never so directly accused them of actively agitating for war. ISW assessed Lukashenko’s usage of intensified rhetoric about a NATO threat would indicate a Russian intervention in Belarus is likely.[4]

Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko revealed he and Russian President Vladimir Putin agreed to “rebuild the Union State’s common defense” without providing specifics on September 17.[5] Putin likely coerced Lukashenko to accept Russian anti-access/area denial weapon system deployments to Belarus during their meeting in Sochi on September 14.[6]

The Kremlin may expand its existing expeditionary force presence in Belarus. Russia and Belarus began previously-scheduled joint military exercises on September 14.[7] Putin announced on September 13th that the exercises, which were originally scheduled for September 10-15, would be rescheduled for September 14 and extended until September 25.[8]The exercises did not begin on time likely because Serbia cancelled its participation on September 9.[9] Approximately 300 Russian troops from Russia’s 76th Guards Air Assault Division arrived in Brest, Belarus, on September 14th.[10]    The Kremlin will likely use this and future exercises to deploy more forces into Belarus and keep them there on a continuous or nearly-continuous basis. 

Lukashenko likely changed his framing of the situation in Belarus to set conditions for a Russian force deployment to Belarus. Lukashenko said Belarus is on the “precipice of a terrible catastrophe” and that the “acute situation” in Belarus necessitates the second stage of joint Russian exercises – a marked change in Lukashenko’s framing of the situation. Lukashenko previously framed the current level of protests as acceptable, saying protesters had not crossed a “red line” and that most Belarusians “live an ordinary life” on September 14.[11] There have been no significant NATO movements or protest escalations in Belarus since September 14 that would account for the change in Lukashenko’s rhetoric. It is more likely correlated with a decision taken in Moscow or made jointly between Lukashenko and Putin.

Lukashenko closed Belarus’ borders with Poland and Lithuania and strengthened positions on the Ukrainian border.[12] Belarus never closed any of its borders in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. Lukashenko is likely closing them now in response to intensified Polish and Lithuanian efforts to encourage Belarusian citizens to flee Belarus.[13]

Lukashenko denied the need for international recognition of his election results for the first time.[14] The European Parliament passed a resolution rejecting Belarus’ August 9 presidential elections results on September 17.[15] Lukashenko has repeatedly defended the elections but has never denied the need for international recognition. Lukashenko’s increased political ostracization from Europe and the threat of European Union sanctions will likely increase the Kremlin’s leverage over Lukashenko.

ISW will continue monitoring the situation and providing updates.


[1] http://kremlin(.)ru/events/president/news/64043

[2]  https://interfax(.)by/news/policy/vneshnyaya_politika/1283529/

[3] https://www.belta(.)by/president/view/lukashenko-rasskazal-chto-situatsija-vynudila-vmeste-s-rossiej-otstroit-obschuju-zaschitu-sojuznogo-407231-2020/; https://sputnik(.)by/politics/20200917/1045705525/Lukashenko-klyanus-nikakogo-vranya-na-vyborakh-ne-bylo.html; https://grodnonews(.)by/news/glavnoe/aleksandr_lukashenko_priekhal_na_zhenskiy_forum_v_minsk_arene.html; https://news.tut(.)by/economics/700890.html; https://officelife(.)media/news/20394-lukashenko-my-zakryvaem-granitsy-s-zapadom/;


[5] https://www.belta(.)by/president/view/lukashenko-rasskazal-chto-situatsija-vynudila-vmeste-s-rossiej-otstroit-obschuju-zaschitu-sojuznogo-407231-2020/





[10]; https://www.ukrinform(.)ru/rubric-world/3101658-ucenia-pod-brestom-voennye-belarusi-i-rf-proveli-artillerijskie-strelby.html


[12] https://www.belta(.)by/president/view/lukashenko-rasskazal-chto-situatsija-vynudila-vmeste-s-rossiej-otstroit-obschuju-zaschitu-sojuznogo-407231-2020/; https://sputnik(.)by/politics/20200917/1045705525/Lukashenko-klyanus-nikakogo-vranya-na-vyborakh-ne-bylo.html; https://grodnonews(.)by/news/glavnoe/aleksandr_lukashenko_priekhal_na_zhenskiy_forum_v_minsk_arene.html; https://news.tut(.)by/economics/700890.html; https://officelife(.)media/news/20394-lukashenko-my-zakryvaem-granitsy-s-zapadom/;

[13]; https://www.thefirstnews(.)com/article/new-polish-visa-procedures-allow-easier-entry-for-belarusians-15799; https://www.barrons(.)com/news/lithuania-further-eases-visa-rules-for-belarusians-01600272605?tesla=y

[14] https://www.belta(.)by/president/view/lukashenko-rasskazal-chto-situatsija-vynudila-vmeste-s-rossiej-otstroit-obschuju-zaschitu-sojuznogo-407231-2020/; https://sputnik(.)by/politics/20200917/1045705525/Lukashenko-klyanus-nikakogo-vranya-na-vyborakh-ne-bylo.html; https://grodnonews(.)by/news/glavnoe/aleksandr_lukashenko_priekhal_na_zhenskiy_forum_v_minsk_arene.html; https://news.tut(.)by/economics/700890.html; https://officelife(.)media/news/20394-lukashenko-my-zakryvaem-granitsy-s-zapadom/;



Wednesday, September 16, 2020

Belarus Warning Update: Lukashenko and the Kremlin Vie for Control over Future Russian Weapons in Belarus

 September 16, 2020, 5:45 pm EDT

By George Barros and Mason Clark

The Kremlin qualified Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko’s claim he requested Russian weapons from Russian President Vladimir Putin on September 16. Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu met with Lukashenko in Minsk on September 16, likely to implement military cooperation concessions Lukashenko made to Putin during their September 14 meeting in Sochi.[1] Lukashenko said he asked Putin for weapons to "strengthen the Union State plan" on September 16.[2] Kremlin spokesman Dmitri Peskov qualified Lukashenko’s statement in a response to a reporter, saying Lukashenko did not ask Putin for a “weapons delivery” “in the way you [the reporter] phrased.”[3] The Kremlin rarely qualifies its denials of claims by other actors based on the language used by individual reporters. Peskov’s attention to avoiding a full denial but disputing the reporters’ question if Lukashenko requested a “weapons delivery” indicates the Kremlin is attempting to shift Lukashenko’s framing.

