Belarus Strongman Blames Unrest on U.S. as Russians Take Over TV

With the opposition planning a mass protest this weekend, Belarus’s embattled President Alexander Lukashenko spent Friday meeting law enforcement agents and accusing the West of planning to invade his country.

Lukashenko said he told Russian President Vladimir Putin that hostile powers have set up a center in Warsaw and seek to “cut off” Belarus’s Grodno region which borders on Lithuania and Poland, both members of the European Union and NATO. The army will hold large-scale military drills in the region Saturday, Lukashenko said.

The leader has vowed to stay in power in the face of the biggest protests in his 26 years of rule and international condemnation of the Aug. 9 presidential election that he claimed to have won by a landslide. From exile in Lithuania, the main opposition candidate, Svetlana Tikhanovskya, urged supporters to rally and strike, calling for new elections and the release of political detainees.

“It’s all being planned and directed by the U.S., and Europeans are playing along,” Lukashanko said during a visit to Dzerzhinsk meat plant, according to the transcript on his website. He said he’d told Putin that Belarusian security was also an issue for Russia.

While police have largely tolerated public gatherings in the past week, following a brutal crackdown in the first days of the protests, the authorities have started a new wave of detentions, mainly targeting the leaders of strike committees across the country.

After hundreds of thousands gathered in the country’s capital on Sunday, the public protests have now thinned into smaller actions across the country, from personal defections of officials to strikes at state-owned factories and government institutions, such as the Yanka Kupala national theater in Minsk.

Lukashenko invited Russian specialists to replace staff at the state-run television company Belteleradiokompania, which had been semi-paralyzed after its employees joined the strike.

He also threated to bring in unemployed miners from Ukraine to replace any workers who don’t stop striking at potash mines in Soligorsk. Donbas, the coal-mining region of Ukraine, has been scarred by war following a Russia-backed secessionist insurgency in 2014.

©2020 Bloomberg L.P.

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