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Belarus: Fractures form in diplomatic elite

August 18, 2020

Belarus' ambassador to Slovakia stepped down after siding with protesters calling for President Alexander Lukashenko's resignation. Germany said it would be willing to act as mediator. DW followed how events unfolded.

Protesters hold a red and white banner in Belarus
Image: picture-alliance/dpa/S. Grits
  • Germany has renewed calls for a "national dialogue" between Alexander Lukashenko and the opposition
  • Belarus' ambassador to Slovakia has stepped down after declaring his support for protesters
  • EU leaders are to hold an emergency summit on Belarus on Wednesday where they might consider wider sanctions

All updates in Universal Coordinated Time (UTC/GMT)

18:55 We are wrapping up our live updates for today. See how Tuesday's events in Belarus unfolded below.

18:30 For the tenth evening in a row, thousands have gathered to protest in Minsk's Independence Square. Footage from independent broadcaster Tut.by shows people chanting "Get out! Get out!" in a message of rejection of Lukashenko's election win.

17:50 The United Nations Security Council has held a discussion on the situation in Belarus after it was convened by Estonia and the United States.

"Using preventative diplomacy at all levels is of utmost importance for avoiding the escalation into violent conflict," said Estonian Foreign Minister Urmas Reinsalu in a statement given to the 15 members of the council.

The question of whether and how the UN would intervene in the situation remained open.

Read more: Is Belarus closer to the West, or to Russia?

17:30 After earlier carrying out military exercises on Belarus' western border, Alexander Lukashenko has now announced he ordered the army to be "combat ready" along the border.

"We don't only have internal problems; we also have external ones," he said, according to state-owned Belta news agency.

16:22 The EU should do everything to avert violence in Belarus — but also make clear it is not trying to expand its zone of influence, the head of Germany's parliament, Wolfgang Schäuble, told DW in an exclusive interview.

"Because, the way things are in Belarus right now — you can feel it — it cannot continue," he said.

Read the interview here.

16:05 People have been gathered outside the National Arts Museum in Minsk in protest of the election results for much of the day. Tuesday marks 10 days of continuous protests in the country. Cultural workers have been among those who have been loudly critical of Alexander Lukashenko since the election, which they say was rigged.

Women gather outside of a Minsk museum
The signs read "Genocide?" and "It hurts me too"Image: Reuters/V. Fedosenko

15:45 Sweden's Foreign Minister Ann Linde has confirmed the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), a 57-member alliance of which Belarus is a member, would be willing to help conduct dialogue between factions in Belarus.

Sweden is the incoming chair of the organization. Linde said on Twitter she had "offered a visit by the OSCE in order to establish a dialogue with the opposition" to her Belarusian counterpart.

15:10 Russian President Vladimir Putin has spoken with Alexander Lukashenko by phone, Belarusian state-owned news agency Belta reported. Putin told Lukashenko about earlier phone calls with German Chancellor Angela Merkel and French President Emmanuel Macron, where they urged Putin to foster "calm and dialogue" in Belarus.

Putin has warned against any foreign influences in the former Soviet state. This phone conversation marks the fourth in five days, after Putin offered Lukashenko Russian military aid over the weekend.

15:00 US President Donald Trump has said he would talk to Russia "at the appropriate time" regarding the situation in Belarus.

At a White House event, Trump described the protests as "peaceful" and added "I like seeing democracy. It doesn't seem like it's too much democracy in Belarus."

14:35 President Lukashenko has announced he has deployed military units to Belarus' western borders, the state-owned Belta news agency reported. The Defense Ministry said they performed flights along the western border to protect the country's airspace.

Additionally, the embattled president denounced the launch of an opposition coordination council, telling Belta that it would be met with strict measures.

"We see it unequivocally: It is an attempt to seize power," Lukashenko said.

The country's Interior Ministry also acknowledged that a "small part" of the nation's police force has quit since protests began and urged more not to follow suit.

14:05 German Chancellor Angel Merkel's foreign affairs spokesman has confirmed to DW that Germany could take up a role as mediator in the Belarus crisis if asked.