Lukashenko likely phrased his request for Russian weapons to suggest Belarusian forces would control Russian weapons systems sent to Belarus as a result of the agreements. Peskov likely qualified the reporters’ phrasing of Lukashenko’s statement to avoid committing the Kremlin to giving the Belarusian military new equipment – instead setting conditions for the Kremlin to retain control over weapon systems deployed to Belarus.

The Kremlin likely seeks to control anti-access/area denial weapon systems in Belarus.[4] The Belarusian Defense Ministry reportedly signed a contract for cooperation on air defense systems with the holding company for the manufacturers of the Russian S-300, S-400, and S-500 air-defense systems in August 2020.[5] Lukashenko previously rejected S-400 systems in Belarus in February 2020.[6] The Kremlin likely seeks to integrate Belarus’ currently independent air defense systems into Russia’s own national air defense system, which would give Moscow control over their employment.[7] Such integration would enhance Russian capabilities to contest NATO airspace and degrade NATO’s ability to defend the Baltics.

Lukashenko markedly changed his framing of military cooperation with Russia following his September 14 meeting with Putin. Lukashenko said Russia and Belarus must "more bravely defend” their joint interests on September 16.[8] Lukashenko has repeatedly declined the Kremlin’s multiple requests to expand strategic Russian airbases in Belarus since at least 2015.[9] Lukashenko said he would never agree to concessions that undermine Belarus’ independence in December 2019 – before the protests pushed him into crisis.[10] The Kremlin will likely continue leveraging Lukashenko’s vulnerability to the protest movement to further formalize Kremlin control over Belarus in the Union State.

Moscow will likely sustain its increased military presence and accelerate military cooperation in Belarus over the next several months. Lukashenko announced the next monthly Belarusian-Russian military exercise will occur in October 2020.[11] The elements of Russia’s 76th Guards Air Assault Division currently in Belarus for Slavic Brotherhood 2020 exercises should in principle return to their home station when the exercise ends on September 25.[12]  They could, however, remain if exercises are scheduled early in October, or other forces could replace them.   Lukashenko said Moscow and Minsk must intensify their military cooperation by the end of 2020.[13] He appears to have conceded a nearly-continuous Russian military presence in Belarus under the guise of frequent exercises.

ISW will continue monitoring the situation and providing updates.



[2] https://sputnik(.)by/defense_safety/20200916/1045696519/Peskov-Lukashenko-na-vstreche-s-Putinym-ne-prosil-o-postavkakh-vooruzheniya.html; https://tass(.)ru/mezhdunarodnaya-panorama/9473667; https://www.belta(.)by/president/view/svoi-interesy-my-dolzhny-bljusti-lukashenko-predlozhil-rossii-podumat-nad-novymi-voennymi-uchenijami-407000-2020/; https://www.gazeta(.)ru/army/news/2020/09/16/14949241.shtml?updated;

[3] Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov responded to a press question on whether Lukashenko asked for Russian weapons, saying, “In the wording you said, no.” https://tass(.)ru/politika/9475065

[4] The Belarusian Defense Ministry reportedly signed a deal with the Kremlin-owned Almaz-Antey defense company on August 24 at the Army 2020 annual international military-technical forum in Moscow. The Belarusian defense minister reportedly signed a contract for cooperation on air defense systems until 2025. Almaz-Antey is the holding company for the manufacturers of the S-300, S-400, and S-500 Russian air-defense systems.


[6] https://avia(.)pro/news/belorussiya-otkazalas-ot-pokupki-rossiyskih-s-400-zayaviv-ob-ih-bespoleznosti; https://bulgarianmilitary(.)com/2020/02/27/belarus-refused-to-buy-russian-s-400-missile-systems-because-they-are-useless/

[7] https://www.defenseworld(.)net/news/15992/Belarus_Receives_Fourth_Battalion_Of_S_300_PS_Air_Defense_Systems#.X2JRdmhKjcs

[8] https://tass(.)ru/mezhdunarodnaya-panorama/9473667; https://www.belta(.)by/president/view/svoi-interesy-my-dolzhny-bljusti-lukashenko-predlozhil-rossii-podumat-nad-novymi-voennymi-uchenijami-407000-2020/; https://www.gazeta(.)ru/army/news/2020/09/16/14949241.shtml?updated;

[9] https://www.rbc(.)ru/politics/06/10/2015/5613ebe59a794769839c9e3f; https://www.vesti(.)ru/article/1501418; https://www.gazeta(.)ru/army/2019/11/14/12811502.shtml

[10] https://gordonua(.)com/news/worldnews/belarus-ne-sobiraetsya-vhodit-v-sostav-rossii-lukashenko-1478138.html;;

[11] https://russian.rt(.)com/ussr/news/783962-lukashenko-rossiya-shoigu

[12] https://www.interfax(.)ru/world/726986; https://meduza(.)io/news/2020/09/15/pskovskie-desantniki-pribyli-v-belorussiyu-dlya-uchastiya-v-ucheniyah-slavyanskoe-bratstvo

[13] https://russian.rt(.)com/ussr/news/783962-lukashenko-rossiya-shoigu; https://www.belta(.)by/president/view/svoi-interesy-my-dolzhny-bljusti-lukashenko-predlozhil-rossii-podumat-nad-novymi-voennymi-uchenijami-407000-2020



