KYIV – The inauguration of Alyaksandr Lukashenka does not mean he is recognized as the legitimate president of Belarus, said Ukrainian Foreign Affairs Minister Dmytro Kuleba.
“Ukraine has never in any way interfered in the internal affairs of Belarus and will always support the Belarusian people. Considering the course of the election campaign in Belarus and subsequent events, today’s ‘inauguration’ of Alexander Lukashenko does not mean his recognition as the legitimate head of the Belarusian state,” Mr. Kuleba wrote on Twitter on September 23.
A growing list of European countries said they would not recognize Mr. Lukashenka’s presidency. Denmark, Latvia, Lithuania, Germany, Slovakia, the Czech Republic and Estonia all said they did not consider Mr. Lukashenka the legitimate president of Belarus.
“The minimum requirements for democratic elections were by no means met. They were neither fair nor free,” German government spokesman Steffen Seibert said after Mr. Lukashenka was sworn in. “Even after today’s ceremony, Mr. Lukashenka cannot evoke the democratic legitimacy that would have been the condition for him to be recognized as a legitimate president.”
The Polish Foreign Affairs Ministry said in a statement that “a president elected in an undemocratic election cannot be considered to be legally exercising power, whether the oath was secret or official.”
Slovakia’s Foreign Affairs Minister Ivan Korcok said Mr. Lukashenka “has no legitimacy to lead his country.”
Former Estonian President Toomas Ilves, a frequent critic of Mr. Lukashenka, responded to the swearing-in ceremony by tweeting that “inaugurating oneself as president is ‘literally’ autocracy.”
The United States also weighed in. “The elections August 9 were neither free nor fair. The announced results were fraudulent and did not convey legitimacy,” a State Department spokesperson told RFE/RL. “The United States cannot consider Alyaksandr Lukashenka the legitimately elected leader of Belarus.”
The State Department called for a “national dialogue” culminating in “a free and fair election under independent observation.” The spokesperson added, “Release of those unjustly detained and an end of repression against peacefully protesting citizens is a first step toward genuine national dialogue.”
Mr. Lukashenka’s secretive inauguration on September 23 was immediately criticized by members of the opposition in Belarus, who refused to accept the results of an August 9 vote they regard as falsified.
Following the inauguration ceremony, spontaneous demonstrations broke out in Minsk, the heart of more than six weeks of nationwide opposition to a vote that Mr. Lukashenka claims to have won with more than 80 percent support.
The official news agency BelTA reported that ”several hundred” senior officials had been invited to the inauguration ceremony, though it did not say who or how many actually attended. BelTA said Mr. Lukashenka put his right hand on the constitution and took the oath of office, before signing it. The chairman of the Central Election Commission then presented him with the certificate of the president of the Republic of Belarus, it added.
“Our statehood had to face an unprecedented challenge based on well-developed technologies that are aimed at destroying independent states,” Mr. Lukashenka said during his inauguration speech, alluding to his previous claims that Western states were fomenting a pro-democracy revolution against him.
“However, we turned out to be one of those few countries where a color revolution failed, or perhaps, we were the only such country. It was a choice made by the Belarusian people who don’t want to lose their country.”
By late afternoon, thousands had gathered near the Stela Minsk Hero City World War II memorial in downtown Minsk before Internal Affairs Ministry troops moved in. The black-and-green-clad riot troops descended on the crowd, followed by a truck with a water cannon, sending many Belarusians fleeing into nearby grassy areas and shops.
Paval Latushka – who served as Belarusian ambassador to Poland, France, UNESCO and Spain between 2002 and 2019 and was part of the opposition’s Coordination Council set up to pave a transition to a new president – wrote on his Telegram channel that the country was “witnessing an unprecedented situation.”
“The outgoing president, who claims to have won more than 80 percent of the vote in the election, has carried out a special operation to be sworn in,” Mr. Latushka wrote. “Under the protection of riot police, in an atmosphere of secrecy, in a narrow circle of officials who were hastily brought in. Where are the jubilant citizens? Where is the diplomatic corps?”
“To be honest,” Mr. Latushka added, “it looks more like a thieves’ meeting for the coronation of another thief-in-law.”
Sources: Interfax-Ukraine, RFE/RL’s Belarus Service