Russia’s top intelligence official claimed Wednesday the United States is funding protests in Belarus and attempting to stage a coup, a statement unsupported by evidence that could signal that weeks of unrest in the Eastern European country may drive a wedge between the United States and Russia.
- Widespread protests and brutal government crackdowns have roiled Belarus since early August, when longtime President and key Russian ally Alexander Lukashenko claimed victory in a heavily disputed election that many watchers say was rigged.
- Without citing any specific evidence, Russian Foreign Intelligence Service director Sergei Naryshkin accused the United States on Wednesday of training and funding Belarusian protest leaders, in a “poorly camouflaged attempt to stage another color revolution and anti-Constitutional coup.”
- The comments echoed similar claims from Lukashenko, who has repeatedly blamed the unrest in his country on “foreign strategists” from the United States and Europe.
- U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo criticized Lukashenko last month, condemning the crackdowns on protesters and arguing that the country’s election — in which Lukashenko claimed to win with more than 80% of the vote — was unfair.
The State Department did not respond to a request for comment on Naryshkin’s claims.
Lukashenko has maintained fairly close ties with Russia since he first became president of Belarus in 1994. Relations between Russia and the former Soviet republic seemed to fray over the last few years, and the United States reportedly tried to fill the gap by establishing stronger ties with Lukashenko. That shift appeared to end after last month’s election, however. Russian President Vladimir Putin is now offering support for Belarus, which he called his “closest ally,” and the United States and European Union have steeply criticized Lukashenko’s regime for brutalizing protesters and arresting opposition leaders.
“As friends of Belarus, we support Belarusian independence and sovereignty, as well as the aspirations of the Belarusian people for a democratic, prosperous future,” Pompeo said in a statement last month. “To achieve these goals, the Government of Belarus must prove through action its commitment to democratic processes and respect for human rights.”