Tuesday, September 15, 2020

Belarus Warning Update: Putin Sends Airborne Troops to Belarus Exercise—and a Message to Lukashenko

September 15, 2020, 5:00 pm EDT

By George Barros

Moscow has modified the prescheduled Slavic Brotherhood military exercises in Belarus to demonstrate its ability to deploy forces to Belarus on short notice. Elements of Russia’s 76th Guards Air Assault Division arrived in Belarus for the Slavic Brotherhood 2020 exercises on September 15.[1] Russia has not deployed significant conventional forces to Belarus since the start of protests on August 9.[2] The number of Russian troops in the exercises is unclear.[3]

The Kremlin likely increased the duration of the preplanned Russian deployment to Belarus on short notice. The exercises were scheduled to run September 10-15 and include Serbian forces.[4] The Kremlin expanded the exercises to September 14-25 on September 13, four days after Serbia canceled its participation.[5] Moscow announced the participation of the 76th Airborne Division at that time, fewer than 48 hours before its arrival in Belarus (although the division could have been alerted to prepare for deployment earlier than that). The Kremlin says the division elements will return to Russia after the Slavic Brotherhood exercises end.[6]

The 76th Guards Air Assault Division is an experienced expeditionary force based in Pskov near the Estonian and Latvian borders. Elements of the division participated in Kremlin operations in both Chechen wars, Kosovo, Georgia, and the annexation of Crimea.[7] This unit has additionally previously operated in Belarus; elements conducted exercises in Brest in April 2018.[8] The Kremlin likely conducted the short-notice deployment to remind Lukashenko that Russia can deploy forces into Belarus rapidly if Lukashenko does not follow through on the concessions he likely made during talks with Russian President Vladimir Putin in Sochi on September 14.[9]

The Kremlin’s overt information operations have emphasized de-escalation, however. Russia staged an ostentatious withdrawal of the previously announced Russian law enforcement officer reserve from the Russian-Belarusian border on September 15.[10] Putin confirmed the existence of this reserve and that it was prepared to deploy to Belarus if the situation “gets out of control” on August 27.[11] The demobilization of this reserve is largely symbolic, as it was mobilized quickly and could thus likely be rapidly reconstituted.

The Kremlin denies it pressured Lukashenko during his meeting with Putin on September 14. The Kremlin denied that Lukashenko and Putin discussed military basing rights in Belarus and claimed Russia’s $1.5 billion loan to Belarus had no political conditions.[12] Neither assertion is particularly credible. The loan helped cover a potential crisis in Belarusian reserves that will likely re-emerge. Even if Putin demanded no specific quid pro quo on this occasion, he will likely have the opportunity to do so in the near future. The Kremlin has made multiple unsuccessful attempts to open a strategic airbase in Belarus since 2015 and likely has not dropped its demands.[13]

ISW will continue monitoring the situation and providing updates.


[1] https://eng.belta(.)by/society/view/russian-paratroopers-arrive-in-brest-oblast-to-participate-in-army-exercise-133465-2020/; https://iz(.)ru/1060848/2020-09-15/rossiiskie-desantniki-pribyli-v-belorussiiu-na-sovmestnye-ucheniia

[2] The Russian Ministry of Defense confirmed Russian airborne infantry (VDV) personnel conducted army games exercises in Brest Belarus, on August 27. These army games exercises were insignificant, however.

[3] The Kremlin stated approximately 1,500 Russian and Belarusian forces will participate in the exercises. https://meduza(.)io/news/2020/09/15/pskovskie-desantniki-pribyli-v-belorussiyu-dlya-uchastiya-v-ucheniyah-slavyanskoe-bratstvo

[4] https://tass(.)com/defense/1198433; https://eng.belta(.)by/society/view/slavic-brotherhood-2020-exercise-to-be-held-at-brestsky-training-range-in-belarus-133255-2020/

[5] https://tass(.)com/defense/1200237; https://tass(.)ru/armiya-i-opk/9440765;

[6] https://www.interfax(.)ru/world/726986; https://meduza(.)io/news/2020/09/15/pskovskie-desantniki-pribyli-v-belorussiyu-dlya-uchastiya-v-ucheniyah-slavyanskoe-bratstvo

[7]; https://informpskov(.)ru/news/164536.html; https://charter97(.)org/ru/news/2018/4/6/285494/

[8] https://charter97(.)org/ru/news/2018/4/6/285494/


[10] Kremlin-run media depicted unliveried Russian law enforcement personnel in unmarked trucks returning to their garrisons from an unspecified location on the Russian-Belarusian border on September 15. https://www.kommersant(.)ru/doc/4492669; https://www.vesti(.)ru/article/2458296; https://t(.)me/sputnikby/6140


[12] https://sputnik(.)by/politics/20200915/1045686146/Peskov-rasskazal-o-peregovorakh-Putina-i-Lukashenko.html; https://www.interfax(.)ru/world/726986; https://meduza(.)io/news/2020/09/15/pskovskie-desantniki-pribyli-v-belorussiyu-dlya-uchastiya-v-ucheniyah-slavyanskoe-bratstvo

[13]; https://www.rbc(.)ru/politics/06/10/2015/5613ebe59a794769839c9e3f; https://www.vesti(.)ru/article/1501418; https://www.gazeta(.)ru/army/2019/11/14/12811502.shtml



Monday, September 14, 2020

Belarus Warning Update: Lukashenko Softens His Opposition to Protests, Seeking Leverage against Increased Russian Pressure

