Ukraine Project

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

5:45 pm EDT: 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. Lukashenko said he asked Putin for weapons to "strengthen the Union State plan" on September 16. 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.” 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.

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

5:00 pm EDT: 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. Russia has not deployed significant conventional forces to Belarus since the start of protests on August 9. The number of Russian troops in the exercises is unclear.

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

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. 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. NEXTA did not issue protest instructions until nearly noon on Sunday, directing protests to begin at 2:00 pm local time. 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. 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.

Belarus Warning Update: Lukashenko Begins Targeting the Kremlin Ahead of Meeting Putin

6:00pm EDT: 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. Belarusian law stipulates imprisonment for two to five years for this charge. Belarusian authorities abducted Kolesnikova in Minsk on September 7 and failed to expel her to Ukraine on September 8. Kolesnikova previously stated her openness to working with the Kremlin and expressed support for constitutional reforms. Lukashenko may have detained Kolesnikova in order to disrupt Kremlin efforts to undermine Belarus’ sovereignty via constitutional amendments. Lukashenko additionally began balancing against Kremlin pressure in the information space on September 8 to push back on Kremlin efforts to absorb Belarus.

Belarus Warning Update: Lukashenko Expels Opposition Leaders to Support Kremlin Information Operation

7:20 pm EDT: Belarusian authorities are holding Belarusian opposition leader Kolesnikova after a failed attempt to expel her to Ukraine following her abduction on September 7. Ukrainian officials confirmed Belarusian authorities “forcibly expelled” Ivan Kravtsov and Anton Rodnenkov – two of Kolesnikova’s staffers – to Ukraine on September 8. Belarusian security personnel in civilian clothes abducted Kolesnikova, Rodnenkov, and Kravtsov in downtown Minsk on September 7. Rodnenkov claimed Belarusian authorities decided to expel him and Kravtsov to Ukraine, rather than Poland or Lithuania, because they did not have passports with EU visas. Kravtsov and Rodnenkov confirmed at a press conference in Kyiv on September 8 that they witnessed Kolesnikova destroy her passport while in Belarusian detention to avoid expulsion.

Belarus Warning Update: Belarusian Security Forces Likely Kidnap Opposition Leader Kolesnikova

Unidentified men abducted opposition leader Maria Kolesnikova and two of her staffers in Minsk on September 7. An unidentified group of masked men in civilian clothes abducted Kolesnikova and two of her staffers, Anton Rodnenkov and Ivan Kravtsov, using an unmarked van in downtown Minsk the morning of September 7. The whereabouts of Kolesnikova and her staffers is currently unknown. Kolesnikova is a key member of the opposition Coordination Council and the last remaining Belarusian opposition leader active in-country.

Belarus Warning Update: Belarusian Security Forces Escalate Violence against Protesters but Large Protests Continue

5:00 pm EDT: Belarusian Interior Ministry personnel without insignia, possibly including Russians, seriously beat and detained protesters in Minsk on September 6. Around 15 men in civilian clothes carrying batons and body armor beat and detained protesters in Minsk at approximately 7:00 pm local time, after most protesters had begun to disperse. The men, who bore no insignia, pursued protesters into a nearby café, later bringing the detained protesters to liveried police vehicles. The men used significantly more violence than Belarusian security forces have since the first week of the protests, continuing to beat already unconscious protesters.

Belarus Warning Update: Security Personnel in Green Uniforms without Insignia Appear in Minsk

6:00 EDT: Security personnel wearing unmarked green uniforms appeared in Minsk for the first time on September 5. The personnel are reportedly Belarusian riot police (OMON) in new uniforms. These personnel wear Russian-made Dozor body cameras – a model of cameras Russian police and interior forces as well as Belarusian OMON personnel use. Belarusian OMON previously wore all black uniforms with identifying markings. It is unclear why Belarusian OMON would have changed their uniforms and removed identifying markings. They could be setting conditions for the appearance of Russian security personnel in similar unmarked uniforms.

Belarus Warning Update: Moscow Claims Poland Is the Lead Sponsor of Belarusian Protests; Minsk Calls Protests a “Color Revolution”

5:15 EDT: The Kremlin framed Poland as a leader in sponsoring Belarusian protests for the first time and Belarus claimed the ongoing protests are part of a Western-sponsored “color revolution.” The Russian Foreign Ministry (MFA) dedicated a segment of its September 3 briefing to accusing Warsaw of providing direct financial, NGO, and influence operation support to the Belarusian opposition and said Poland is “at the forefront of the EU's unfriendly policy.” The Kremlin has not previously framed Poland as the leader of Western inference in Belarus, but rather as a coconspirator along with Lithuania, Germany, the Czech Republic, the United States, Ukraine, and Canada. The Kremlin may be setting information conditions to conduct hybrid operations against Poland.

Belarus Warning Update: Belarusian Opposition Begins First Anti-Kremlin Shift after Lukashenko Promises Moscow Union State Concessions

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.