Show an ad over header. AMP

Protests in Belarus turn deadly following sham election

Protesters and security forces are clashing across Belarus tonight, with at least one person dead, hundreds injured and thousands arrested.

Why it matters: Sunday’s rigged presidential elections have yielded political uncertainty unlike any seen in Aleksander Lukashenko’s 26-year tenure. After claiming an implausible 80% of the vote, Lukashenko is using every tool in the authoritarian arsenal to maintain his grip on power.


Driving the news: The results have been challenged by Svetlana Tikhanovskaya, a former teacher who stood in for her jailed husband as a candidate and managed to unite the opposition behind her. She’s now believed to be in hiding for her own safety.

  • Authorities arrested 3,000 people last night and have partially shut down the internet, but demonstrations are nonetheless raging in several cities. Videos of protesters being beaten, some to unconsciousness, have inflamed public anger.
  • Opposition activists are reportedly also planning strikes. Lukashenko has dismissed their efforts as futile attempts “to spoil the holiday.”
  • “I warned that there wouldn’t be a Maidan, however much some people want that,” he said, referring to the 2014 revolution in neighboring Ukraine.
  • The first death confirmed by authorities came when an explosive device a protesters had intended to throw detonated in his hand, according to the interior minister.

Breaking it down: Lukashenko’s know-nothing approach to the pandemic — he kept the country open and prescribed vodka and exercise — seemed to catalyze discontent with his Soviet-style leadership.

  • “In the previous elections, there was always a feeling that the majority either supports President Lukashenko or is at least indifferent enough to accept him,” said Alyaksey Znatkevich, a journalist for Radio Free Europe in Belarus.
  • “There was always this argument: ‘OK, the results may be falsified, but there are obviously more people who support Lukashenko than support the alternative candidates. This perception has changed now — not only in the capital, Minsk, but in the regional cities, the smaller towns.”
  • For the first time, analysts say, the government realized the majority might very well be against them. Then came the arrests, and later the vote-rigging.
The scene tonight in Minsk. Photo: Natalia Fedosenko/TASS via Getty

The big picture: Tonight's events in Minsk will be watched closely in Moscow and Washington. While Lukashenko has long played Russia and the West off each other, he now risks alienating both.

  • In December, he rebuffed the Kremlin's push toward a Russia-Belarus political union. When Russia subsequently halted oil exports to Belarus, the U.S. sensed an opportunity.
  • Secretary of State Mike Pompeo visited Belarus in February, smiling alongside Lukashenko and vowing to export all the oil Belarus needed to ensure its “independence."
  • In April, the U.S. nominated its first ambassador to Belarus in a decade. Both the U.S. and EU discussed further loosening sanctions imposed after a previous post-election crackdown.
  • In Belarus, public support for the Russia-Belarus union fell from 60% to 40% over the last year, per the NYT, while support for joining the EU (currently a remote prospect) rose to a new high of 32%.
  • Then, in a bizarre preelection incident, Belarus arrested 33 Russian mercenaries, whom Lukashenko accused of plotting an attack.

What to watch: The pendulum may now swing back. Putin was quick to congratulate Lukashenko on his “victory,” and emphasize “the further development of mutually beneficial Russian-Belarusian relations in all areas.”

  • Pompeo, meanwhile, condemned elections he described as “not free and fair,” along with the “ongoing violence against protesters and the detention of opposition supporters.”
Data: Axios Research; Chart: Andrew Witherspoon/Axios

It may seem that Lukashenko has “nowhere to turn,” after alienating Belarusians, angering Russia and repelling the West, notes Carnegie Moscow’s Maxim Samorukov.

  • In fact, Samorukov writes, Lukashenko remains the best bet for the uncertainty-fearing elites in Minsk and Moscow, while policymakers in the West still see him as “the best available guarantor of Belarus’s sovereignty.”
  • “Outdated regimes can prove extremely resilient if favored by broader geopolitics,” he writes. “The same may prove true for Lukashenko, who, from his position atop a geopolitical fault line, will weather every storm as long as Russia and the West mistrust him less than they do each other."