September 14, 2020, 6:00 pm EDT

By Mason Clark 

Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko met Russian President Vladimir Putin in Sochi, Russia, on September 14. Putin and Lukashenko made initial public remarks before meeting privately for nearly four hours.[1] Lukashenko has not traveled outside Belarus or met Putin in person since the August 9 election but has held several calls with Putin and hosted Russian Prime Minister Mikhail Mishustin in Minsk on September 3.[2]

Lukashenko sharply changed his framing to tacitly accept continued weekly protests but retained the threat of violence against protesters in response to an unspecified “red line.” Lukashenko markedly changed his framing of ongoing protests to downplay their threat in his public remarks. Lukashenko stated that Belarusians “live an ordinary life” on weekdays and claimed that on Saturday and Sunday “we release a part of Minsk so that people can, if they wish, walk through this part.”[3]

Lukashenko’s statement is a marked change from previous statements by the Belarusian government, which continues to decry the protests as illegal. Lukashenko’s statement additionally misrepresents Belarusian security forces continued beating and detention of protesters, as well as continued protests outside Minsk. Lukashenko claimed that reports of the protests as being more widespread are misrepresentations, telling Putin “you know as well as I” how “information confrontations and wars” distort protests.[4] Lukashenko further downplayed the protests by stating they have not yet crossed the “red line,” which he compared to Putin’s “red line” in Chechnya. Lukashenko is likely opening the door to continuing protests while threatening demonstrators with brutal oppression if they go too far. Ordering Russian military operations against Chechen insurgents in the Second Chechen War, which killed tens of thousands of civilians, was among Putin‘s very first acts as president.

Lukashenko likely seeks to steadily erode the scale of protests without a violent crackdown that could invite an immediate Kremlin intervention. Lukashenko began distancing his rhetoric on the protests from the Kremlin’s portrayal of the protests as a Western hybrid campaign in the week prior to his meeting with Putin.[5] ISW previously assessed Lukashenko seeks to find a method to end protests without either making concessions to protesters or using lethal force, which would likely trigger a more direct Kremlin intervention to control the situation.[6] Lukashenko is likely downplaying the scale of protests to minimize the threat of the opposition and – in a reversal of earlier claims of an impending NATO invasion to justify military deployments – seeks to justify a lack of a large-scale crackdown to the Kremlin.

Lukashenko likely assesses prior Kremlin support and his security forces’ efforts have managed the protests enough to secure his position, even if weekend protests continue. The Sunday protests continue to regularly exceed 100,000 participants, but other opposition efforts have largely failed: regular weekday protests have ceased since the first two weeks of protests; nationwide strikes ended in late August; telegram channel NEXTA’s efforts to spur protesters to create alternative state structures failed; and Lukashenko has successfully imprisoned or exiled every major opposition leader previously active on the ground in Belarus.[7] Lukashenko will likely refrain from large-scale crackdowns while continuing targeted detentions to steadily erode protester will. If Lukashenko is willing to allow protests to continue for months, he may hope that the arrival of winter will finally end them. His new rhetoric leaves open that possibility.

Putin successfully secured increased leverage over the Belarusian economy and security space. The Kremlin granted Belarus a $1.5 billion state loan to maintain Belarus’ economic stability and cement Belarusian economic reliance on the Kremlin.[8] Belarusians withdrew approximately $1 billion from bank accounts in August 2020 – 17 times as much as in the previous month.[9] The financial strain of the August protests exacerbated the Belarusian economy’s dependence on Russian subsidies.[10] The Kremlin likely seeks to economically stabilize Belarus in the short term to maintain Lukashenko’s control over Belarusian security services, and will likely leverage this economic pressure and the dependence of a large state loan to coerce Lukashenko into adopting more Kremlin-preferable polices. 

Putin additionally secured an increased level of Belarusian military cooperation with Russia. The Kremlin doubled the length of the Slavic Brotherhood 2020 military exercises in Belarus – which began in Brest, Belarus, near the Polish border – from September 14 to September 25.[11] The exercises were originally planned to run from September 10-15 and included Serbian forces.[12] Serbian forces withdrew from the exercises a day before they were scheduled to begin on September 9 due to European Union pressure.[13] In addition to this immediate exercise extension, Putin and Lukashenko agreed to hold “almost monthly” joint military exercises in both Belarus and Russia in 2021.[14] Putin said Russian forces will return to their permanent home garrisons after these monthly exercises.[15] The Kremlin will likely exploit regular exercises to increase its military presence in Belarus with the eventual aim of permanent basing, as well as maintain its framing of the necessity of Russian military deployments to counter NATO despite Lukashenko’s increasing minimization of the NATO threat.

Putin likely secured a further roadmap of Belarusian integration. The Kremlin likely secured further, currently confidential concessions from Lukashenko during the September 14 meeting. Lukashenko made several conciliatory statements to increased integration with Russia, including stating Belarus must remain close to its “older brother” Russia and praising the Kremlin for demonstrating “the border of Belarus are the borders of the Union State” and thanking Putin.[16] Lukashenko stated the Kremlin and Minsk “postponed” several agreements until the meeting between himself and Putin.[17] Neither the Kremlin or Lukashenko has released a statement following the meeting as of this writing.

Putin directly threatened Lukashenko with the prospect of constitutional changes and continued Russian relations with Belarus “regardless of who is in power.” Putin called for “timely and expedient” work to “update” the Belarusian constitution and stated Russia will participate in the process “at the highest level,” a typical Russian diplomatic term for Minister-level consultations.[18] Putin further stated Russia considers Belarus its closest ally and will fulfill its treaty obligations “regardless of who is in power” – directly threatening Lukashenko with the possibility of the Kremlin supporting his eventual removal from power.[19] The Kremlin likely retains Lukashenko as its current preferred partner in Belarus but will likely seek to cement its dominance and potentially remove Lukashenko over time through involvement in constitutional changes. Lukashenko is unlikely to fully prevent the Kremlin’s absorption of Belarus but will seek to slow the Kremlin’s efforts.  


