- DEFECTORS, SABOTAGE, AND BELARUS FIGHTERS IN UKRAINE
- MOVEMENT OF RUSSIA’S TROOPS AND LOOTING
- GLOOMY PERSPECTIVE FOR IT SECTOR AND BUSINESS
DEFECTORS, SABOTAGE, AND BELARUS FIGHTERS IN UKRAINE
As of April 4, there’s over 1100 political prisoners in Belarus (+42 since February).
Accoring to Spring human rights center, in March 2022, at least 445 people were arrested in Bealrus for anti-war manifestations and expression of dissident opinions. Human rights lawyers report continuous use of torture against civilians in politically-charged cases.
At least 60 media workers are facing criminal charges for their work (at least 26 are currently detained with majority of others living in exile now). Some of those who managed to escape Belarus, say they feel safer in war-torn Ukraine.
Belarusian volunteer fighters in Ukraine become a notable part of Ukraine’s military response to Russia’s aggression. As we mentioned earlier, Belarusian volunteers became the largest foreign group represented in Ukraine’s international legion with nearly 500 fighters. Belarusian fighters who join Ukraine’s international legion are highly motivated and perceive their participation in war as a part of their resistance to Minsk-based regime.
However, volunteer fighters in Ukraine are not the only element of Belarusian resistance closely tied to ongoing war in Ukraine (along with widely known Belarusian hacktivism initiatives). The Times reported on Monday that defectors from Belarus’s armed forces and security apparatus «are coordinating attacks on the country’s railway lines, which have crippled Russian supply lines into Ukraine.» This form of resistance is feared by the Lukashenka regime and in the last couple of weeks no less than 52 individuals have been detained in relation to sabotage on railroads within Belarus. It is, however, unclear whether any of detained individuals were related to acts of sabotage.
Lukashenka’s subordinates reported 2 people were shot by state security during acts of sabotage. However, no proofs of any nature were provided to support these claims. It is likely that this narrative is being used to extend fear among potential sabotage activists as «railroad war» in Belarus turns into a nationwide phenomena.
Continued resistance and strong anti-war opinion among Belarusian population is an important argument for calibrated Western policy that should separate Lukashenka regime from the population of Belarus in decision-making.
Further support of pro-democratic forces in Belarus remains a critical element of potential «second front» that may severely weaken Russia’s position in its war against Ukraine as internal stability in Belarus itself remains very shaky.
MOVEMENT OF RUSSIA’S TROOPS AND LOOTING
Bielaruski Hajun (a popular Telegram channel from Belarus with major focus on regional security) reports that at least 42 helicopters of the Russian Aerospace Forces left Belarus recently. This is the largest retreat of Russia’s helicopters from Belarus since February 24, 2022. Although Russia’s helicopters seem to be leaving Belarus for now, there is growing presence of Russia’s land troops with new heavy weapons arriving via railroads on a regular basis.
Last week, Ukraine’s military officials reported identifying a «loot market» in Belarus that was allegedly created by Russia’s soldiers in the aftermath of retreat from Chernobyl exclusion zone. Our team, however, was unable to find any supportive evidence to alleged existence of physical «loot market.» However, loot trade as a widely spread practice of Russian soldiers is widely reported and is confirmed by sources on the ground.
On April 4, Bielaruski Hajun published the names and contacts of Russia’s soldiers who were reportedly sending loot from Ukraine into Russia from the office of Russia’s SDEK mailing service in Mazyr (Belarus) and provided a video record of Russian soldiers preparing large packages in SDEK office.
GLOOMY PERSPECTIVE FOR IT SECTOR AND BUSINESS
One of the largest Belarusian IT-companies (currently headquartered in Cyprus), the country’s largest game developer, Wargaming (World of Tanks, Blitz), announced pulling its business out of both Belarus and Russia. The company will transfer its operations to other jurisdictions in the coming weeks. The company is also closing its major studio in Minsk. This step is a major game-changer for Belarus IT market where Wargaming remained one of the largest employers with nearly 2,000 personnel.
Wargaming’s announcement was published on the company’s website on April 4 when Lukashenka announced major changed for high tech sector. It was backgrounded by new propaganda campaing pormoting a message that IT industry and high-tech professionals bare an unnamed «debt» to Lukashenka regime and must payback. Although there has been no clear ‘payback’ price provided just yet, there are growing expectations that business conditions will change soon.
Wargaming transferred its live games business in Bealrus and Russia to Saint-Petersburg (Russia) based Lesta Studio, which is reportedly no longer affiliated with the company.
However, high tech companies are not the only ones pulling business out of Belarus due to war in Ukraine. This week, food ingredients producer Kerry Group suspended its operations in both Russia and at its factory in Belarus. It was one of the largest Irish businesses in both jurisdictions that still maintained production after February 24, 2022.
As Belarusian business is gradually losing its access to foreign capital, this week, the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development (EBRD) voted to exclude Belarus along with Russia from receiving EBRD funding for projects. Furthermore, the Bank «avails itself of all rights to suspend or cancel further disbursements of funding on existing projects.»
Belarusian economy is facing an even harder hit as neighboring EU countries plan closing their borders for all cargo transportation both to and from Belarus and Russia.
Overall, short-run expectations for Belarusian economy are gloomy even in the most optimistic scenario.