On Monday, Lukashenko said in an interview that the internet outages were coming from abroad, and were not the result of a Belarusian government initiative. Belarus’ Community Emergency Response Team, or CERT, in a statement on Sunday blamed large distributed denial-of-service attacks, particularly against the country’s State Security Committee and Ministry of Internal Affairs, for causing “problems with equipment.” The Belarusian government-owned ISP RUE Beltelecom said in a statement Monday that it is working to resolve the outages and restore service after “multiple cyberattacks of varying intensity.” Outside observers have met those claims with skepticism. “The truth of what’s going on in Belarus isn’t really knowable right now, but there’s no indication of a DDoS attack. It can’t be ruled out, but there’s no external sign of it that we see,” says Alp Toker, director of the nonpartisan connectivity tracking group NetBlocks. After midnight Sunday, NetBlocks observed an outage that went largely unnoticed by the Belarus population, given the hour, but the country’s internet infrastructure became increasingly wobbly afterward. “Then just as polls are opening in the morning, there are more disruptions, and those really continue and progress,” says Toker. “Then the major outage that NetBlocks detected started right as the polls were closing and is ongoing.”
The disruption extended even to virtual private networks — a common workaround for internet outages or censorship — most of which remain unreachable. “Belarus hasn’t had a lot of investment in circumvention technologies, because people there haven’t needed to,” Toker says. Meanwhile, there are a few anecdotal indications that the outages were planned, and even possibly that the government warned some businesses and institutions ahead of time. A prescient report on Saturday from the Russian newspaper Moskovsky Komsomolets included an interview with a salesperson who warned journalists attempting to buy SIM cards that the government had indicated widespread connectivity outages might be coming as soon as that night.