Russia Intel Chief Blames U.S., CIA for Belarus Unrest

The head of Russia's foreign intelligence service has accused the CIA and Pentagon of training militants to foment unrest in Belarus, as Moscow continues to defend its beleaguered ally President Alexander Lukashenko.

Russian Foreign Intelligence Service chief Sergei Naryshkin said Tuesday—without providing any evidence to support the assertion—that the U.S. is training fighters in neighboring nations and sending them into Belarus to support protests against Lukashenko.

The 65-year-old president—often described as "Europe's last dictator"—is under pressure to step down after he claimed a landslide victory in last month's presidential election. Opponents say the vote was rigged to keep Lukashenko in power for a sixth term. He has ruled Belarus for nearly three decades since the collapse of the Soviet Union.

Lukashenko has tried to crush the protests with heavy-handed policing and mass arrests. He is supported by Russia, which has mooted sending troops across the border to suppress the opposition.

Meanwhile, Russia and Lukashenko have accused the West of supporting the protests. Russia and its allies have routinely linked Western powers to so-called "color revolutions"—popular pro-democracy movements aiming to unseat authoritarian or pro-Russian leaders, particularly in former Soviet states like Ukraine.

Naryshkin told the intelligence service's press bureau Tuesday: "Fighters for renewed Belarus are trained in Poland, Georgia, Ukraine and the Baltic states with participation of instructors from the CIA and the Pentagon as well as U.S. non-governmental organizations affiliated with the Department of State," according to Russia's Tass state news agency.

Naryshkin said the U.S. is "using the dirtiest methods for rocking the boat in Belarus," accusing the State Department of exploiting "extremist elements in protests."

The U.S. has called on Lukashenko to stop his suppression of the opposition and release political prisoners. America is believed to also be preparing sanctions on Lukashenko and his allies, coordinating action with the U.K. and Canada.

But Naryshkin claimed that the State Department is seeking to sow dissent in Belarus and turn religious groups against each other. "The United States is blatantly interfering with the religious situation in Belarus, seeking to set Orthodox and Catholic Christians against each other," he said.

Naryshkin even accused the U.S. of supporting Belarusian dissidents who are planning terrorist acts. "Extremist opponents of the current Belarusian authorities hiding abroad are concocting a plan of a large-scale provocation, which would involve an arrest, injury or even murder of one of the reputable members of the Catholic church," Naryshkin said, again without providing any evidence.

"The aim is to inflame anti-government sentiments among Catholics and incite them to take a more active part in street protests," he said.

State Department spokesperson Morgan Ortagus told Newsweek the U.S. is maintaining sanctions on 16 Belarusian individuals, including Lukashenko.

Ortagus said the administration is "closely coordinating with allies and partners on next steps in support of the aspirations of the Belarusian people to freely determine their own future."

"We support international efforts to independently look into Belarus's fraudulent election, the human rights abuses surrounding the election, and the ongoing violence by Belarusian authorities," Ortagus added.

"The United States once again calls on the Belarusian authorities to cease the violence against peaceful protesters, release those unjustly detained, and engage in a national dialogue with genuine representatives of the Belarusian people, including the National Coordination Council."

This article has been updated to include a statement from Morgan Ortagus.

Belarus, Russia, unrest, US, CIA, blame, intelligence
A large crowd of protesters is pictured on September 29, 2020 in Minsk, Belarus. Artem Dubik/Getty Images/Getty