Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko has stepped up efforts to reassert his control after 10 days of street protests and strikes triggered by disputed elections.
Lukashenko says he has given orders to end the unrest in the capital Minsk.
The move signaled an escalation just as European Union (EU) leaders agreed to impose sanctions at a virtual summit.
The President of the European Council, Charles Michel, made clear that the EU did not recognize the result of the election and called on Lukashenko to release hundreds of protesters who have been imprisoned.
Media reports from Belarus said:
Rallies for peace in cities
However, social and cultural actions were held in different cities of Belarus on August 20. The gatherings attended by thousands of people were organized for peace.
Criminal case against opposition-led coordination council
A criminal case has been opened against the opposition-led Coordination Council, Belarus Prosecutor General Aleksandr Konyuk told reporters.
“On 18 August, a group of Belarusian citizens announced the establishment of a coordination council, the purpose of which is to organize the transfer of power. They are planning to set up a political body, which should take over the transfer of power from the current head of state. Setting up such bodies is not envisaged in law, and this activity is unconstitutional,” Aleksandr Konyuk said.
According to him, this prompted several council members to announce their resignation from the council and their disagreement with its goals. “Establishment of such a council and its activities are aimed at seizing state power, harming the national security of Belarus. A criminal case has been opened under Article 361 of the Criminal Code in connection with the above-stated fact,” he added.
Belarus President Aleksandr Lukashenko issued a number of instructions that show the country’s condition:
He has announced the decisions taken at the Security Council session on August 19.
The president gave instructions aimed at stabilization of the situation in the country, including instructions to maintain security, order and uninterrupted operation of companies, organizations and mass media outlets, and instructions to inform foreign leaders on the situation in Belarus.
Foreign militants, weapons, money to finance riots
He instructed the State Border Committee to reinforce protection of the state border along the entire perimeter in order to prevent the arrival of foreign militants, weapons, munitions and money to finance riots in Belarus. We see this money coming,” the head of state said.
He noted that part of this money is given to protesters, though not all of them. “They give money to people who want to earn by standing with flowers or doing something else. I do not want to say that all of them are like that. However, big money is coming and this is done openly,” Lukashenko said.
The president added that border services should join efforts with intelligence services to block such financial flows and channels.
“The Defense Ministry should pay utmost attention to the NATO troops relocation to the territory of Poland and Lithuania. We should track their movements and their intentions. However, at present we are fully aware of their intentions.”
“It does not bother us much. But certain facts, especially in the Grodno direction, raise concern. Therefore, we must take measures and do not hesitate to deploy our Armed Forces and hardware towards the directions of their movement.
“This means that we need to keep an eye on these issues, especially in Grodno, in the Grodno direction. Because there is a great desire to destabilize the situation there even more than in Minsk.”
Lukashenko instructed the Ministry of Internal Affairs to prevent unrest in the country, especially in Minsk. “There should be no more unrest in Minsk. People are tired, people demand peace and silence,” the president stressed.
He also ordered to protect workers from slander and threats of the street. “Protect the working people, not only factory workers and factories, but also other working groups, organizations (who are facing threats), media teams,” said the head of state.
“If some people working in the media want to go out to protest and then come back again, they should not have such a chance. If you go, then go. But we need to protect working teams. This is our task today. It is important,” the president added.
The State Security Committee was instructed to disrupt the activities of protest organizers and to identify channels of financing riots in Belarus. “No matter how hard it might be, we should carry on this work and do it to the full extent.”
He instructed the Ministry of Foreign Affairs to keep Western leaders updated on the developments in Belarus. “You just need to tell them what is going on in Belarus. You should reach out to Merkel, Macron, Duda, Nauseda and others, and Zelenskyy, so that they know what is going on in Belarus, the official point of view. You should not hesitate to warn them about the responsibility for fomenting riots. Financing riots means fomenting riots. We see today that this financing continues,” the head of state said.
“Secondly, military build-up and drills at the border with Belarus are counterproductive now. They should keep it in mind. They will be responsible if anything happens,” the Belarusian leader said.
