Belarus Review by iSANS – April 26, 2021

Belarus Review by iSANS – April 26, 2021

Your insight into Belarus crisis

RFE / RL
26.04.2021 iSANS
  1. iSANS ONLINE EVENT THIS WEEK
  2. SVIATLANA TSIKHANOUSKAYA STARTS OFFICIAL VISIT TO AUSTRIA.
  3. LUKASHENKA PLANS TO INTRODUCE NEW UNCONSTITUTIONAL LAW
  4. COUP D'ETAT: A FANTASY WITH REAL PRISONERS
  5. LUKASHENKA'S MEETING WITH PUTIN ENDS WITHOUT CLEAR RESULTS
  6. FURTHER SYNCHRONIZATION OF PROPAGANDA IN RUSSIA AND BELARUS
  7. REPRESSIONS AGAINST CIVILIANS IN NOVAYA BARAVAYA
  8. A MOTHER OF TORTURE VICTIM REVIEWS THE VIDEO OF SON DYING, DENIED JUSTICE
  9. LUKASHENKA'S REVENGE AGAINST ETHICAL BUSINESSES
  10. THE WEBSITE OF NUCLEAR POWER STATION WAS HACKED

iSANS ONLINE EVENT THIS WEEK

This Wednesday, we are privileged to invite you to the first briefing of SlovakAid Fellowship program for Change Leaders initiative. During the event, we will discuss the experience of economic and political transformations in Slovakia that can become a role model for Belarus. Distinguished speakers from Slovakia are Pavol Demeš (GMF Senior Transatlantic Fellow, former Minister of Foreign Affairs of Slovakia) and Ivan Mikloš (Former Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Finance of the Slovak Republic, President of economic think-tank MESA10). The event will take place online at 18:00 CET on Wednesday April 28, and will be accessible via ZOOM (passcode 496004) as well as on YouTube (at iSANS and GLOBSEC channels).

In April-October 2021, ten Belarusian specialists will research the systemic reforms in Slovakia and join academic training at leading Slovak think tanks and institutions through SlovakAid Fellowship program for Change Leaders Initiative. This project is a joint effort of Slovak Foreign Policy Association (SFPA), GLOBSEC, Institute for Public Affairs (IVO), SlovakAid, and international expert initiative iSANS.

SVIATLANA TSIKHANOUSKAYA STARTS OFFICIAL VISIT TO AUSTRIA.

On 19–20 April, Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya headed Belarus delegation to the Euronest Parliamentary Assembly. Tsikhanouskaya called on the EU countries to act as mediators in the dialogue between the people and regime, and urged to simplify visa-free entry to the EU for Belarusians. On April 26-28 Tsikhanouskaya will have an official visit to Austria, and will have a few work meetings with the country’s political leadership.

LUKASHENKA PLANS TO INTRODUCE NEW UNCONSTITUTIONAL LAW

On April 24, Lukashenka announced his plan to amend emergency transfer of presidential power from the prime minister to the security council. This is a direct violation of Art. 89 of Belarus Constitution and any document that imposes such measure should be internationally treated null and void. The creation of “collective president”, or a de-jure collective military junta, is a security safeguard that Lukashenka uses to avoid the collapse of loyalty among the elites that yet remain loyal. Since the security council is now controlled by a group of pro-Russian high rank security and military officers, this safeguard also serves as a guarantee of pro-Russian vector of politics.

Foreign governments should consider immediate automatic sanctions against all current and future members of the security council and their immediate relatives should Lukashenka sign a bill that provides unconstitutional credentials to the security council.

The potential transfer of credentials is a temporary measure that Lukashenka uses to ensure the establishment of “Kazakh” format of sultanistic rule in the form of dynastic inheritance of Lukashenka family. Last year, we predicted the transformation of the All-Belarusian People’s Assembly (ABPA) into a new constitutional body that would allow Lukashenko to head it, becoming, conditionally, the chairman of the Presidium of the ABPA – an analogue of the Politburo of the Central Committee of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union. The future scenarios and possible options can be found in our analysis here.