[1] https://tass((.))ru/politika/9456187; https://tass((.))ru/mezhdunarodnaya-panorama/9455045.


[3] http://kremlin((.))ru/events/president/news/64031; https://www.belta((.))by/president/view/lukashenko-o-protestah-v-minske-poka-krasnye-linii-nikto-ne-narushal-406697-2020/?utm_source=belta&utm_medium=news&utm_campaign=accent.

[4] http://kremlin((.))ru/events/president/news/64031.




[8] https://www.kommersant((.))ru/doc/4492168.

[9] https://www.vedomosti((.))ru/finance/articles/2020/09/14/839796-ottok-sredstv-iz-bankov-belorussii-dostig-1-mlrd-na-fone-protestov.


[11] https://tass((.))ru/armiya-i-opk/9440765

[12] https://tass((.))com/defense/1198433; https://eng.belta((.))by/society/view/slavic-brotherhood-2020-exercise-to-be-held-at-brestsky-training-range-in-belarus-133255-2020/.


[14] https://www.interfax((.))ru/russia/726882; https://www.belta((.))by/president/view/lukashenko-putinu-my-ni-u-kogo-ne-dolzhny-sprashivat-provodit-ili-ne-provodit-u-nas-voennye-uchenija-406688-2020/.

[15] https://www.interfax((.))ru/russia/726882

[16] http://kremlin((.))ru/events/president/news/64031.

[17] https://www.belta((.))by/president/view/nado-tesnee-derzhatsja-s-nashim-starshim-bratom-lukashenko-o-sotrudnichestve-s-rossiej-406703-2020/.

[18] http://kremlin((.))ru/events/president/news/64031.




Belarus Warning Update: Lukashenko Tries to Control Protests Ahead of Meeting with Putin

 September 13, 2020, 6:00 pm EDT

By Mason Clark

Lukashenko’s campaign to expel and detain opposition leaders is failing to disrupt increasingly adaptable and sustained protests. Tens of thousands of protesters marched in the fourth weekly women’s march in Minsk on September 12, and over 100,000 marched in Minsk and around the country on September 13.[1] Telegram channel NEXTA intentionally refrained for the first time from publishing instructions for the Sunday march on Saturday night, to prevent security forces from pre-deploying to protest sites.[2] NEXTA did not issue protest instructions until nearly noon on Sunday, directing protests to begin at 2:00 pm local time.[3] NEXTA issued detailed instructions and maps – which tens of thousands of protesters followed – asking protesters to gather in several separate areas around Minsk before converging on key locations, including Lukashenko’s residence and large plazas, from several directions.[4] NEXTA’s flexible control of the protests forced Belarusian security forces to redeploy throughout the day to follow protesters. ISW previously forecasted Lukashenko’s efforts to disrupt protests through the arrest and expulsion of the remaining opposition leaders in Belarus would not impede protests, which remain effective without on-the-ground leadership.[5]

Belarusian security forces escalated their use of violence against protesters but refrained from large-scale confrontations or lethal force. Large numbers of Belarusian security forces – both in-uniform and unliveried – attacked protesters and guarded key government buildings.[6] The Belarusian Interior Ministry claimed to detain 114 and over 400 protesters on Saturday and Sunday respectively, and security forces escalated their use of violence against protesters.[7] Belarusian security forces have steadily increased their use of violence against protesters since the weekend of August 16. An increasing proportion of unliveried security forces, and likely OMON riot police in unmarked uniforms, have been deployed.[8] Belarusian security forces are increasingly carrying out random detentions of protesters, and security forces fired over the heads of protesters to disperse them on September 13.[9] Security forces have not used firearms against protesters since the first week of protests after August 9.

Lukashenko is likely - currently unsuccessfully - attempting to find a way to end protests without concessions or the use of lethal force. Despite the increasing use of random violence against protesters and Lukashenko’s campaign of detentions and expulsions of opposition leaders, Lukashenko has not yet committed to a large-scale, violent crackdown on protesters. Lukashenko likely assesses the use of lethal force would likely invite further Western pressure and – likely more importantly in his assessment – further Kremlin intervention under the pretext of controlling a volatile situation. Lukashenko additionally remains unwilling to consider concessions to protesters. He therefore likely hopes to mitigate protests over time by steadily increasing the use of violence by security forces and targeting opposition leaders, while avoiding the risk carried by using lethal force of both an increased international or protester response to violence and the potential of a further Kremlin intervention.  Lukashenko’s approach is more likely to fuel continued protests, however, as demonstrators gradually become accustomed to the increasing violence and see it more as a grievance driving anger than a deterrent. 

Lukashenko is increasingly moderating his portrayal of the protests as Western-backed, likely to undermine the Kremlin’s justification for intervention ahead of a meeting with Putin on September 14. Lukashenko ordered the Defense Ministry to demobilize Belarusian forces which have deployed to the Western region of Grodno, bordering Poland and Lithuania, on September 12.[10] Lukashenko claimed that while US and NATO troops remain deployed near the Belarusian border, the situation has changed “from a month ago [referring to his claims in early August of an impending NATO operations against Belarus]” and stated it is not economically feasible to retain large numbers of troops at maximum readiness.[11] The Belarusian Interior Ministry is additionally increasingly reframing its portrayal of protests, justifying arrests of protesters as efforts to “restore the normal life of citizens,” rather than previous claims of arresting protesters involved in a Western-backed coup.[12] Lukashenko is meeting Putin in Russia on September 14. Lukashenko is likely shifting his framing of the protests away from the Kremlin’s preferred narrative of a Western hybrid war against Belarus to reduce Putin’s leverage by refuting the Kremlin’s justification for the necessity of Russian involvement.


