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Lukashenko Sworn in as Belarus President as EU Mulls Sanctions

Punishing Belarus will depend on how the bloc chooses to respond to Turkey.

Belarusian President Aleksandr Lukashenko attends his inauguration ceremony.
Belarusian President Aleksandr Lukashenko attends his inauguration ceremony in Minsk, Belarus, on Sep. 23. Maxim Guchek/Belta/AFP via Getty Images

Here is today’s Foreign Policy brief: Aleksandr Lukashenko is inaugurated as Belarusian president in a secret ceremony, another country is set to sign a deal with Israel in the coming days, and China criticizes Oracle’s bid to buy TikTok.

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Protests Reignite After News of Secret Belarus Inauguration 

Here is today’s Foreign Policy brief: Aleksandr Lukashenko is inaugurated as Belarusian president in a secret ceremony, another country is set to sign a deal with Israel in the coming days, and China criticizes Oracle’s bid to buy TikTok.

We welcome your feedback at

Protests Reignite After News of Secret Belarus Inauguration 

Longtime Belarusian President Aleksandr Lukashenko was sworn in to extend his 26-year rule at a secret ceremony in Minsk on Wednesday, emphasizing the embattled leader’s shrinking authority and increasingly precarious hold on power. No prior announcement was made regarding the ceremony, prompting thousands of protesters to flood the streets of Minsk to rally against Lukashenko once the news broke.

Opposition leaders, who have put immense pressure on Lukashenko since he claimed victory in a landslide on Aug. 9 amid widespread accusations of voter fraud, called the inaugural ceremony a “thieves’ meeting” and a “farce.”

Demanding action. The Coordination Council, an opposition body formed in the wake of the protests against Lukashenko to lead the country’s transition, urged international powers to put pressure on Lukashenko. “We call on the European Union, Great Britain, the USA, Canada, China, [and] Russia to take a clear position on recognising Lukashenko [as] illegitimate,” it said in a statement.

U.S. taking note. In a statement, a spokesperson of the U.S. State Department said that “the United States cannot consider [Lukashenko] the legitimately elected leader of Belarus.” U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said earlier this month that Washington is considering sanctions against Belarus.

EU’s next steps. The European Union has already said it doesn’t recognize Lukashenko as president, and it has prepared a list of individuals to be sanctioned over last month’s election fraud. But the bloc’s action on Belarus depends in large part on what happens between Greece, Cyprus, and Turkey in their dispute in the eastern Mediterranean.

Eyes on Cyprus. During a meeting on Monday between EU foreign ministers, Cyprus blocked an attempt by the EU to sanction Belarus due to its refusal to impose similar measures on Turkey over its increasingly aggressive activity in the eastern Mediterranean. On Tuesday, Turkish and Greek officials agreed to meet to discuss their unresolved dispute in Istanbul, a move that probably saved Turkey from EU sanctions, but which could now make it harder to convince Cyprus to approve of sanctions on Belarus.

EU leaders were supposed to meet again on Friday to vote on sanctioning Turkey, but they have postponed their meeting to next week and will determine a course of action then. But as Michaël Tanchum wrote in Foreign Policy, Eastern European states are unwilling to antagonize Russia by taking too harsh of a stance on Turkey, meaning the EU will probably adopt only mild sanctions at best. 

What We’re Following Today

China balks at TikTok deal. A Chinese state media outlet called the recent agreement between Oracle, Walmart, and ByteDance to restructure the U.S. operations of the popular video-sharing app TikTok in order to give the United States greater oversight “dirty and unfair,” echoing a similar sentiment expressed by other state media that could suggest Beijing won’t approve of the deal. After receiving approval from U.S. President Donald Trump, the deal now needs sign-off from China in order to go into effect.

The deal was struck last week in a last-ditch effort to avoid Trump’s ban on TikTok in the United States, which was due to go into effect on Sept. 20. Initial reports suggested that ByteDance, which is a Chinese tech company, would retain 80 percent ownership in the new company that will operate TikTok, but conflicting reports have since emerged. An Oracle executive said on Monday that ByteDance will retain no ownership stake.

U.S. protests spread in response to Breonna Taylor case. Police impunity is once again sparking protests across the United States. Although a Kentucky grand jury charged one officer with reckless endangerment in the case of Breonna Taylor, a Black woman who was shot in her home in March, it decided not to file murder charges against the officers who killed Taylor during a botched raid. Protesters took to the streets in Louisville after the decision was announced and police reported that two officers were shot. Demonstrations also took place in New York, Chicago, Milwaukee, and Atlanta.

Thai royalists take to the streets. Hundreds of pro-monarchy protesters swarmed the Thai parliament building on Wednesday as lawmakers convened to consider amending the constitution as a way of mollifying anti-monarchy protesters who have been demonstrating in the streets for months. Warong Dechgitvigrom, a leading politician and the head of the prominent Thai Pakdee royalist group, said he organized a petition opposing constitutional change that garnered 130,000 signatures.

Protesters have defied strict laws against criticizing the monarchy to demand fresh elections and a new constitution that would limit the powers of the monarchy. A charter outlining potential constitutional changes submitted to parliament will be reviewed over the coming days. Anti-monarchy protests are expected to continue during the deliberations.

Keep an Eye On

Israel could get another boost. Kelly Craft, the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, said on Wednesday that another country is going to sign a normalization deal with Israel “in the next day or two,” the latest in a major push by Washington to normalize relations between Arab states and Israel in order to coordinate a regional bulwark against Iran’s regional ambitions. “Others are going to be following,” she said.

Craft did not specify which country was close to a deal, but the United States has been working over the previous few weeks to entice Sudan to strike its own deal with Israel. On Monday, it was reported that U.S. officials are offering to take Sudan off its state sponsors of terrorism list—which would be a significant boon to the country’s economy—in exchange for opening diplomatic relations with Israel. Sudanese officials recently participated in talks with U.S. officials in the United Arab Emirates.

Political drama hits Malaysia. Malaysian opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim is set to make a bid to become the country’s next prime minister, claiming to have secured a majority in the country’s parliament against current Prime Minister Muhyiddin Yassin. Although Anwar claims to have the support of two-thirds of parliament, he has not disclosed specific numbers nor identified who supports his bid for power. Yassin rejected Anwar’s claims and has insisted he remains in control.

Malaysia has been plagued with political instability since the resignation of Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad’s government in February, after which Yassin took power with a tenuous majority. Anwar, who has previously served as deputy prime minister, spent almost 10 years in prison for alleged corruption and sodomy, charges widely seen as politically-motivated. 

Odds and Ends

More Brexit borders. As Scottish nationalists inch ever closer to a second independence referendum and Irish nationalists amplify their calls for a unity referendum, it now looks like there could be a new border within England itself.

According to Michael Gove, the United Kingdom’s minister for the Cabinet Office, truck drivers seeking to enter the county of Kent on their way to the European Union will need to present a special access permit before passing through, effectively setting up a de facto internal border around the county in order to prevent congestion and long lines of thousands of trucks waiting to enter the EU. Perhaps the greatest irony of all is that Brexit Party leader Nigel Farage, a native of Kent, might now have to cross a border inside the United Kingdom just to get to work in London.

That’s it for today.

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 Photo credit: Maxim Guchek/Belta/AFP via Getty Images

Dan Haverty is a former editorial fellow at Foreign Policy. Twitter: @dan_haverty

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