RIGA - In a country that has been run by an authoritarian leader for many years, the leader's illness creates instability, Janis Sarts, director of the NATO's Riga-based Strategic Communication Center of Excellence (StratCom CoE), told LETA, commenting growing suspicions that Belarus' dictator Alexander Lukashenko has taken ill.
Political observers and media have been speculating about 68-years-old Lukashenko's health issues already since May 9 celebrations in Moscow.
At the May 9 parade in Moscow, Lukashenko looked unwell and had to be driven a short distance by a special electric vehicle. The Belarusian leader stayed in Moscow only for a few hours and quickly returned to Minsk but did not not appear in public to make his traditional May 9 speech.
On May 14, Lukashenko missed the annual celebration of National Flag, Emblem and Anthem Day, an event at which he always delivers a speech. Instead, Lukashenko was taken to a presidential medical facility in Minsk on Saturday night.
Because of Belarusian dictator Lukashenko's illness, it will be necessary to closely monitor events in Belarus over the following weeks, Sarts said. "It is obvious that Lukashenko is sick. How severely? It is hard to tell at the moment, but apparently seriously enough to skip a number of events," Sarts said, adding that "it is not possible to find details about his health condition, but clearly the fact has caused quite a stir".
Noting the hybrid attack Belarus has launched by sending illegal migrants into the Baltic states and Poland as well as the ongoing war in Ukraine, which Belarus supports, the StratCom CoE director said that it is important to follow further developments and take decisions as necessary.
Asked if Russian leader Vladimir Putin could benefit from his ally's demise, Sarts said that such a turn of events would present both opportunities and risks to many players, including Putin.
"From Russia's point of view, Lukashenko of course has been trying all the time to resist at least some of Russia's policies in Belarus, for instance, he has opposed a more extensive involvement of Belarus in the war against Ukraine. At the same time, one must admit that Russia's capacity is not at the top level at the moment, so it is not clear how the Belarusian elite would react. So I agree that this might be an opportunity, looking from Russia's perspective, but it might be a risk as well," said Sarts.