[1] https://news.tut((.))by/economics/700287.html; https://news.tut((.))by/society/700204.html.

[2] https://t((.))me/nexta_live/11068; https://news.tut((.))by/economics/700287.html.

[3] https://t((.))me/nexta_live/11082.

[4] https://t((.))me/nexta_live/11082.


[6] https://news.tut((.))by/economics/700287.html; https://news.tut((.))by/society/700204.html.

[7] https://tass((.))ru/mezhdunarodnaya-panorama/9443563; https://tass((.))ru/mezhdunarodnaya-panorama/9440957; https://news.tut((.))by/economics/700287.html; https://news.tut((.))by/society/700204.html.

[8] https://news.tut((.))by/economics/700287.html; https://news.tut((.))by/society/700204.html.

[9] https://t((.))me/nexta_live/11113; https://t((.))me/nexta_live/11123.

[10] https://www.belta((.))by/society/view/ministr-oborony-belarusi-rasskazal-o-situatsii-vdol-zapadnyh-granits-i-reagirovanii-vooruzhennyh-sil-406520-2020/.

[11] https://www.belta((.))by/president/view/situatsija-na-zapadnoj-granitse-i-obschestvenno-politicheskaja-obstanovka-obsuzhdeny-na-soveschanii-u-406516-2020/; https://www.belta((.))by/society/view/ministr-oborony-belarusi-rasskazal-o-situatsii-vdol-zapadnyh-granits-i-reagirovanii-vooruzhennyh-sil-406520-2020/.

[12] https://t((.))me/s/pressmvd.


Thursday, September 10, 2020

Belarus Warning Update: Lukashenko Resists Moscow’s Pressure for Economic Integration

September 10, 2020, 8:45 pm EDT

By George Barros 

Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko likely assesses his position against the protesters has stabilized to the point that he can resume balancing against Kremlin efforts to absorb Belarus though the Union State. The Kremlin will likely intensify pressure against Lukashenko nevertheless.

The Kremlin is attempting to accelerate Union State integration with Belarus by expanding the intended scope of its annual regional economic forum.[1] The initial purpose of this forum was to advance Russian-Belarusian Union State economic integration at local firm-to-firm levels.[2] Kremlin officials said this year’s forum will culminate in the signing of “important economic agreements” and that Russian-Belarusian economic cooperation occurs at local, regional, and federal levels.[3] Lukashenko pushed back against Kremlin efforts to expand the scope of the forum and stressed the forum will continue to work “at the enterprise level.”[4] Lukashenko will likely continue to stall by attempting to limit integration to levels below those of the Kremlin's desires.[5] He disregarded Russian Ambassador Dmitry Mezentsev’s pressure at a September 10 meeting to commit Belarus to significantly deeper economic integration with Russia during his upcoming meeting with Putin in Moscow.[6]

The Kremlin continues to support Lukashenko in the information space despite his renewed efforts to balance against Moscow’s pressure. Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said a “huge number of Belarusians” support Lukashenko despite the protests on September 10.[7] The Kremlin will likely continue to support Lukashenko against protests despite his growing resistance to the Kremlin Lukashenko likely currently provides the Kremlin its best opportunity to ensure Russia’s long-term dominance over Belarus, and Putin is showing concern that Belarusian protests could spread to Russia.[8] The Kremlin still retains the option of supporting alternate leadership in Belarus if its assessment of Lukashenko’s reliability changes, however.

Approximately 19 masked men raided Kremlin-linked opposition leader Viktar Babariko’s office in Minsk on September 9.[9] Belarusian Interior Ministry police responded to the break-in but the masked men did not permit police in the office, claiming they themselves were conducting an investigation they are “not authorized” to discuss.[10]

The men may have searched the office for evidence regarding opposition leader Maria Kolesnikova’s criminal prosecution or potential links to the Kremlin. Belarusian authorities formally imprisoned Kolesnikova and charged her with calls to incite a coup d’etat on September 9.[11] Kolesnikova worked out of Babariko’s office prior to her abduction on September 7.[12] It is unclear whether the unknown men captured or destroyed materials from the office.

Russian Ambassador Dmitry Mezentsev demonstrated Moscow’s view of Belarus as part of Russia in a meeting with Lukashenko in Minsk on September 10. Menzentsev gave Lukashenko a book with maps from 1866 depicting Belarus’ regions as provinces of the Russian Empire.[13] Mezentsev reiterated Lukashenko’s September 1 statement that Belarusians see Russia and Belarus as a common “fatherland from Brest to Vladivostok,” further implying Belarus was and will be a subject under a larger Russian domain.[14]

Credit: The Picture Art Collection / Alamy Stock Photo

Caption: European Russia in 1856. This map is NOT the one Ambassador Menzentsev gave Lukashenko, and shows Russian borders in Europe as of 1856. There was no change in those borders between 1856 and the date of the book Menzentsev gave Lukashenko. Note that the Russian Empire of that time included Finland, Moldova, the Baltic States and central Poland, including Warsaw. 

ISW will continue monitoring the situation and providing updates.

