On Thursday, the increasingly beleaguered Belarussian President Alexander Lukashenko announced that troops would be put on high alert as he closed borders with Lithuania and Poland.
“We are compelled to withdraw our troops from the streets, have half our army on guard and close our state border with the West, first of all with Lithuania and Poland,” said Lukashenko. “To our greatest regret, we are compelled to strengthen our border with brotherly Ukraine.”
“I don’t want my country to be at war. Moreover, I don’t want Belarus, Poland [and] Lithuania to turn into a theatre of military operations where [sic] our issues will not be resolved,” he added.
“Therefore, today […] I want to appeal to the peoples of Lithuania, Poland and Ukraine — stop your crazy politicians, don’t let war break out!”
The border closure comes after six weeks of massive protests calling for Lukashenko’s resignation. The protests sprang as a result of August’s contentious election, which many critics of Lukashenko’s regime, including the U.S. and the E.U., have said were full of irregularities. In the elections, Lukashenko declared victory with a supposed 80 percent of the vote.
Lukashenko, a Stalinesque strongman who has ruled with an iron fist for more than a quarter-century, has said that the protests are all orchestrated by the West. These accusations were called out as a cheap propaganda tactic by the rest of Europe which has been aligning against his regime.
“We take this as another element of the propaganda campaign, a psychological game which aims to create a sense of an external threat,” Polish Deputy Foreign Minister Pawel Jablonski said to Reuters.
Following the initial protests, Lukashenko’s security police arrested more than 7,000 people and brutally beat hundreds of detainees.
Former presidential candidate and opposition leader Svetlana Tikhanovskaya told DW last month that “Our people will not step away, they woke up and they want a new Belarus. The person who has to step down is Mr. Lukashenko.” Tikhanovskaya is currently in Lithuania because of threats from Belarusian authorities
She said that activists are gathering a list of security officials who were involved in violence against protesters. The opposition will name the list in honor of Alexander Taraikovsky, a protester who was killed in Minsk the day after the election as security police were putting down several protests.
Security officials claimed that an explosive device, which Taraikovsky was preparing to throw at security police, blew up prematurely in his hands, killing him. However, a video that was released by the Associated Press clearly showed that Taraikovsky was not holding any explosives when he fell to the ground, his shirt bloodied.
Western countries have threatened to take disciplinary action against Belarus including enacting targeted sanctions. The European Parliament overwhelmingly passed a resolution to not recognize Lukashenko as the legitimate president once his current term expires on November 5.
“Once the term of office for the incumbent authoritarian leader Alexander Lukashenko expires on 5 November, parliament will no longer recognize him as the president of the country,” the parliament’s statement read.
Belarus’s foreign ministry responded strongly: “We are disappointed that the European Parliament, positioning itself as a serious, objective and democratic structure, could not find the political will to look beyond its nose, overcome one-sidedness and not become a hostage to conventional cliches.”
Belarusian authorities have resorted to conducting internet blackouts. This is a tactic often used by repressive governments in order to stop the opposition from organizing and communicating with overseas.
“Shutdowns and blocking or filtering of services unjustifiably limit the rights of peaceful assembly and freedoms of association and expression, especially when they lack procedural fairness and transparency,” a statement from 30 countries, which demand that Lukashenko’s regime stop the practice, read.
Russia, the staunchest ally of Belarus and Lukashenko, pledged $1.5 billion in loans as the Speaker of the Russian Parliament called out the European Parliament for what he characterized blatant interference in Belarus’ affairs.
Speaker of the State Duma of Russia Vyacheslav Volodin said that “The statement that has been passed [from the E.U.] represents not only a blatant interference in affairs of a sovereign state but an attempt to supplant the people of Belarus.”
Linking the situation in Belarus with the recent poisoning of Russian opposition figure Alexei Navalny, Volodin added that “After statements of the European Parliament, one can say that security agencies of foreign countries are behind the situation involving Navalny. If Western countries value such notions as democracy, international law, and laws, they should take measures to make responsible those in the European Parliament, who initiate such decisions,” Vyacheslav Volodin added.