On the one hand, it presents him as a strong, decisive leader who’s willing to fight and die for his homeland. This image conforms with his recent statements about how the country is being threatened by a foreign-backed plot and is intended to inspire a patriotic reaction from his people. Instead of shunning his “tough guy” reputation in the Western media, he’s proudly embracing it in what he hopes will be a judo-like reversal of soft power fortune. Lukashenko is betting that his people will react positively to the image of their president geared up in body armor, holding an AK-47, and ready to defend Belarus. He doesn’t seem to care how his Western foes will react, which brings the analysis around to talking about the possible cons of this stunt.
The Western media will definitely exploit this image for the purpose of reinforcing their information warfare narrative that Lukashenko is a “desperate dictator” who’s “paranoid” and “clinging to power” despite the “people’s pro-democracy protests” against him. The anti-government forces in Belarus might also be emboldened, not intimidated, by what he did. Instead of seeing it as a sign of strength, they might (mis)perceive it as one of weakness. Those who want to stir up trouble might even speculate that the reason he’s armed (albeit without a magazine in his gun) is because he can’t even trust his own security services, though that narrative is debunked after footage emerged of them later cheering him outside his palace.Did Lukashenko’s Gun Stunt Help or Harm His Image?