Long-ruling strongman Alexander Lukashenko has cut off internet across most of Belarus as the country explodes into angry protests in the wake of contested presidential elections. Riot police are unleashing harsh repression, using rubber bullets, flash-bang grenades and water hoses against demonstrators in Minsk. One person has been reported killed and many more wounded, including several police officers. According to preliminary results, Lukashenko won an unlikely 80% of the vote in the Aug. 9 election, with the main opposition candidate Svetlana Tikhanovskaya taking only 10%. Tikhanovskaya was a surprise replacement for her husband Sergei, a popular blogger who was arrested after he attempted to launch a presidential campaign. She held large rallies in Minsk and other cities, riding a groundswell of popular discontent with Lukashenko. (Politico, The Guardian, Meduza)
Ironically, Lukashenko has this time pointed to Russia rather than the West as scheming to subvert his rule. Russian President Vladimir Putin and Lukashenko last year agreed to merge their two countries in a “Union State” with a joint parliament, seen as a step toward rebuilding the empire. But no sooner was the deal announced than the two strongmen started spatting over who would be top dog. “Russia is a part of Belarus,” Lukashenko even quipped as the deal started to disintegrate in December.
In the lead-up to the election, Lukashenko’s security forces reportedly arrested dozens of Russian mercenaries, claiming that hundreds of fighters had infiltrated the country to destabilize the regime. The state media said the mercenaries worked for Wagner Group, Russia’s best-known private military contractor. (Al Jazeera, Moscow Times, UA Wire)