Lukashenko defiant with NATO situations for surveillance

An aerial photo of Protestants during a demonstration on August 16, 2020 in Minsk, Belarus. There have been daily demonstrations in the Belarusian capital and elsewhere in the country after President Alexander Lukashenko claimed victory in the August 9 election, which critics say was fraudulent.

Getty Images News | Getty Images

Belarussian President Alexander Lukashenko has rejected calls for his contested re-election, warning that the former Soviet republic would be “destroyed as a state” if it were forced to repeat the vote.

Opposition protesters took to the streets on Sunday for the eighth consecutive day of anti-government demonstrations, demanding the departure of the embattled authoritarian leader.

It comes as anger grows over reports of police violence and allegations of election fraud and poll rigging in the August 9 presidential election.

Lukashenko, who has been in power since 1994, demanded a landslide victory in the vote that gave him his sixth term in office and has denied allegations of fraud.

“Until you kill me, there will be no other elections,” Lukashenko told workers at a tractor factory on Monday, Reuters reported, citing local independent media outlet

Official results indicate that he received about 80% of the vote earlier this month, while opposition candidate Svetlana Tikhanovskaya, 37, said he received about 10% of the vote.

Tikhanovskaya, who challenged the 65-year-old president after her husband was barred from running and imprisoned by authorities, has condemned the result and calls for the establishment of a legal mechanism that could ensure a new, fair presidential election.

Speaking in a video address from Lithuania on Monday, the former English teacher said that security guards and lawmakers loyal to the president have been forgiven for their behavior in the past, as long as they immediately scrap their loyalty to the president.

Thousands of people were detained during recent protests, which police tried to use ashes, rubber bullets and flash grenades. At least two protesters were killed.

The opposition also called for a general strike on Monday. It comes after thousands of workers at state-controlled factories, a traditional support base for Lukashenko, went on strike last week.

Developments of the weekend

In an attempt to put on a show of strength, Lukashenko on Sunday targeted tens of thousands of fans in the country’s capital Minsk. He called on those present to defend Belarus’s independence, saying the country should not “become a latrine for Europe”.

Lukashenko also accused Western powers of gathering military units along the country’s borders with countries such as Latvia, Poland and Lithuania.

Opponents of the president served with their own, much larger, demonstration about 2.5 miles (1.6 miles) away.

Protesters take part in an anti-Lukashenko rally on August 16, 2020 in Minsk, Belarus.

Misha Friedman | Getty Images

Reportedly, up to 200,000 people gathered to express their dissatisfaction, with one national independent news website describing the peaceful demonstration as “the largest in the history of independent Belarus.”

NATO spokeswoman Oana Lungescu stressed that the military alliance was “closely monitoring” the situation in Belarus, but dismissed the president’s claims that troops were gathering at Belarus’s western border.

“There is no NATO build-up in the region,” Lungescu said via Twitter on Sunday.

“NATO’s multinational presence in the eastern part of the Alliance is not a threat to any country. It is strictly defensive, proportionate & designed to prevent conflict and maintain peace,” she added.

‘No good policy responses’ for Western states

The European Union reportedly drew up a list of officials in the country who could have imposed sanctions, describing the recent vote as “neither free nor fair.”

Britain has described Lukashenko’s re-election as “fraudulent.” UK Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab said on Monday that the country would work with international partners to sanction those responsible.

“The world has watched with horror the violence used by the Belarusian authorities to suppress the peaceful protests that followed these fraudulent presidential elections,” Raab said in a statement.

French President Emmanuel Macron said via Twitter on Sunday that the EU “must continue to mobilize alongside the hundreds of thousands of Belarusians who are demonstrating peace for respect for their rights, their freedom and their sovereignty.”

Meanwhile, German Finance Minister Olaf Sholz described Lukashenko as a “dictator” who had lost the support of the electorate, and warned Moscow of intervening to support a president who “has no more legitimacy.”

The President of Belarus Alexander Lukashenko will deliver a speech during a rally of his supporters on Independence Square. Following the announcement of the election results on August 9, mass protests were held in Minsk and other cities in Belarus.

Valery Sharifulin | TASS via Getty Images

Russia, a traditional ally of Belarus, has said it would be willing to offer Lukashenko military support if needed.

The Foreign Minister on Monday told reporters that Russian military aid in Belarus would constitute an “invasion”, destroying the “last traces” of the country’s independence.

“My feeling is that there are probably no good policy responses to the Belarus crisis for Western states,” Emma Ashford, a research fellow in defense and foreign policy at the Cato Institute, told CNBC via email.

“Any active pushback against Lukashenko, as an attempt to support Tikhanovskaya, is likely to undermine the warming EU-Belarus ties we have seen in recent years, leaving Luka with Russia as his only option, “said Ashford.