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Lukashenko's mysterious letter

Iurii Sheiko
February 17, 2021

Alexander Lukashenko says a letter sent to him by the EU indicates that the international community recognizes him as president of Belarus. DW delved into the matter.

Alexander Lukashenko  speaking into microphones
The EU no longer recognizes Alexander Lukashenko as Belarusian presidentImage: Sergei Sheleg/BelTA/TASS/dpa/picture alliance

At the All-Belarusian People's Assembly in Minsk last week, Alexander Lukashenko told delegates that he was surprised to have received a missive from "several western leaders" which he said was "addressed to the President of the Republic of Belarus, His Excellency A.G. Lukashenko."

"They say one thing but write another," he said. "They did not address the 'ex-president' or the 'former' president or the Belarusian people," he said. "I'm grateful that they know who's boss here."

Though he did not specify when the letter was written, he said it was from "the WHO and von unter den Leinen," by which he presumably meant European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen.

The EU has not recognized the official results of the Belarusian August 2020 election. It maintains that the elections were not free and fair and did not meet international standards.

'No letter has been addressed to him'

DW contacted the European Commission's press office for comment and was told by spokesman Peter Stano that the letter in question was probably one written by von der Leyen and the President of the European Council Charles Michel on June 9, 2020 about the postponement of an Eastern Partnership summit because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

"Identical letters were written to the other five leaders of the Eastern Partnership states," he said.

European Commission president Ursula von der Leyen in front of the blue and yellow EU flag
The EU's position is that Lukashenko's inuaguaration in September went against the will of the peopleImage: Francois Walschaerts/dpa/picture alliance

In other words, before the election. "Since the presidential election of August 9, which were neither free nor fair, the EU has argued that Mr. Lukashenko has no democratic legitimacy. No letter has been addressed to him."

Nevertheless, Lukashenko and his supporters continue to insist that the EU has recognized his legitimacy. On February 12, the Pul Pervogo Telegram channel that is believed to be closely affiliated to Lukashenko's press office, posted a scan of a letter.

It was not dated June 9, 2020, but January 22, 2021 and was addressed to "His Excellency A.G. Lukashenko, President of the Republic of Belarus."

In it, the European Commission and the World Health Organization (WHO) invite Belarus to their Access to COVID-19 Tools (ACT) Accelerator platform, which was launched to improve access to coronavirus tests, treatment and vaccines around the world.

According to the Pul Pervogo post, the letter was written by European Commission President von der Leyen and WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, whose signatures, however, are not visible on the scan, although the logos of the WHO and European Commission clearly are.

Belarus: Demonstrators not giving up

EU has not changed its position

When contacted again, Peter Stano confirmed the authenticity of the letter. But he said that it had been written to Lukashenko as the president of the Council of Heads of State of the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS). He said that even if the WHO had used the title "President of the Republic" in its formal missive, it did not mean that the EU had changed its position, and continued to assert that Lukashenko has no democratic legitimacy.

"The letter was supposed to involve Belarus in global efforts to combat the coronavirus pandemic and does not alter the EU's position on Lukashenko and the practical consequences of our dealings with him," Stano said in his statement.

The European Commission refuses to concede that any mistake has been made. But Stano said that the WHO had admitted that Ursula von der Leyen's signature had been used incorrectly on the letter, which should have been signed by European Commissioner for Health Stella Kyriakides.

Belarus Protest in Minsk
There are have been ongoing anti-government protests in Minsk since May 2020 and the lead-up to the presidential electionImage: TUT.BY/AFP/Getty Images

Ever since the presidential elections of August 2020, there have been protests on the streets of Belarus. Demonstrators reject Lukashenko's claims that he won 80% of the vote and accuse the authorities of rigging the vote. They have demanded the release of political prisoners and an end to police violence.

The opposition created a Coordination Council for the Transfer of Power but most of its members are currently in detention or exile.