Despite growing political differences, Moscow continues to support Lukashenka through his latest domestic political travails. Official figures put his share of the presidential vote at 80 percent. The candidate of the united opposition, Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya, had just 10 percent according to the Central Election Commission. Opposition exit polls paint a very different picture, with some showing the proportions exactly inverted. Since the announcement of the results the country has seen ongoing mass demonstrations, to which the security forces have responded with brutality. Nevertheless, President Putin congratulated Lukashenka on his "victory" as expected on Monday morning.
The Russian political discourse pays very close attention to developments in Belarus, reflecting a persistent post-imperial lack of distance to its sovereign neighbours. Looking at the Russian discussion one might forget that there actually is a border between Russia and Belarus, much as was the case following the Ukrainian presidential election in 2019. Another reason for this closeness lies in the similarity of the political systems. Both are ageing autocracies that are out of touch with the society they rule and suffer rapidly evaporating legitimacy. The economic crisis triggered by the COVID-19 pandemic is tangibly accelerating these processes in both states.
The Russian state media tend to play down the significance of the events and push a geopolitical interpretation in which the protesters are a minority controlled by hostile Western actors. They would not exist without Western support, it is asserted. The objective of Western policy is said to be reducing Russian influence in the region and ultimately "regime change" in Moscow. In other words, the issue is not liberty but geopolitical rivalry. In this understanding the trouble in Minsk is just the latest in a long series of Western plots against Russia – following the 2014 Euromaidan in Ukraine and the "colour revolutions" of the early 2000s. The needs of Belarusian society are completely ignored.
Russia's independent media, on the other hand, seek to present a realistic picture, concentrating on developments within Belarus and Lukashenka's loss of public legitimacy. Belarus is also treated as a template for Russia's own political future. Comparisons are frequently drawn with the ongoing protests in Khabarovsk, with speculation whether Minsk 2020 might be Moscow 2024.