A Belarusian state news channel published a photograph of President Alexander Lukashenko Monday in an apparent attempt to assuage concerns about his health after a week-long absence from public events.
The photo, published by Pul Pervogo on Telegram, appears to show Lukashenko with a bandaged hand at a military command center. Other photos, shared by Belta, another state-owned new agency, appear to show him receiving a briefing on air defense.
Lukashenko was last seen in public last Tuesday at Victory Day events in Russia and in Belarus. The president, who has allowed Russia to use Belarusian territory as a launchpad for Russia’s war in Ukraine, reportedly skipped parts of the ceremony commemorating the Soviet Union’s wins in World War II in Moscow.
When Russian President Vladimir Putin made the procession to the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier—along with leaders from Tajikistan, Kyrgyzstan, Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan, Tajikistan, and Armenia—Lukashenko opted to follow the procession in a vehicle, The New Voice of Ukraine reported.
Lukashenko arrived at the Republican Clinical Medical Center on the Drozdy reservoir on Saturday, according to the Belarusian Hajun project.
The speculation about the health of Europe’s so-called last dictator comes as the leader of Belarus’ pro-democratic opposition, Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya, urged her followers to be prepared to take any opportunity to act and change Belarus into a democracy.
“There are many rumors about the dictator Lukashenka's health. For us, it means only one thing: we should be well prepared for every scenario,” Tsikhanouskaya said Monday on social media. “To turn Belarus on the path to democracy & to prevent Russia from interfering. We need the international community to be proactive & fast.”
There are many rumors about the dictator Lukashenka's health. For us, it means only one thing: we should be well prepared for every scenario. To turn Belarus on the path to democracy & to prevent Russia from interfering. We need the international community to be proactive & fast. pic.twitter.com/qfnsnPYBMZ
— Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya (@Tsihanouskaya) May 15, 2023
Tsikhanouskaya told Newsweek on the sidelines of a conference in Denmark that the uncertainty around his health has been causing some “chaos” in Belarus that enemies and allies alike can exploit.
His ailing health means that the opposition has to be prepared to take advantage of a time when their pro-democratic government can take over, Valery Kavaleuski, Tsikhanouskaya’s Representative for Foreign Affairs, told The Daily Beast.
“What we saw today… he looked really bad. You can say that he is in the worst shape we’ve seen him so far,” Kavaleuski said. “For us, it means that even if he comes back to his feet, it is likely that this is the beginning of his physical degradation. And we have to account for this and be adequate prepared for possible scenarios.”
People in Lukashenko’s circle are almost certainly preparing for his potential ousting, Kavaleuski warned. And Russian officials are likely watching the situation closely to consider ways that the Kremlin can maintain influence in Belarus without Lukashenko in power.
“People around him are getting prepared for for his possible departure. And also, Russians definitely are on on this issue as well they’re thinking what to do, to at least not decrease the level of influence or control over those hopefully to for them to increase this control,” Kavaleuski said.
The only path forward, from the opposition’s perspective, is a Belarus with Tsikhanouskaya in power, given that Lukashenko’s claimed victory in 2020 is illegitimate given widespread reporting of fraud in voting.
“The only legitimate source of power in Belarus is Belarusian people. They have voted for Tsikhanouskaya in 2020. And therefore she is the only legitimate and legal representative of Belarusian people and Belarusian interests,” Kavaleuski said, calling on the international community to prevent Russian interference in the coming days.
Official readouts from Lukashenko’s press service have not acknowledged his performance at the latest events.
Nevertheless, his absence and the spotty appearances in recent days have prompted rumors that his health was deteriorating, particularly after his prime minister, Roman Golovchenko, attended a ceremony on Sunday in his place, according to Belta. Golovchenko read a message from Lukashenko, but did not provide a reason for his absence, fueling speculation about the president’s wellbeing.
The first deputy of the Committee of CIS countries in Russia's state Duma, Konstantin Zatulin, indicated that Lukashenko has been sick, according to Sky News.
“The fact that he was sick was obvious even during the parade in Moscow,” Zatulin told Sky News, claiming that it was not COVID. “I know that he is ill but I am not authorized to distribute his diagnosis.”
The Kremlin sought to tamp down on the rumors Monday. Kremlin spokesperson Dmitry Peskov urged Russians to seek “official” reports on Lukashenko’s health.
“We need to focus on official reports. There were no such official messages from Minsk. And here we believe that it is very important to focus on official information,” Peskov said Monday.
Lukashenko’s press service did not immediately return a request for comment.