On Aug. 28, Belarusian President Aleksandr Lukashenko addressed representatives of a trade union in Orsha, claiming that the United States and European countries were gearing up for war against Belarus.
He said unnamed Western countries had no need for Belarus itself, but that that the country is a “springboard” for an invasion of Russia.
Lukashenko claimed there were “tank tracks on the territory of Poland and Lithuania” (both NATO members), and that American aircraft had flown from Germany to the border of Belarus before turning back.
“There were American F-16s near Berlin, well, let them stand there. No, they moved them here –15-20 minutes flying time to our territory,” he said.
“As commander-in-chief, this is a question for me. Eighteen aircraft. It is not clear what they were carrying. Maybe nuclear weapons. I proceed from the worst-case scenario. Therefore, I had to react."
The statement is misleading.
There is no evidence of a NATO military buildup along the borders of Belarus. Lukashenko also made the claim earlier, on Aug. 16, and NATO denied it.
Since the Russian invasion of Ukraine in 2014, NATO has maintained several multinational battlegroups spread out over Poland, Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia, totaling about 5,000 troops.
By comparison, the Belarusian military boasts 45,000 active duty troops, 29,000 of whom belong to its ground forces.
Nor has any NATO country threatened military action against Belarus. Some have enacted targeted sanctions against Belarus over its Aug. 9 presidential election. The U.S., EU officials and Lukashenko’s opponents all say the vote was neither free nor fair, and they’ve condemned Lukashenko’s heavy-handed crackdown on protests.
On Aug. 31, Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia imposed travel bans on Lukashenko and 29 other Belarusian government officials.
Lukashenko, who has served five presidential terms since 1994, claimed he won 80 percent of the vote in the Aug. 9 election. That sparked mass rallies that continue in the capital of Minsk and across the country.
The unrest has claimed two lives, including that of an unarmed man shot in the chest, apparently by riot police. More than 7,000 people have been detained, and some have described beatings and torture while in custody. These claims have been corroborated by photographs showing severe bruising on prisoners’ bodies.
Lukashenko’s ally Russia has kept its distance, with Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov telling journalists on Aug. 19 that, “Belarusians will iron out their own problems.”
However, Russian President Vladimir Putin, said he had created a “police reserve” at the behest of Lukashenko, ostensibly to be used in Belarus if the situation goes “out of control.” So far, there is no evidence Russian forces have intervened.
Workers at Belteleradio, Belarus’ state TV and radio service, walked off the job on Aug. 17 in solidarity with the nationwide protests. Since then, Russian employees of RT (Russia Today), the Russian state-owned media outlet, have reportedly been filling in.
The Russian news outlet RBC reported that Belteleradio had been using RT material on-air since Aug. 27. An RT employee in Belarus denied that report.