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Photo: Valery Sharifulin\TASS via Getty

Longtime Belarusian President Aleksandr Lukashenko has said he will step down after a new constitution comes into force, according to Belarusian state media.

Why it matters: Lukashenko has faced three months of protests following a rigged election in August. He has promised to reform the constitution to reduce the near-absolute powers of the president, but has insisted that his strong hand is needed to see that process through.

“I will not work as president with you under the new constitution.”
— Lukashenko on Friday

Between the lines: Lukashenko has not held onto power for 26 years by accident, and he's unlikely to simply fade away now — at least not willingly.

  • He has slow-walked the constitutional reform process while cracking down on the opposition and ensuring the continued support of the security services.
  • Even in announcing that he plans to eventually leave his post, he seemed to leave open the possibility of taking a role other than president.

The other side: Franak Viačorka, a top adviser to opposition leader and self-declared president of "democratic Belarus" Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya, tweeted that the opposition movement would "continue insisting on elections before constitution reform."

The big picture: An almost Soviet-style nationalist, Lukashenko played the West and Russia off against one another for years, taking what he could from both relationships.

  • But the U.S. and EU turned sharply against him as August's fraudulent election was followed by allegations of torture against protesters.

What to watch: Russia offered Lukashenko public shows of support amid the initial post-election revolt, but analysts have long predicted that the Kremlin would prefer a transition to a more pliable and less politically toxic president.

  • Visiting Minsk on Thursday, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov publicly encouraged Lukashenko to move ahead with the long-promised constitutional reforms.
  • "We of course have an interest in the situation being calm, stable and we think that beginning the constitutional reform initiated by the country's leadership would contribute to this," Lavrov said.

Go deeper

Moderna says vaccine appears to protect against new COVID-19 variants

Photo: Justin Tallis/AFP via Getty Images

Moderna's COVID-19 vaccine is effective against new variants of the virus that first appeared in the U.K. and in South Africa, the company announced on Monday.

Yes, but: The vaccine was as effective against the strain from U.K., but saw a six-fold reduction in antibodies against the South Africa variant. Even still, the neutralizing antibodies generated by the vaccine "remain above levels that are expected to be protective," according to the company.

Dave Lawler, author of World
Updated 1 hour ago - World

Xi Jinping warns against "new cold war" in Davos speech

Chinese President Xi Jinping. Photo: Wang Zhao - Pool/Getty Images

Chinese President Xi Jinping warned that a "new cold war" could turn hot, and must be avoided, in a speech on Monday at World Economic Forum’s virtual “Davos Agenda” conference.

Why it matters: Xi didn't refer directly to U.S.-China tensions, but the subtext was clear. These were his first remarks to an international audience since the inauguration of President Biden, whose administration has already concurred with Donald Trump's determination that China is committing "genocide" against Uyghur Muslims, and issued a warning about China's aggression toward Taiwan.

Updated 2 hours ago - Politics & Policy

Dominion files $1.3 billion defamation lawsuit against Rudy Giuliani

Photo: Rey Del Rio/Getty Images

Dominion Voting Systems filed a defamation lawsuit against Rudy Giuliani on Monday seeking $1.3 billion in damages for his "demonstrably false” allegations about the company's voting machines.

Why it matters: Giuliani led former President Trump's efforts to overturn the results of the election and spread the baseless conspiracy theory that Dominion's voting machines flipped votes from Trump to Joe Biden.