Belarus State Media Release a Photo of Lukashenko Amid Ill Health Rumors

Amid swirling rumors about the health of President Aleksandr G. Lukashenko of Belarus, state news media on Monday released photographs of him, an apparent attempt to tamp down speculation that he was seriously ill.

Mr. Lukashenko, a key Kremlin ally who usually receives fawning daily coverage from state-controlled news media featuring photos and videos, had not been shown since last Tuesday, when he attended events in Moscow and the Belarusian capital, Minsk, celebrating the Soviet Union’s triumph over Nazi Germany in 1945.

He skipped an annual ceremony on Sunday in Minsk for Belarus’s flag day, an event at which he usually speaks, leaving his prime minister to read a statement.

Europe’s longest serving leader and an avid sportsman, Mr. Lukashenko, 68, has since 1994 ruled Belarus, a former Soviet republic that depends on Moscow for financial aid and security assistance, with a firm grip. In the past he has relished showing off his robust good health in public by rollerblading, playing ice hockey, and giving long speeches outdoors, regardless of the weather.

But the official Belarusian news agency, Belta, and state television had for the past week recycled old photographs and film clips of him.

Ukrainian officials and media fed a swirl of gleeful rumors around the health of Mr. Lukashenko, who is widely reviled in Ukraine for allowing Russia to use Belarus, which borders both nations, as a staging ground for its full-scale invasion in February 2022.

An opposition news outlet, Euroradio, reported that Mr. Lukashenko had been taken by motorcade to a Minsk clinic on Saturday, but the country has not officially commented on his health.

In what could be the most conclusive sign that he was ill, though perhaps not gravely, Russia’s tightly controlled news media — which rarely comment on leaders’ health — have in recent days reported that Mr. Lukashenko is unwell, citing Konstantin Zatulin, a senior Russian legislator who works closely with Belarus and other former Soviet republics.

Mr. Zatulin was quoted as saying of Mr. Lukashenko that “he just got sick but it is not Covid.” He gave no details and downplayed the severity of Mr. Lukashenko’s condition.

On Monday, Belta said that Mr. Lukashenko visited an air force command post and published what it said were photos of the leader that day. It was not immediately possible to independently confirm whether the photos were taken on Monday.

The intense secrecy of closed countries like Belarus and Russia allows wild rumors about their leaders to take flight. For instance, President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia is regularly rumored to have multiple fatal diseases.

The secrecy also makes it difficult to explain the deaths of apparently healthy officials, like Vladimir Makei, the veteran Belarusian foreign minister whose sudden death in November set off feverish speculation of possible foul play.

Nataliia Novosolova and Riley Mellen contributed reporting.

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