COUP D'ETAT: A FANTASY WITH REAL PRISONERS

Belarus state media further promote a “Western coup d’etat” conspiracy theory. On Sunday April 25, a major propagandistic TV channel, ONT, publicly broadcasted a statement by Stanislau Knizaeu (head of state governance department at the Academy of Public Administration under the aegis of the President and former vice-head of “Presidential Administration”). Knizaeu provided the details of Western coup that included “150 sport-utility vehicles with large caliber machine-guns that were used to kill Gaddafi”. According to Knizaeu, these cars were prepared in Lithuania to burst into Belarus upon military invasion, reach Minsk over 3 hours, attack presidential residence , and murder Lukashenka”.

Earlier, Lukashenka claimed that political leadership of the United States, CIA, and FBI plotted to kill him. While the U.S. government denies any engagement in the attempted assassination of Lukashenka, the independent professional union of Belarus police (BYPOL) has already exposed the identities of two military officers who were engaged in staging of the “coup” and played the roles of “rebel generals” to lure 4 civilians into “the coup”.

The information provided by ONT since August 2020 clearly falls under the definition of fake news, and is used to threaten civil population. Foreign governments should consider complete ban on all operations of ONT in their territory, as well as any legal cooperation of its nationals with ONT team. The work of all members of ONT team, including freelance employees, should be banned in foreign territories, including with all financial operations involving ONT as a of party to private and public deals for their engagement due to the channel’s role in support of illegal armed seizure of power in Belarus on August 9-13, 2020.

As we already mentioned earlier, the National Anti-Crisis Management has prepared a set of materials to prove that workers of Belarus state media are engaged in torture. The interrogation of protesters is often conducted by state media workers for further use in propaganda and intimidation of civilians, or by state security in violent ways for further dissemination through television channels affiliated with Lukashenka and his office (ONT, the Belarusian state television and radio broadcasting service, Belteleradiocompany, and CTV).

LUKASHENKA'S MEETING WITH PUTIN ENDS WITHOUT CLEAR RESULTS

On Thursday April 22, Lukashenka and Putin met in Moscow, and spoke for around 4 hours. This is pretty much everything that the general public knowns about this meeting. It was preceded by Russia’s propagandistic support for military integration, and the establishment of Russian military bases in Belarus. In at least one case, Russia’s state television broadcasted an urge for immediate military aggression against Belarus.

State media affiliated with Lukashenka and his office (including Telegram channels) promoted the need for further integration with Russia as an anti-Western response to a “coup” staged by FSB and KGB. Before the meeting in Moscow, some independent experts and pro-democratic politicians stated that they received “insider information” that Belarus and Russia will sign new military deal (this information proved being misinformation). We

The Kremlin expects the acting regime in Minsk will be more proactive in Russia’s anti-Ukraine game (as it increases the promotion of its anti-European rhetorics inside Ukraine). Lukashenka needs to publicly oppose this expectation as his subordinate Vladimir Makei still makes resultless efforts to return the West into manipulative “multi-vector” politics and play the card of neutral “Switzerland of Eastern Europe”. The West was trapped by this policy between 2014-2020 when Lukashenka played a card of Euarope’s “donor of stability”. The propagandistic campaign we witnessed before his meeting with Putin on April 22 served the goal of reestablishment of Luakshenka’s image as sovereignty guarantor who “again protected Belarus from Russian military bases”.

Nevertheless, Putin realizes Lukashenka’s poor situation and will continue pushing him into deeper military integration while it becomes clear that, unlike before, Lukashenka will not receive much further financial (foremost – credit) support from Russia without dissolving the sovereignty of Belarus. However, Putin may be reluctant to rush with Belarus due to ongoing economic reality at home that does not match his ambitions within foreign policy. The United States, in their turn, warn Lukashenka that he is unlikely to remain in power for long if he continues to crack down on opponents.

Although media coverage of the meeting in Belarus state media was full of bravado, the results are indeed poor, and remind of trade talks between Lukashenka and Putin in 2019 that ended up in anti-integration protests that later evolved into devastating presidential elections. Both Putin and Lukashenka claimed they did not plan to discuss anything outstanding or achieve any immediate results on April 24. This point looks suspicious just a few days after a plotted “coup”. Has there really been an effort of coup d’etat in Belarus?

Lukashenka is indeed crushing Belarusian society by tying it to Putin’s autocracy, and further integration is a matter of his political (and, likely, physical) survival – for which he is ready to pay with the sovereignty of Belarus if the West will not further expand sanctions and block Lukashenka’s “pocket” businessmen from entry into Western markets.

