Belarus: President Lukashenko’s health is at the center of all rumors

The Belarusian leader appeared weakened during the May 9 celebrations in Moscow. Several elements suggest he may be ill.

By Hugues Maillot

Published 05/12/2023 at 12:38 PM, updated 05/12/2023 at 1:44 PM

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Alexander Lukashenko took part in the military parade in Moscow on May 9. GAVRIIL GRIGOROV / AFP

It was “one of the unexpected topics of the last few hours in Moscow,” writes the director of the Franco-Russian observatory Arnaud Dubien on Twitter. Since the beginning of the war in Ukraine, there have been many rumors about Vladimir Putin’s health. This time, his most loyal ally, Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko, is at the center of speculation. During the celebrations of May 9, the “Day of Victory” against Nazi Germany in Russia and several countries of the former USSR, the autocrat appeared weakened.

In Moscow, the pared down military parade gathered hand-picked guests and six foreign heads of state who were “friends” of Russia: the presidents of Uzbekistan, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan and Turkmenistan, the Prime Minister of Armenia and thus Alexander Lukashenko, who has been in Belarus continuously for 28 years power.

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Worrying Signals

The latter arrived in an electric vehicle at the level of the stands in Red Square, where he was limping, looking tired and with his hand wrapped in a flesh-colored bandage, as evidenced by the numerous photos and videos of the event. Afterwards, the various leaders went to the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, where they laid wreaths. But the Belarusian President made this short trip in the same electric vehicle.

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Even more surprising was that Alexander Lukashenko then skipped the lunch organized in the Kremlin, which was also attended by the other heads of state. It seems unlikely that the Belarusian president, who remains one of Moscow’s most ardent allies in the war against Ukraine, was not invited to the event. In February 2022, Russia actually used Belarusian territory as a launch pad for its “special military operation.” Recently, Vladimir Putin even announced the installation of tactical nuclear weapons in his neighbor.

Shortly after the ceremonies, Lukashenko hastily left Moscow to join Minsk. At the commemoration ceremonies in the Belarusian capital, for the first time since the beginning of his reign, he had his defense minister deliver the speech in his place. On this occasion he was not wearing a military uniform, as is traditionally the case on this occasion.

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The secrecy of the state of health, a legacy of the USSR

Since then, rumors about the state of health of the Belarusian head of state have been piling up. The country’s authorities did not want to comment on this topic for the time being. Belarusian political scientist Artyom Shraibman, according to the American site Newsweek, points out that “a lot of speculation about this genre has surfaced in recent years,” with some suggesting that Lukashenko is “close to his deathbed.” But these rumors have never come true.

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The health of the leaders of the former USSR is generally subject to absolute omerta, a legacy of the Soviet empire where secrecy was a real hallmark of power. Similar rumors about Vladimir Putin’s health have been circulating for several years. Last January, the director of Ukraine’s military intelligence told American broadcaster ABC News that the Russian leader was suffering from “terminal cancer” and that he would die “very soon.”

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Shortly after the outbreak of war in Ukraine, many media outlets circulated a video of Vladimir Putin slumped in his chair, clinging to the table, seemingly constantly suppressing a pained grin. It was enough to reactivate the old thesis of Parkinson’s disease. But as in the case of Lukashenko, this kind of interpretation should be treated with great caution: rumors of all kinds are a powerful destabilizing instrument.