According to the president, it is necessary to help heads of enterprises organize the manufacturing process. “It is a must. We cannot leave them alone, face to face with the crowd that is sometimes sitting at the entrance checkpoint, preventing people from working. And there are also some people like this at the enterprises,” the head of state said. “We should not heighten tensions within labor collectives. Nevertheless, if you want to work – then work, just like I said, if not – get out, do not bother others. But there will be no coming back to this enterprise after that. Many people are looking forward to getting a job at these enterprises. Moreover, all these enterprises are already overstaffed,” he added.
“People should see that the authorities, especially the central government agencies, not only focus on restoring order in Minsk Hero City and two or three other cities, but also look into the matters that influence the life of our people,” he said.
The current government has people to rely on in Belarus. Lukashenko made the relevant statement at a session of the Security Council on August 19.
Lukashenko noted that the government does not stand alone. “We are absolutely not alone,” he emphasized.
Rallies in support of the current government took place in the country the day before and gathered about 100,000 Belarusian citizens. “I am very well aware of these rallies. People stated their views. I would like to once again underline that if you think the government is leaning and is shaking, you are wrong. I would like to say that the government has people to rely on. This is why we will not flinch. We will go our own way just like we should,” he stressed.
“Those, who are sharpening their swords, particularly abroad (it is clearly obvious now), will be repelled. These are not just words. They hang up Polish flags in Grodno already. It is inadmissible. Such things will be stopped in a radical manner,” Lukashenko added.
Lukashenko denies foreign military presence in Belarus
Lukashenko has dismissed reports of foreign military presence in Belarus as a fake.
He made such a statement as he hosted a meeting of the Security Council with the participation of regional leaders on August 19.
“Fakes are another issue. Blatant lie in the internet: foreign troops in Belarus, military hardware from the Russian Federation in Belarus. You have probably seen these fakes already. They show a military convoy, but it is not clear where it is going and when and who sent it; but they said that this convoy is heading for Orsha from the Russian border,” the head of state said.
“They showed footage without understanding that these are Belarusian armored personnel carriers, not Russian, and they are moving towards the western border We realized that we needed to take additional measures to defend the sovereignty and independence, the state border in the West,” the president said.
Several days ago Lukashenko ordered to dispatch an airborne brigade from Vitebsk to Grodno.
“As to foreign troops, there is not a single military man from other countries in Belarus today,” the Belarusian leader emphasized.
Makei calls for objective assessment of situation
Belarus’ Minister of Foreign Affairs Vladimir Makei held a telephone conversation with his Estonian counterpart Urmas Reinsalu on August 20.
Urmas Reinsalu updated the Belarusian minister on the EU approaches to assessing the situation.
Belarus reiterated the inadmissibility of foreign interference with its internal affairs and open support, including financial one, from individual actors. Vladimir Makei called for an objective assessment of the situation, taking into account various sources of information.
Putin: External pressure on Belarus is counterproductive
Russian President Vladimir Putin had a telephone conversation with President of the European Council Charles Michel.
In accordance with the agreement, Charles Michel informed the Russian president about the results of the EU extraordinary summit on August 19 on the events in Belarus.
The Russian side emphasized the counter-productiveness of exerting any pressure on the leadership of the sovereign Belarusian state and interfering in the internal processes.
Government estimates damage from protests in excess of $500m
Damage from protests in Belarus has already exceeded $500 million, Belarus news agency BelTA learned from Valery Belsky, aide to the Belarus president for matters of the financial and credit system.
The official said: “Losses from protest actions go beyond the Br500,000 spent on restoring flower beds and lawns. The current damage has already exceeded $500 million. The deferred damage is estimated in the billions. Foundations of the foreign loans system that took years to establish have been broken. The country’s investment appeal has been damaged.”
“Workers of state-run enterprises have chosen walkouts and strikes as a form of political protest. Those are the best enterprises, which had been granted state support upon instructions of the head of state. These enterprises offered decent salaries and employment benefits. For instance, in July the salary averaged Br1,643 at the Belarusian steel mill BMZ, Br1,640 at MZKT, and Br3,458 in Belaruskali’s manufacturing division,” the official noted.
