TALLINN, Estonia (AP) — For nearly a week, the whereabouts of Belarus’ authoritarian leader Alexander Lukashenko have been a mystery.
The 68-year-old was seen at a May 9 Victory Day parade in Moscow’s Red Square, looking pale and bloated, and he skipped a celebratory breakfast in the Kremlin to fly home. Later that day, he appeared at similar event in his capital of Minsk to mark the victory over Nazi Germany in World War II, but then skipped other scheduled appearances for days, feeding speculation on social media about his health.
On Monday, the state news agency Belta reported Lukashenko inspected an air force installation. A photo posted to the presidential website showed him standing stiffly in a military jacket, taking a salute from an officer, while another showed him sitting at a command post desk. A video of Lukashenko speaking to the military later appeared in a Telegram channel with ties to the presidential press service.
The intent of the media was clear -– to dispel rumors and reports that Lukashenko was seriously ill — but they also raised some new questions.
A bandage appeared on his left hand, similar to one that was seen on his right hand at the Kremlin last week. In the video, Lukashenko speaks to the officers in an unusually hoarse and weak voice, sometimes pausing between words.
The man who has ruled Belarus with an iron fist for nearly three decades has been a close ally of Russian President Vladimir Putin, allowing the Kremlin to use his country as a staging ground for its war in neighboring Ukraine, although he has stopped short of committing his troops to the conflict.
Lukashenko is the only foreign leader to regularly meet with Putin since the invasion began in February 2022, meeting 14 times.