Belarus Warning Update: Multiple Russian Military Exercises Occurring in the Western Military District, Belarus, and Moldova

September 19, 2020 - Press ISW

7:00 pm EDT: The Kremlin is conducting multiple preplanned and apparently snap exercises concurrently in multiple theaters and Russian military districts. Russian military activity in the Western Military District (WMD) is unexpectedly high despite the Kavkaz-2020 exercises underway in the Southern Military District (SMD). The Russian Defense Ministry holds annual strategic exercises to test the readiness of Russia’s four main military districts. Each such annual exercise occurs in a different Russian military district in a rotating order and usually precipitates a decrease in military exercises in the other military districts not undertaking the strategic exercise. This year’s “Kavkaz-2020” exercises began on September 15 in the SMD.

Belarus Warning Update: Moscow Sets Conditions for Kinetic Intervention in Belarus Through New Information Operation

August 21, 2020 - Press ISW

7:30 pm EDT: The Kremlin has assumed direct control of Belarusian media to conduct an information campaign for its own ends as the key component of its hybrid operation in Belarus. Lukashenko stated on August 21 he “invited” Russian media professionals to work at Belarusian state media. Lukashenko’s statement confirms ISW’s August 20 assessment that the Kremlin began an information operation in Belarus and took control of Belarusian state news agencies on August 19. The Kremlin, Lukashenko, Belarusian authorities, and Belarusian state media organizations’ rhetoric are converging. Belarusian state entities are acting as components of this Kremlin information operation and must be studied as such. This information operation is likely a component of a larger Russian hybrid operation currently underway.

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

September 4, 2020 - George Barros

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: Moscow and Minsk Hold Simultaneous Combat Readiness Exercises in Kaliningrad, Mainland Russia, and Belarus

January 28, 2021 - George Barros

Russian Western Military District (WMD) and Belarusian forces began simultaneous, large combat-readiness exercises in Kaliningrad, Belarus, and mainland western Russia on January 25, 2021. The Russian and Belarusian exercises are nominally separate and do not mention any joint activity; however, the exercises’ similarities in timing, geographic proximity, scale, and type of activity in resemblance to previous joint exercises indicate they are likely connected and complimentary.

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.

Belarus Warning Update: Lukashenko’s Kremlin-Backed Media Campaign

August 20, 2020 - Press ISW

7:00 PM EDT: The Kremlin very likely deployed Russian media professionals to run a new information operation in Belarus with the objective of regaining control over the information space in Belarus. Lukashenko’s counteroffensive against protesters has an informational component. Kremlin security and media professionals likely began helping Lukashenko implement a new information operation on August 19. The information operation’s likely objective is to regain control over the Belarusian information space in order to erode sympathy for the anti-Lukashenko opposition and characterize it as pro-Western. The information operation, if successful, will degrade the opposition movement and decrease the likelihood of opposition protesters successfully consolidating and reemerging. It will also continue the process of turning an intra-Belarus issue into a Russia versus NATO problem, an aim the Kremlin has been pursuing for some time.

Belarus Warning Update: Lukashenko Will Likely Outlast Ultimatum Protests

October 26, 2020 - Press ISW

5:30 pm EDT: Protesters failed to compel self-declared Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko’s resignation on October 25 – the deadline of the opposition’s ultimatum for his resignation. Over 100,000 Belarusians protested in Minsk and other major cities in line with Lithuania-based opposition leader Svitlana Tikhanouskaya’s ultimatum to Lukashenko for his resignation on October 25. Belarusian security services in Minsk cordoned off key roads, blocked cellular internet services, and closed downtown metro stations. Riot police used rubber bullets and stun grenade salvos to disperse protesters at dusk. Protesters did not regroup at midnight after the ultimatum’s deadline expired. Police detained at least 500 protesters in Belarus, including 160 in Minsk, on October 25.

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

September 13, 2020 - Press ISW

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 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 Seems to Lack Strategy as Peaceful Protests Grow

August 16, 2020 - Press ISW

Mass protests across Belarus against Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko overshadowed a pro-Lukashenko rally in Minsk on August 16. Over 120,000 Belarusians joined a planned 2:00 pm Sunday afternoon rally in Minsk – though most protesters did not gather until later in the afternoon. Rallies additionally grew in other cities across Belarus. The protest movement remains peaceful and largely coordinated through independent Telegram channels as of August 16. Demonstrators are calling for Lukashenko to step down and re-run the August 9 election. Protests since August 10 have so far dissipated by dark, and protesters are slowly returning home as of 9:00 pm local Belarus time. Belarusian security forces did not impede the Sunday protests.