Belarusian state media say Alyaksandr Lukashenka has said he will sign a decree that would vest presidential powers in the country's Security Council if he is unable to function as president.
Many governments already consider Lukashenka's claim to the presidency illegitimate since a disputed reelection in August 2020 and with a brutal crackdown continuing against opposition protests eight months after the vote.
His critics have dismissed previous pledges by Lukashenka for future constitutional changes and elections as stalling tactics.
As Western sanctions and calls for a new election and Lukashenka's exit have mounted, the authoritarian five-term president has increasingly looked to Moscow for support.
Crisis In Belarus
Read our ongoing coverage as Belarusian strongman Alyaksandr Lukashenka continues his brutal crackdown on NGOs, activists, and independent media following the August 2020 presidential election, widely seen as fraudulent.
No details were disclosed of a meeting between Lukashenka and Russian President Vladimir Putin, who recognized Lukashenka's claim of electoral victory, on April 22 in Moscow.
“Our teams are continuing to work to develop the legislation for the union state,” Putin said during the talks, in reference to a decades-old bilateral agreement that envisages a union with closer political, economic, and security ties.
The Belarusian Security Council is made up of hand-picked Lukashenka backers.
In his April 24 announcement, state news agency Belta reported, Lukashenka said the prime minister would head the Security Council in his absence.
Much of the leadership of the already hounded Belarusian political opposition has been jailed or forced to leave the country.
Lukashenka's clampdown has included thousands of detentions and a massive security presence to dissuade protests, as well as strictures and expulsions to hinder journalists trying to report on the unprecedented movement to oust Lukashenka from leadership of the post-Soviet republic of more than 9 million people.
Meeting the new U.S. ambassador to Belarus in neighboring Lithuania on April 21, exiled Belarusian opposition leader Svyatlana Tsikhanouskaya said she wanted to see Belarus "independent, free, and building friendly and mutually beneficial relations with all countries, first and foremost with our neighbors, but with other ones, too."
Tsikhanouskaya, who ran after her husband was jailed after announcing his own candidacy for president, left Belarus under pressure from the authorities shortly after the August 2020 vote.
The Moscow summit with Putin came in the wake of a purported plot to remove Lukashenka that allegedly involved a blockade of Minsk, power cuts, cyberattacks, and an assassination attempt against Lukashenka. Security forces in Moscow claimed to have arrested several alleged coup plotters in Moscow earlier this month.
The embattled opposition Coordination Council and other pro-democracy forces this week published a memorandum criticizing Lukashenka's efforts to "deepen integration" with Russia at this juncture.