FURTHER SYNCHRONIZATION OF PROPAGANDA IN RUSSIA AND BELARUS

iSANS continues to monitor the synchronization of Russian and Belarusian state propaganda. One of the unexpected consequences of the ongoing political crisis is the campaign of defamation of historical national symbols and national heroes launched in Belarusian state media. New publication by iSANS team explain how one of the largest soft power groups from Russia implements anti-Belarusian influence operations in Belarus through Lukashenka’s “presidential administration” and state media.

Recently, the Belarusian authorities began to actively employ rhetoric about the «falsification of history and the rehabilitation of Nazism» by Western countries. This campaign has already resulted in systematic discrimination of Polish minority, criminal prosecution of Polish minority activists, and victimization of Polish-language teachers and students. State media monopolized by the “presidential administration” play key role in promotion of anti-Polish discrimination campaign.

Alexander Morozov continues a series of conversations on social media and public mobilization in Belarus. In the latest, one of the most well-known Russian media analysts Vasily Gatov explains how the uniqueness of the internet situation in Belarus around the protests is not in the technology, but in the specifics of the structure of society, which has dramatically changed over the past few years – unnoticed by observers.

REPRESSIONS AGAINST CIVILIANS IN NOVAYA BARAVAYA

Human rights groups and local population report arbitrary mass arrests of civilians in Novaya Baravaya suburb of Minsk. Novaya Baravaya area is one of leading protest zones in Minsk since spring 2020. In August 2020, over 90% of local population supported Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya during the elections. Human rights reporters were able to identify 8 residents of Novaya Baravaya who were arrested last week for having paper hearts attacked to their windows – but local inhabitants say more than a dozen people were detained in just one day.

In the last 7 months, the civilians in Novaya Baravaya face ungrounded police violence, arrests, and arbitrary destruction of their private property by police employees and internal forces (military units under the commandment of the ministry of interior), and other forms of terror and political pressure (such as exclusion from access to water and heating) that make life conditions unbearable for dozens of thousands of families. In November 2020, Novaya Baravaya was defined as one of 42 locations of ‘reinforced patrolling’ in Belarusian capital. The civilians compare 42 ‘reinforced patrolling’ zones to ‘ghettos’ comparing the outrage of police and military to WW2 ghettos in Minsk. Foreign governments must make a clear statement that state terror against inhabitants of Novaya Borovaya needs to be stopped immediately, or new sanctions will follow.

Such items as color of clothes, paper cuts in windows, and even private gatherings of any nature now become grounds of politically charged arrests in various parts of Belarus.

A MOTHER OF TORTURE VICTIM REVIEWS THE VIDEO OF SON DYING, DENIED JUSTICE

The mother of Aliaksandr Vikhor from Homiel, who died due to in-detention police torture on 12 August 2020, has reviewed the materials of the investigation into the death of her son. Although state investigators claim death from a heart attack, Sviatlana Vikhor was provided a video of her son’s last minutes when the policemen were humiliating him on the floor of detention center. Despite objective facts of violent death (including signs of beatings on Vikhor’s body), the state rejected to open a criminal case.

LUKASHENKA'S REVENGE AGAINST ETHICAL BUSINESSES

The regime in Minsk banned imports of Liqui Moly, Škoda (a brand of the Volkswagen Group), and Beiersdorf  (trademarks NIVEA, EUCERIN, LA PRAIRIE, LABELLO, HANSAPLAST, FLORENA, 8X4 , “SKIN STORIES”, “GAMMON”, “TESA”, “CHAUL”, “COPPERTONE”, “HIDROFUGAL”, “STOP THE WATER WHILE USING ME”). The measure is imposed in revenge to separate decisions of three companies to not provide sponsorship to 2021 Ice Hockey Championship in Minsk. The ban is grounded on a document named “Presidential Decree No. 128 of March 30, 2021 On the Application of Special Measures”. This measure was labeled by Lukashenka as “counter-sanctions”, but mostly affects local distributors and Russian offices of the above-mentioned companies

THE WEBSITE OF NUCLEAR POWER STATION WAS HACKED

In the morning of April 25, the website of Belarus Nuclear Power Station (NPP) was hacked. Unknown hackers placed a message about the threat of Belarus NPP. They urged foreign governments to push Lukashenka into controlled shutdown of the station. Other segments of the website were not available to public. Managing authority of Belarus NPP confirmed the site was hacked, but denied the relation of station workers to this act.

Best regards,
iSANS team

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