Belsky pointed out that the majority of private companies continue working, securing their positions on the new markets that their competitors lost due to the coronavirus pandemic. For instance, Amkodor increased its output by nearly 1.5 times in H1 2020 and intends to raise the output by 2 times this year.
Several employees at Savushkin Product wanted to organize a rally, but the plans were cancelled after the human resources department said they had CVs from 200 people seeking employment.
Belarusian army to stage tactical exercise in direction of Grodno
Belarusian Defense Minister Viktor Khrenin gave instructions to organize a tactical exercise to allow army units to practice the defense of the Grodno tactical direction.
Khrenin told the TV channel VoyenTV: “We see that domestic affairs of the state are being interfered in now.”
The defense minister said: “From various sources we are getting reports that cannot but worry us. We are making projections concerning the development of various scenarios. Bearing it in mind, I’ve decided to organize a complex tactical exercise for troops of the Western Operational Command in the Grodno tactical direction.”
The exercise will focus on defense and special actions in the Grodno tactical direction. Mechanized infantry units, special operations forces, air defense units, reconnaissance units, radio warfare units, missile and artillery units will take part in the exercise. A number of some army units will be mobilized.
One official said the Armed Forces are ready for combat. The main task for us is to preserve territorial integrity, sovereignty, and independence of the country. We are all Belarusians. It is our land. We will not surrender it to anyone.
Belarus to strengthen operational command in western direction
Khrenin issued an order to strengthen the operational command in the western direction, BelTA learned from the Defense Ministry.
During a meeting of the Belarusian Security Council the head of state instructed to put the troops on combat alert and to pay special attention to the western operational direction and the troops of the Western Operational Command.
“The operational command will be reinforced with the Tochka missile battalion, the Polonez battalion, a unit of unmanned aerial systems, systems of air defense, electronic reconnaissance and electronic warfare,” the ministry said.
First reactor of Belarusian nuclear power plant loaded with fuel
All the nuclear fuel has been loaded into the first unit of the Belarusian nuclear power plant. Physical launch operations continue, BelTA learned from Vigen Marukhyan, Head of the Nuclear Safety Regulation Office of the Nuclear and Radiation Safety Department of the Belarusian Emergencies Ministry (Gosatomnadzor), on August 20.
A total of 163 fuel rod arrays had to be inserted into the reactor followed by a series of necessary tests. The fuel was made by Novosibirsk Chemical Concentrates Plant. The enrichment level varies from 1.3% to 4.4%.
The Belarusian nuclear power plant is being built near Ostrovets, Grodno Oblast using the Russian design AES-2006 featuring two VVER-1200 reactors with the total output capacity of 2,400MW. The Russian state nuclear industry corporation Rosatom is the general contractor. Generation III+ reactor units boast improved technical and economic parameters.
The launch of the second unit is supposed to take place in 2022.
According to the Energy Ministry, the launch of the Belarusian nuclear power plant will satisfy about one third of the country’s demand for electricity. It will also allow substituting 4.5 billion m3 of natural gas per annum and will reduce greenhouse gas emissions by more than 7 million tonnes per year.
Russian expert talks about consequences of alternative development scenario for Belarus
The true purpose of the unrest and events going on in Belarus is to fully sever the country’s ties with Russia, BelTA learned from Sergei Markov, Director of the Political Studies Institute, a prominent Russian expert and politician.
In his words, representatives of the Belarusian opposition claim that the previously published plan of actions is a lie and they have no intention of severing relations with Russia. “I think they may remain part of the Collective Security Treaty Organization and the Eurasian Economic Union but only for the sake of destroying these integration associations from within,” the expert believes.
Markov is convinced that the alternative scenario of Belarus’ development will negate the nation’s accomplishments in the victory over the Nazi.
He predicts: Monuments to Soviet Army heroes, who fought against the Nazi invaders, and monuments to Belarusian partisans are likely to be demolished.