In the summer of 2020, the Belarusian regime experienced an unprecedented challenge to its power. Large-scale demonstrations erupted across the whole country as a response to a rigged election and police violence against protest participants. Social media and messaging platform Telegram assisted in maintaining and coordinating the protests and played a significant role in the mass mobilization. The Belarusian regime predictably reacted with repression against protest participants, as well as censorship of media and digital platforms. At the same time, in a reaction against the protests and the activation of digital platforms, the Belarusian regime expanded its repertoire by co-opting technology. This included utilizing a sophisticated system to shut down the Internet, developing a network of pro-governmental Telegram channels, spreading false information about the opposition leaders, and intensifying control over the Internet via legal regulations. This article aims to explore the digital repression and legitimation claims of the Belarusian regime in the aftermath of the 2020 post-electoral protests. I argue that, alongside the growing incorporation of social media and digital platforms into the protest movement, the Belarusian regime employed an advanced authoritarian toolkit and supplemented “negative control” with proactive strategies of legitimation. The article seeks to contribute to a broader understanding of how post-Soviet autocracies incorporate technology to make digital legitimacy claims and reinforce political repression.

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