Minsk has released photographs and video footage of Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko following a week of speculation about his health and whereabouts.
The photographs and video released by state news agency Belta on May 15 showed Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko visiting a military command centre, dressed in military fatigues, with his left arm heavily bandaged. The footage also appeared to confirm rumours of his declining health, as his speech was strained with frequent pauses, and his voice sounded hoarse.
Lukashenko, who has ruled Belarus with an iron fist for nearly three decades, disappeared from public view following his attendance at the Victory Day military parade in Moscow on May 9. Online speculation quickly emerged suggesting that he may have been hospitalised upon his return to Minsk, as he appeared visibly unwell, bloated, and unstable on his feet on Moscow’s Red Square.
The absence of Lukashenko from subsequent scheduled events only served to intensify the rumours circulating on social media regarding his health. This speculation gave rise to numerous theories about his well-being, with some suggesting that he is suffering with cancer, while others claimed that he was poisoned by the Russians. Pavel Latushka, a former government official and current opposition activist, alleged that Lukashenko is suffering from a viral infection leading to myocarditis, which is an inflammation of the heart muscle.
Minsk's decision to release images of Lukashenko followed a message from opposition leader Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya, urging her supporters to be prepared for all future scenarios. Tsikhanouskaya, a critic of Lukashenko's regime, now spends her time travelling the West, attempting to whip up international support for Belarusian democracy. The potential illness of Lukashenko holds significant implications for the country’s political stability, considering his brutally repressive and personalistic regime. The exiled opposition leader cautioned that in dictatorial countries like Belarus, the system begins to crumble when the leader vanishes.
“There are many different rumours about the health of dictator Lukashenko, and for us it means only one thing — we need to be well-prepared for any scenario,” Tsikhanouskaya told The Associated Press.
Lukashenko, who has ruled Belarus since 1994, is often labelled as "the last dictator in Europe". Over the decades, his regime has grown increasingly repressive, especially following the 2020 protests that were triggered by disputed elections. Tsikhanouskaya, Lukashenko's electoral rival, was prevented from taking part, and her husband was jailed.
During his reappearance on May 15, Lukashenko also unintentionally confirmed the reports of four aircraft losses suffered by the Russian military on Saturday. The leader stated that Belarusian troops were now on “high alert ”, following “the events near us – I mean in the Bryansk region – when four aircraft were shot down."
Russian military bloggers had previously reported that two fighter jets and two helicopters were shot down in the Bryansk oblast. Wagner boss Yevgeny Prigozhin said Russian air defence was behind the downing of the helicopters and aircraft in a Telegram message on May 14.