#ZapadWatch: Demonstrations in Minsk

An open source snapshot of anti-Zapad 17 protests in Minsk

Left: (Source: Twitter); Right: (Source: Twitter)

On September 8, over one hundred Belarusian opposition demonstrators gathered to peacefully protest against the Zapad 2017 military exercises scheduled for September 14–20, claiming it represents “Russian aggression.” No clashes with police were reported.

The @DFRLab monitored open source platforms to produce a snapshot of the demonstration.

The Demonstration

On July 21, Belarusian media outlet Charter 97 published an announcement by the Belarusian National Congress (BNC) calling Belarusian patriots to join a demonstration against possible Russian aggression in Belarus as a result of the Zapad 2017 military exercises. Nikolai Statkevich, former opposition presidential candidate and head of the unregistered Belarusian social-democratic party, led the demonstrations. The demonstration started in Kastryčnickaja plošča (October Square) in central Minsk.

RFE/RL’s Belarusian Service and Belarusian media outlets TUT.BY and Nasha Niva live streamed the demonstration.

(Source: Радыё Свабода’s YouTube)

After organizers spoke to demonstrators, the protest moved to Victory Square where the organizers laid flowers in honor of the victory of the Battle of Orsha in 1514. Demonstrators then marched to Plošča Jakuba Kolasa (Yakub Kolas Square) where they pledged a symbolic oath to protect Belarus.

(Source: Google maps)

According to a tweet from Franak Viačorka, over one hundred people gathered at Kastryčnickaja plošča (October Square).

(Source: Twitter user @franakviacorka)

A group of demonstrators waved the white-red-white flag, a symbol typically used by Belarusian nationalists and opposition.

(Source: Twitter user @XSovietNews)

Some demonstrators brought posters expressing hostility against Russian troops in Belarus.

(Source: Twitter user @franakviacorka)

The posters read:

“Ptn [Putin] pnh [f**k off] from Belarus”
“For peaceful Belarus”
“Russian soldiers, go home! There is no Vodka here”

According to RFE/RL’s Belarusian Service’s live broadcast, no more than a few hundred people participated in the demonstration, with a gradual decrease in size. There was no reported police interference.

Demonstration in Washington

At the same time as the protest in Belarus, Belarusian activists gathered in front of the Russian Ambassador’s residence in Washington, DC.

(Source: Twitter user @franakviacorka)

Demonstrators were heard shouting “Stop Putin’s aggression” and “Don’t fight NATO, fight corruption.”

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The demonstration was primarily advertised with posters throughout Minsk. On August 15, Twitter user @kris_minsk tweeted an image of a poster in an elevator calling to join the demonstration on September 8. The tweet was posted in response to another tweet about posters in Brest calling for Russian troops to return home. The @DFRLab previously reported on the first group of Russian troops that arrived in Belarus mid-August.

(Source: Twitter user @kris_minsk)

On September 6, two days before the demonstration, the BNC published photos showing posters, stickers, and flyers posted across Minsk. According to the BNC, posters were plastered not only in the city center, but also in the suburbs.

(Source: Belarusian National Congress)
(Source: Belarusian National Congress)
(Source: Belarusian National Congress)

Conclusion

The September 8 demonstrations against the Zapad 2017 military exercises were primarily organized through paper advertisements throughout Minsk. The demonstration gathered over one hundred Belarusian opposition protesters and were entirely peaceful with no police activity recorded. More civilian activity is expected as the main exercise begins next week.

The @DFRLab will continue to monitor and report on any activity surrounding Zapad 2017 in our #ZapadWatch series.


Nika Aleksejeva is a Digital Forensic Research Assistant at the Atlantic Council’s Digital Forensic Research Lab (@DFRLab).

Follow along for more in-depth analysis from our #DigitalSherlocks.

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