The big picture: Lukashenko has weathered more storms than most. Just nine leaders who were in power when he was elected in 1994 — during Bill Clinton's first term — are still in office.

Trump: Ruth Bader Ginsburg "led an amazing life"

President Trump said Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg "led an amazing life," after he finished a campaign rally in Bemidji, Minnesota, and learned of her death.

What he's saying: "I’m sad to hear,” Trump told the press pool before boarding Air Force One. "She was an amazing woman, whether you agree or not, she was an amazing woman who led an amazing life."

Keep reading... Show less

Trump to move fast to replace Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg

President Trump will move within days to nominate his third Supreme Court justice in just three-plus short years — and shape the court for literally decades to come, top Republican sources tell Axios.

Driving the news: Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and Senate Republicans are ready to move to confirm Trump's nominee before Election Day, just 46 days away, setting up one of the most consequential periods of our lifetimes, the sources say.

Keep reading... Show less

What they're saying: Ruth Bader Ginsburg was a "tireless and resolute champion of justice"

Democratic and Republican lawmakers along with other leading figures paid tribute to Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, who died on Friday night at age 87.

What they're saying: “Our Nation has lost a jurist of historic stature," Chief Justice John Roberts said. "We at the Supreme Court have lost a cherished colleague. Today we mourn, but with confidence that future generations will remember Ruth Bader Ginsburg as we knew her — a tireless and resolute champion of justice.”

Keep reading... Show less

Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg dies at 87

Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg has died at 87.

Why it matters: Ginsburg had suffered from serious health issues over the past few years, including cancer. Her death sets up a fight over filling a Supreme Court seat with less than 50 days until the election.

Keep reading... Show less

NYT: White House drug price negotiations between broke down over $100 "Trump Cards"

Negotiations on a deal between the White House and pharmaceutical industry to lower drug prices broke down last month after Mark Meadows, the president's chief of staff, insisted that drugmakers pay for $100 cash cards to be mailed to seniors before the election, according to the New York Times.

Why it matters: Some of the drug companies feared that in agreeing to the prescription cards — reportedly dubbed "Trump Cards" by some in the pharmaceutical industry — they would boost Trump's political standing weeks ahead of Election Day with voters over 65, a group that is crucial to the president's reelection bid, per the Times.

Keep reading... Show less

In photos: Virginians line up for hours on first day of early voting

In some parts of Virginia, people waited in line up to four hours to cast their ballots on the first day of early voting, according to the Washington Post.

The big picture: The COVID-19 pandemic seems to already have an impact on how people cast their votes this election season. As many as 80 million Americans are expected to vote early, by mail or in person, Tom Bonier, CEO of TargetSmart, a Democratic political data firm, told Axios in August.

Keep reading... Show less

Court battles shift mail-in voting deadlines in battleground states Michigan and Pennsylvania

Michigan joins Pennsylvania in extending mail-in ballot deadlines by several days after the election, due to the coronavirus pandemic and expected delays in U.S. Postal Service.

The latest: Michigan Court of Claims Judge Cynthia Stephens ruled that all ballots postmarked before Nov. 2 must be counted, so long as they arrive in the mail before election results are certified. Michigan will certify its general election results on Nov. 23.

Keep reading... Show less

Interview: Unity CEO explains his company's unusual IPO

Unity Technologies was just one of many companies with blockbuster IPOs this week, but it took a decidedly different approach, using data rather than handshakes to decide who got to invest and at what price. CEO John Riccitiello explained why in an interview with Axios.

Why it matters: Traditionally, bankers and companies set IPO prices based on conversations and expectations, a process that has been criticized as basically leaving money on the table.

Keep reading... Show less

Insights

mail-copy

Get Goodhumans in your inbox

Most Read

More Stories