Belarusian President Alyaksandr Lukashenka has accused the West of attempting "to destroy our country" by ignoring the results of last month's election, an accusation opposition leaders rejected, saying the authoritarian leader himself is to blame for current protests sparked by his falsifying of the balloting after nearly three decades of rule.
Thousands of people have been detained and beaten by police while nearly all the opposition's key leaders have been forced to leave the country or been arrested over their demonstrations against the election results, which gave Lukashenka just over 80 percent of the vote.
Opposition leaders have accused the authoritarian leader of vote rigging, which he denies.
In a speech to senior officials and state-run media outlets on September 16, Lukashenka said that the ongoing protests questioning his victory in the August 9 vote were organized by the United States and "its satellites -- Poland, Lithuania, the Czech Republic, and unfortunately, Ukraine," who tried to organize a so-called "color revolution" with the goal of "violating our sovereignty and even our territorial integrity."
"We did not allow their plans to come true and we will not allow that," Lukashenka said.
Crisis In Belarus
Read our ongoing coverage as Belarusian strongman Alyaksandr Lukashenka ramps up pressure on NGOs and independent media as part of a brutal crackdown against protesters and the opposition following an August 2020 election widely considered fraudulent.
Thousands of people have been detained and beaten by police while nearly all the opposition's key leaders have been forced to leave the country or been arrested over their demonstrations against the election result, which gave Lukashenka just over 80 percent of the vote.
Opposition leaders have accused the authoritarian leader of vote-rigging, which he denies.
His main challenger in the election, Svyatlana Tsikhanouskaya, dismissed his comments as an attempt to divert public attention from rigging the vote and the violent crackdown on protests.
“There is just one reason behind the protests in Belarus and it's known to everyone: Lukashenka has lost the vote, but he doesn’t want to step down,” Tsikhanouskaya was quoted by the Associated Press as saying in a written comment to the news agency.
“People have denied Lukashenka their trust and support and demand that he leave,” she added.
Lukashenka has led a crackdown on protests, strikes, and the media since the election, drawing condemnation from human rights groups, media freedom watchdogs, and the international community.
The United States and the European Union have rejected the poll as neither free nor fair, and urged Lukashenka to open talks with the opposition, which he has refused, saying on September 16 that "we held the presidential election and got the result, period" and that the next presidential election will be held only after a new constitution is adopted.
"It is time now to give a new momentum to the social and political life. It is important to form a single opinion on what our country, its state system, will be," he said, adding that the current electoral laws have flaws that are being used by what he called "sham candidates and their representatives" -- a reference to Tsikhanouskaya and her associates, who say that she, in fact, won the election.
Lukashenka's claims of Western interference were echoed by Russia's Foreign Intelligence Service chief, Sergei Naryshkin, who claimed in a statement carried by Russian news agencies on September 16 that Washington has funded the Belarusian opposition and encouraged the protests.
Naryshkin, in an apparent attempt to delegitimize the Belarusian protests, added that his agency has information that “the United States is playing a key role in the current developments in Belarus.”
He alleged that Washington has earmarked tens of millions of dollars to finance Belarus' opposition groups, but provided no evidence.
The U.S. Embassy in Minsk had no immediate comment.
Tsikhanouskaya rejected Naryshkin's statement.
“It's an internal political crisis, and the protesters' demands contain nothing regarding relations with other countries or a shift in Belarus's foreign policy course,” she said in written remarks to AP. “Mr. Naryshkin should better understand that instead of airing dated propaganda cliches.”