"It's obvious that the elections were manipulated," Jürgen Hardt told DW. "We have so many hints of the manipulation of the elections that new elections are necessary."

"I would appreciate if the European Union itself would take this role of a negotiator or a mediator between the conflict parties," he added. "But if others ask for German politicians to do that for the German chancellor, I think we should step into that role."

Historian Karl Schögel told DW Belarus was seeing an "amazing, European moment — that is not getting enough attention in Germany. He said the protests could see real regime change in Belarus.

13:50 Lukashenko has awarded medals for "impeccable service" to law enforcement officials who worked to crack down on protesters over the last 10 days.

In an effort to clamp down on nationwide strikes, Lukashenko's government also issued a message to state-run factories telling them to ensure that workers fulfill their duties.

13:15 EU Council President Charles Michel has spoken with Russian President Vladimir Putin about the situation in Belarus, hours after Putin warned Germany's Merkel against foreign interference in Belarus.

"Only peaceful and truly inclusive dialogue can resolve the crisis in Belarus," Michel wrote on Twitter.

13:10 Protesters have rallied at a prison in Minsk where the husband of Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya is being held, on the tenth day of consecutive protests.

Hundreds of people gathered outside the detention birthday and sang "Happy Birthday" to popular blogger Siarhei Tsikhanouski, who was turning 42.

His wife chose to run after her husband, who has spoken out against President Lukashenko's regime, chose to contest the presidential election after her husband was detained.

Tsikhanouskaya, currently in Lithuania, has denounced the "rotting system" in Belarus.

People let off balloons outside a Belarus prison
Protesters let off balloons to mark the birthday of imprisoned blogger Siarhei Tsikhanouski in MinskImage: Reuters/V. Fedosenko

12:25 Lithuania's parliament has overwhelmingly voted for economic sanctions against President Lukashenko's regime in Belarus.

"Today, Lithuania's parliament unanimously passed a resolution refusing to recognize the results of the elections in Belarus and Lukashenko as a legitimate President, calling for free and democratic elections and to sanction those responsible for electoral forgery and inconceivable brutalities," Lithuanian Foreign Minister Linas Linkevicius wrote on Twitter.

The sanctions were supported in a vote of 120-0 with two abstentions. Further details of the sanctions were not immediately shared.

11:19 Belarus has seen major disruptions in internet service since the disputed presidential election, with rights groups accusing the government of censorship. To get around the restrictions, many are turning to privacy apps. Read more here.

11:02 Belarusian Ambassador to Slovakia Igor Leshchenya says he is stepping down after declaring his support for anti-Lukashenko demonstrators, according to independent news portal Tut.by. Four other diplomats have followed suit.

Leshchenya said resigning from his post was the "logical step" after he recorded a video message backing the protest movement over the weekend.

"I stand in solidarity with those who peacefully protested on the streets and in the cities of Belarus to make their voices heard," the ambassador said in the video.

Slovakian Prime Minister Igor Matovic has offered Leshchenya asylum in the event that he is not able to return to Belarusia.

10:30 German Chancellor Angela Merkel has stressed that Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko must move towards talks with the opposition "in order to overcome the crisis."

The chancellor made the comments in a phone call to Russian President Vladimir Putin.

Merkel stressed that "the Belarusian government must put a stop to violence against peaceful protesters, release all political prisoners immediately and engage in a national dialogue with the opposition and society," her spokesman Steffen Seibert said.

Read more: EU emergency summit on Belarus: What's at stake?

In a statement, the Kremlin said Putin warned Merkel that foreign interference in the ex-Soviet state would be unacceptable and could escalate the situation.

Belarusians have been protesting for 10 consecutive days against the results of the August 9 presidential election. Lukashenko claimed a landslide win, but the opposition accuses him of rigging the vote to secure a sixth term in office. The international community has widely condemned the election process and the subsequent police crackdown on demonstrators. At least two people have died in the violence and thousands of others have been arrested. 

Catch up on Monday's developments in Belarus here. 

ed,nm/aw (Reuters, AFP, AP, dpa)