[1] Belarus and Russia will hold their sixth annual “Forum of Regions” on September 28-29. https://tass(.)ru/ekonomika/9419259

[2] https://rg(.)ru/2020/09/09/do-foruma-regionov-belarusi-i-rossii-v-minske-ostalos-menshe-treh-nedel.html; http://cis.minsk(.)by/news/3213/v-minske-sostoalsa-pervyj-forum-regionov-belarusi-i-rossii

[3] https://www.belta(.)by/president/view/lukashenko-belarus-i-rossija-znachitelno-prodvinulis-v-reshenii-nakopivshihsja-problem-i-zadach-406221-2020/; https://www.belta(.)by/politics/view/mezentsev-rossija-i-belarus-vmeste-406238-2020/; https://rg(.)ru/2020/09/10/prezident-belarusi-vstretilsia-s-poslom-rossii-dmitriem-mezencevym.html; https://sputnik(.)by/economy/20200903/1045612341/Matvienko-podgotovka-k-forumu-regionov-Belarusi-i-Rossii-idet-aktivno.html; https://www.belta(.)by/president/view/lukashenko-belarus-i-rossija-znachitelno-prodvinulis-v-reshenii-nakopivshihsja-problem-i-zadach-406221-2020/; https://www.belta(.)by/politics/view/mezentsev-rossija-i-belarus-vmeste-406238-2020/

[4] https://www.belta(.)by/president/view/lukashenko-belarus-i-rossija-znachitelno-prodvinulis-v-reshenii-nakopivshihsja-problem-i-zadach-406221-2020/


[6] https://www.belta(.)by/president/view/lukashenko-belarus-i-rossija-znachitelno-prodvinulis-v-reshenii-nakopivshihsja-problem-i-zadach-406221-2020/

[7] https://rg(.)ru/2020/09/10/peskov-zaiavil-o-bolshoj-podderzhke-belorusami-lukashenko.html

[8] https://tass(.)com/politics/1198937

[9]; https://ria(.)ru/20200909/babariko-1576970333.html

[10] https://t(.)me/nexta_tv/4021; https://ria(.)ru/20200909/babariko-1576970333.html



[13] https://www.rbc(.)ru/rbcfreenews/5f5a23a89a79477f9a58bfc0; https://www.tvr(.)by/news/prezident/dmitriy_mezentsev_podaril_aleksandru_lukashenko_knigu_s_topograficheskimi_kartami_guberniy_1866_goda/

[14] https://sputnik(.)by/politics/20200910/1045653581/Mezentsev-rukovodstvo-Belarusi-natseleno-na-rasshirenie-otnosheniy-s-Rossiey.html;

Wednesday, September 9, 2020

Warning: Lukashenko Begins Targeting the Kremlin Ahead of Meeting Putin

 September 9, 2020, 6:00pm EDT Belarus Update

By George Barros

Belarusian authorities formally imprisoned opposition leader Maria Kolesnikova – the last prominent opposition leader active in Belarus –  and charged her with calls to incite a coup d’etat on September 9.[1] Belarusian law stipulates imprisonment for two to five years for this charge.[2] Belarusian authorities abducted Kolesnikova in Minsk on September 7 and failed to expel her to Ukraine on September 8.[3]  Kolesnikova previously stated her openness to working with the Kremlin and expressed support for constitutional reforms.[4] Lukashenko may have detained Kolesnikova in order to disrupt Kremlin efforts to undermine Belarus’ sovereignty via constitutional amendments.[5]

Lukashenko began balancing against Kremlin pressure in the information space on September 8 to push back on Kremlin efforts to absorb Belarus.

Belarusian state media agency Belta reported statements from Lukashenko promoting Belarusian independence from Russia on September 9Belta provided new framing on September 9 from Lukashenko’s interview with four senior Kremlin propagandists in Minsk on September 8.[6] Belta reported Lukashenko said he began renegotiating the Union State integration roadmaps with Russian President Vladimir Putin in 2019 because “it is impossible to realize the integration” of Belarus and Russia stipulated in the 1999 Union State Treaty “today.”[7] Lukashenko argued times have changed and two new generations of Belarusians value Belarus’ sovereignty.[8] Lukashenko framed his negotiations with Putin on Union State integration as a question of the extent of integration; Lukashenko said Russia and Belarus's deep integration in economic, military, and other affairs do not impede both states’ sovereignty.[9] Kremlin Spokesman Dmitry Peskov reacted to Belta’s reporting by flatly denying the Kremlin wants to “swallow up” Belarus on September 9.[10]

Belta reported Lukashenko said the Kremlin would likely attack Belarus if Belarus withdrew from the Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO) and joined NATO.[11] Lukashenko did not threaten to leave the CSTO but spoke about a hypothetical situation in which Belarus leaves the CSTO. Lukashenko has not mentioned either leaving the CSTO or joining NATO since the protests began on August 9. Lukashenko – in concert with Kremlin media – has repeatedly accused NATO of threating a hybrid war against Belarus and the Union State.[12] Lukashenko likely intended to highlight the Russian military threat to Belarus in such a hypothetical scenario (which no prominent Belarusian leader has advocated) for two reasons. First it serves as a reminder to the opposition and the West that Russia will not allow Belarus to leave its orbit and that such ideas should not be considered or advocated. Second, it puts more prominently in the minds of Belarusians the idea that Russia could be a military threat to Belarus, thereby possibly giving him more leverage to push back against Putin’s efforts to absorb Belarus by quietly supporting the emerging antibodies to such absorption.

A previously-announced Putin-Lukashenko summit in Moscow is being delayed. Russian state-owned wire RIA Novosti reported on September 9 Lukashenko and Putin would meet in Moscow on September 14.[13] Peskov denied the meeting will occur on September 14, saying it is too early to know when the meeting will take place.[14] Previous reports had claimed Lukashenko and Putin would meet on September 10.[15] Lukashenko may have chosen to resume balancing against the Kremlin at this time to gain leverage in preparation for his meeting with Putin in Moscow and after expelling most of Belarus’ opposition leaders, cracking down on protesters, and securing loyalty inside his security services.[16] The Kremlin will still likely attempt to extract serious concessions from Lukashenko, such as constitutional amendments formalizing the Union State and additional Russian military basing rights in Belarus.[17] Putin may be delaying the meeting in response to Lukashenko’s most recent actions to reset the conditions for the discussion more in his favor.

