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Belarus law enforcement officers guard a street during a protest on Monday night. Police in Minsk have fired rubber bullets for a second night against protesters. Photo: Natalia Fedosenko/TASS via Getty Image

Protesters and security forces have been clashing across Belarus overnight in a second night of protests that has left at least one person dead, hundreds injured and thousands arrested.

Why it matters: Sunday’s rigged presidential elections have yielded political uncertainty unlike any seen in Aleksander Lukashenko’s 26-year tenure. After claiming an implausible 80% of the vote, Lukashenko is using every tool in the authoritarian arsenal to maintain his grip on power.

Driving the news: The results have been challenged by Svetlana Tikhanovskaya, a former teacher who stood in for her jailed husband as a candidate and managed to unite the opposition behind her. She is now "safe" in Lithuania, Lithuanian Foreign Minister Linas Linkevicius said Tuesday morning.

  • Authorities arrested 3,000 people last night and have partially shut down the internet, but demonstrations are nonetheless raging in several cities. Videos of protesters being beaten, some to unconsciousness, have inflamed public anger.
  • Opposition activists are reportedly also planning strikes. Lukashenko has dismissed their efforts as futile attempts “to spoil the holiday.”
  • “I warned that there wouldn’t be a Maidan, however much some people want that,” he said, referring to the 2014 revolution in neighboring Ukraine.
  • The first death confirmed by authorities came when an explosive device a protesters had intended to throw detonated in his hand, according to the interior minister.

Breaking it down: Lukashenko’s know-nothing approach to the pandemic — he kept the country open and prescribed vodka and exercise — seemed to catalyze discontent with his Soviet-style leadership.

  • “In the previous elections, there was always a feeling that the majority either supports President Lukashenko or is at least indifferent enough to accept him,” said Alyaksey Znatkevich, a journalist for Radio Free Europe in Belarus.
  • “There was always this argument: ‘OK, the results may be falsified, but there are obviously more people who support Lukashenko than support the alternative candidates. This perception has changed now — not only in the capital, Minsk, but in the regional cities, the smaller towns.”
  • For the first time, analysts say, the government realized the majority might very well be against them. Then came the arrests, and later the vote-rigging.
The scene Monday night in Minsk. Photo: Natalia Fedosenko/TASS via Getty

The big picture: Monday night's events in Minsk will be watched closely in Moscow and Washington. While Lukashenko has long played Russia and the West off each other, he now risks alienating both.

  • In December, he rebuffed the Kremlin's push toward a Russia-Belarus political union. When Russia subsequently halted oil exports to Belarus, the U.S. sensed an opportunity.
  • Secretary of State Mike Pompeo visited Belarus in February, smiling alongside Lukashenko and vowing to export all the oil Belarus needed to ensure its “independence."
  • In April, the U.S. nominated its first ambassador to Belarus in a decade. Both the U.S. and EU discussed further loosening sanctions imposed after a previous post-election crackdown.
  • In Belarus, public support for the Russia-Belarus union fell from 60% to 40% over the last year, per the NYT, while support for joining the EU (currently a remote prospect) rose to a new high of 32%.
  • Then, in a bizarre preelection incident, Belarus arrested 33 Russian mercenaries, whom Lukashenko accused of plotting an attack.

What to watch: The pendulum may now swing back. Putin was quick to congratulate Lukashenko on his “victory,” and emphasize “the further development of mutually beneficial Russian-Belarusian relations in all areas.”

  • Pompeo, meanwhile, condemned elections he described as “not free and fair,” along with the “ongoing violence against protesters and the detention of opposition supporters.”
Data: Axios Research; Chart: Andrew Witherspoon/Axios

It may seem that Lukashenko has “nowhere to turn,” after alienating Belarusians, angering Russia and repelling the West, notes Carnegie Moscow’s Maxim Samorukov.

  • In fact, Samorukov writes, Lukashenko remains the best bet for the uncertainty-fearing elites in Minsk and Moscow, while policymakers in the West still see him as “the best available guarantor of Belarus’s sovereignty.”
  • “Outdated regimes can prove extremely resilient if favored by broader geopolitics,” he writes. “The same may prove true for Lukashenko, who, from his position atop a geopolitical fault line, will weather every storm as long as Russia and the West mistrust him less than they do each other."

The big picture: Lukashenko has weathered more storms than most. Just nine leaders who were in power when he was elected in 1994 — during Bill Clinton's first term — are still in office.

Go deeper

Sep 17, 2020 - World

How the EU plans to take on human rights abusers

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

Amid a global assault on human rights stretching from Belarus to Hong Kong to Yemen, the European Union signaled yesterday that it may act to deter corrupt kleptocrats and state abusers by hitting them where it hurts: their assets.

Driving the news: Europe's chief executive Ursula von der Leyen revealed in her first-ever State of the Union speech that she will bring forth a European Magnitsky Act, a sanctions framework modeled after a U.S. law that restricts malign actors' access to travel and the global financial system.

Updated 21 mins ago - Sports

The Olympic events to watch today

U.S. diver Krysten Palmer. Photo: Clive Rose/Getty Images

5 events to watch today...
  • 🏃 Track & Field: Watch the men’s 100m final at 8:50 a.m. ET on nbcolympics.com
  • 🏐 Men’s volleyball: USA plays Argentina in the group stage at 8:45 a.m. on NBC.
  • 🤸 Gymnastics event finals: Watch the replay of the men's floor exercise and pommel horse, as well as the women's vault and uneven bars starting at 9:30 p.m. on NBC.
  • 🤽Men's water polo: USA takes on Greece in group play at 10:30 p.m. ET on CNBC.
  • 🏊Women's springboard final: Watch the replay tonight on NBC.

In photos: Tokyo Olympics day 9 highlights

Team USA's Ryan Murphy, Zach Apple, Michael Andrew and Caeleb Dressel celebrate winning gold in the final of the men's 4x100m medley relay swimming event during the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games at the Tokyo Aquatics Centre in Tokyo on Aug. 1. Photo: Odd Andersen/AFP via Getty Images

Day nine of the Tokyo Olympic Games Sunday saw the final day of swimming competition end with a historic win for Team USA.

The big picture: The U.S. men's 4x100-meter medley relay team set a new record world as they won the final and Caeleb Dressel earned a fifth gold — becoming the fifth American to do so. Team USA's Bobby Finke won the 1,500-meter freestyle.