Belarus State News Circulates Misleading Anti-Opposition Video

Belarusian state-owned news agency Belta has circulated a video on social media slamming protests against President Alexander Lukashenko that uses a 2019 photograph from Spain to depict violence.

The minute-long video set to sinister music calls protesters “bought-out and sold-out scum” and “animals,” and includes an image of demonstrators walking in front of street fires at night that actually shows Catalan independence protests.

Thousands of Belarusians have taken to the streets over the past week to challenge the results of an Aug. 9 presidential election declaring Lukashenko the winner with 80% of the vote over his main challenger Svetlana Tikhanovskaya.

Though it’s not immediately clear who’s behind the video, a title card suggests that it was made by a group calling itself the “Patriots of the Republic of Belarus.” The Meduza news website notes that a similarly named community of 14 members exists on Russia’s VK social network, though it has not been updated since mid-2019.

Belta links to an anonymous political Telegram channel that originally posted the same disparaging video hours earlier, claiming that viewers “can see the other side of ‘peaceful protests’” and “what won’t make it into the foreign media.” The same channel previously posted a video of Tikhanovskaya urging supporters not to protest, apparently reading from a script, before she fled Belarus for Lithuania.

Tikhanovskaya, a 37-year-old political novice, ran for office in place of her jailed husband, popular blogger Sergei Tikhanovsky.

Belarus Strengthens Border Security Amid Search for 170 Russian Mercenaries

Belarus is cracking down on its border with Russia as it searches for 170 mercenaries it says are from the Kremlin-linked Wagner Group military contractor.

Belarussian authorities on Wednesday detained 33 people it said were Russian mercenaries sent to “destabilize” the country ahead of its election. They had received information about the arrival of about 200 fighters in Belarus in total.

Belarus will “significantly strengthen” its security presence at its borders, “including the border with Russia,” security council chief Andrei Ravkov told reporters after an emergency government meeting Wednesday. This will include tracking individuals who cross the state border, including on the land border.

Ravkov on Thursday said “a search is going on” to find the remaining fighters, complaining that it was “like looking for needles in a haystack.”

Belarussian journalists who drove to the land border with Russia reported seeing no expanded military or police presence there as of Thursday.

Russia has denied that the detained men were sent to destabilize Belarus. Its ambassador to Minsk said the men were in Belarus on their way to a third country and had stayed in a hotel after missing their flight.

The high-profile arrests come as Lukashenko, who has been in power for nearly three decades, is seeking a sixth term in the Aug. 9 election despite rising anger against his authoritarian rule.

Belarus and Russia have had virtually no border control since 1995. Russia’s western neighbor has been one of the only countries to keep its borders open during the coronavirus crisis, and Russians have used Belarus as a springboard to travel abroad after their own country grounded international flights.

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