Lithuania-based opposition leader Svetlana Tikhanouskaya’s rhetoric is becoming increasingly hostile towards the Kremlin in response to deepening Russian intervention. Tikhanouskaya published a video appeal to Russians citizens urging them to not believe “lies” from “Russian propaganda” on the events in Belarus on September 9.[18] The Kremlin’s overt support for Lukashenko began pushing the Belarusian opposition into an anti-Russian direction for the first time on September 3.[19] ISW previously forecasted Russian involvement in Belarus risked turning the protest movement against the Kremlin.[20] Conflict amongst Lukashenko, the Kremlin, and the opposition in the information space over Belarus will likely intensify.

Lukashenko attempted to continue his campaign to detain opposition organizers still active in Belarus on September 9. Security personnel in civilian clothing arrived at the apartment complex of Belarusian poet laureate Svitlana Alekseievich – the last member of the Presidium of the opposition Coordination Council free in Belarus – and likely intended to arrest her on September 9.[21] The personnel did not access Alekseievich’s apartment and diplomats from Lithuania, Germany, Poland, Slovakia, the Czech Republic, and Sweden gathered in Svitlana Aleksievich’s apartment to protect her from abduction.[22] Lukashenko will likely continue efforts to detain or exile remaining opposition leaders.

Serbia canceled its participation in the prescheduled Slavic Brotherhood 2020 military exercises in Belarus a day before they are set to begin. Serbian Defense Minister Aleksandar Vulin stated Serbia is a militarily neutral country and suspended all foreign military exercises for six months on September 9.[23] Planning for the Slavic Brotherhood 2020 September 10-15 exercises has been underway since at least December 2019.[24] Vulin said political pressure from the EU compelled this decision.[25] Serbia’s withdrawal from the exercises indicates the Kremlin faces setbacks in its influence over Serbia, as ISW forecasted in April 2020.[26] Other leaders of Kremlin-amenable states will likely grow increasingly cautious over close ties with the Kremlin in response to the Kremlin‘s overt pressure on Lukashenko. The Kremlin may still attempt to use the exercises to infiltrate Russian forces into Belarus.

ISW will continue monitoring the situation and providing updates.


[2] https://kodeksy-by(.)com/ugolovnyj_kodeks_rb/361.htm




[6] https://www.belta(.)by/president/view/lukashenko-otvetil-na-vopros-o-vozmozhnoj-glubine-integratsii-s-rossiej-406063-2020/; https://www.belta(.)by/president/view/lukashenko-rasskazal-chem-mozhet-obernutsja-vyhod-belarusi-iz-odkb-406057-2020/

[7] https://www.belta(.)by/president/view/lukashenko-otvetil-na-vopros-o-vozmozhnoj-glubine-integratsii-s-rossiej-406063-2020/; https://censor(.)net/ru/video_news/3218364/integrirovat_belarus_i_rf_v_sootvetstvii_s_soyuznym_dogovorom_nevozmojno_lukashenko_video

[8] https://www.belta(.)by/president/view/lukashenko-otvetil-na-vopros-o-vozmozhnoj-glubine-integratsii-s-rossiej-406063-2020/; https://censor(.)net/ru/video_news/3218364/integrirovat_belarus_i_rf_v_sootvetstvii_s_soyuznym_dogovorom_nevozmojno_lukashenko_video

[9] https://www.belta(.)by/president/view/lukashenko-otvetil-na-vopros-o-vozmozhnoj-glubine-integratsii-s-rossiej-406063-2020/; https://censor(.)net/ru/video_news/3218364/integrirovat_belarus_i_rf_v_sootvetstvii_s_soyuznym_dogovorom_nevozmojno_lukashenko_video

[10] https://tass(.)com/politics/1198933

[11] https://www.belta(.)by/president/view/lukashenko-rasskazal-chem-mozhet-obernutsja-vyhod-belarusi-iz-odkb-406057-2020/; https://censor(.)net/ru/video_news/3218347/lukashenko_ne_isklyuchaet_agressii_rf_protiv_belarusi_v_sluchae_ee_vyhoda_iz_odkb_video

[12] https://hromadske(.)ua/ru/posts/lukashenko-privel-armiyu-v-boevuyu-gotovnost-na-granice-s-es-v-nato-govoryat-chto-sily-ne-narashivayut-i-nikakoj-ugrozy-net; https://www.interfax(.)ru/world/722395;

[13] https://ria(.)ru/20200909/lukashenko-1576973944.html

[14] https://iz(.)ru/1058617/2020-09-09/kreml-nazval-nesvoevremennymi-soobshcheniia-o-vizite-lukashenko-v-moskvu-14-sentiabria

[15] https://www.newsru(.)com/blog/02sep2020/mos_luk.html; https://dni(.)ru/polit/2020/9/2/458507.html; https://udf(.)by/news/main_news/217768-10-sentjabrja-belorusskij-prezident-priedet-v-moskvu-tam-budut-proishodit-jeti-samye-rokovye-peregovory.html







[22] https://www.rbc(.)ru/rbcfreenews/5f58e3f59a79478185af7fb8;

[23] https://www.blic(.)rs/a-m-p-article?uuid=b9761321-ae4f-475f-85f1-b13657c4ddae&type=article&id=PULS_CMS-Article-b9761321-ae4f-475f-85f1-b13657c4ddae&gem_id=zD5KuD.iD9sJXrRF68I7qMeyLVT8XRtC9_EdQkpe1HD.37&tpv=MOBILE_VESTI/POLITIKA&tdv=BLIC_RS/blic/vesti/politika/ART&__twitter_impression=true

[24]; https://regnum(.)ru/news/polit/2837915.html; http://www.vs(.)rs/en/news/1472F895256C11EABEE30050568F5424/discussions-on-military-cooperation-between-serbia-and-belarus.

[25] https://tass(.)ru/mezhdunarodnaya-panorama/9412745