Rumors of a health scare for Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko have prompted the democratic opposition-in-exile to start work on new plans for a potentially rapid and chaotic change of power, the movement’s leader has told Newsweek.
On the sidelines of the Copenhagen Democracy Summit in the Danish capital on Monday, Belarusian pro-democratic leader Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya told Newsweek that Lukashenko’s condition is not thought to be “life-threatening.”
However, she said that the uncertainty around Lukashenko’s health raises the prospect of political “chaos” in Belarus that both his allies in Russia and his enemies abroad will be looking to exploit.
There has been much speculation as to the health of Lukashenko, 68, since his appearance at the Moscow Victory Day celebrations on May 9, where observers noted a bandage on the leader’s right arm. Lukashenko was absent from portions of the ceremony and was the only leader of the Russian-led Commonwealth of Independent States that did not lay a wreath at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier.
Lukashenko has not been seen in public for nearly a week, and on Sunday missed an annual ceremony at which young people swear allegiance to the Belarusian flag. Belarusian opposition media has reported that Lukashenko visited a Minsk clinic this weekend, where he stayed for two hours.
“It showed us that there is a necessity to work out a very fast reaction just in case this happens,” Tsikhanouskaya told Newsweek of the prospect of Lukashenko’s loss of power, whether through death, incapacity, coup, or voluntary handover of control.
“Now we are working on a plan of what to do in case it happens,” Tsikhanouskaya added. “We understand that it will be chaos in governmental structures. Maybe Lukashenko already gave some orders on what to do in such a case. Of course, Russia would like to interfere in the processes.
“We have to have an approximate plan of how to act. Still, there are discussions among society [about] how to do it. Through negotiations?… It will be chaos in government, and maybe it will be a moment to launch negotiations with them. Or, some people think that nothing can be changed without more confrontational methods.”
Time will be of the essence if a window of opportunity opens, Tsikhanouskaya said.
“Now we have debates among our experts as to whether we should do this simultaneously or first try negotiation, and then [pivot to alternatives] if not. But then time may be wasted,” she said.
“There are a lot of questions, but of course, it has galvanized society to wake up again. Because when you’re in the process of fighting, sometimes you become busy with everyday routines, with attracting attention, with communicating with people. And these very sharp questions are not decided.
“We are working on the transitional period, reforms to the constitution. But about how to reach this moment, there might be so many scenarios. And you can’t work out every detail. Now I hope this process has started,” she said.
Newsweek reached out to the Belarusian Foreign Ministry via email for comment.
Konstantin Zatulin, the first deputy chairman of the Russian State Duma Committee of CIS affairs, has dismissed reports that Lukashenko is suffering from a serious illness.
“Despite the fact that the man fell ill, he considered it his duty to come to Moscow, and then in the evening of the same day he held events in Minsk,” Zatulin told Russian news outlet Podyom. “It probably needs some rest, that’s all.”
“There is nothing supernatural,” he said. “This is not COVID. The man just got sick.”
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