- RUSSIAN FORCES ARRIVE TO BELARUS AMID GROWING TENSIONS
- BELARUS UNLIKELY TO PROVE ITS VERSION OF RYANAIR HIJACKING
- UKRAINE ACCUSES BELARUS OF CYBERATTACKS
- LITHUANIA HAS TERMINATED POTASH CONTRACT WITH BELARUS
- RUSSIA'S NEW AMBASSADOR TO LAND IN MINSK
- BARRED SKIERS
- GOOGLE FINED BY "THE SUPREME COURT OF BELARUS"
RUSSIAN FORCES ARRIVE TO BELARUS AMID GROWING TENSIONS
This is an update on the ongoing political crisis in the Republic of Belarus prepared for you by the International Strategic Action Network for Security (iSANS).
The number of acknowledged political prisoners grew to 993 people (+30 to last week, the list of currently identified political prisoners is available here). 7 of them were detained in the first two weeks of 2022. Human rights groups identified 1429 individuals who are currently convicted in political criminal cases, but have not yet received the status of political prisoner.
Russia and Lukashenka regime in Belarus announced plans to hold military drills «Allied Resolve-2022» on February 10-20. Since last week, numerous Russian troops were spotted arriving into Belarus – although on Monday January 17, 2022 Lukashenka still claimed he is not aware of the date for such drills. Now, Russia’s troops are expected to continue their arrival into Belarus throughout the upcoming weeks – until February 9. And there is growing expectation that Russian troops alongside the Belarusian military could use the drills as a pretext for a full-scale north-south-east-based offensive against Ukraine.
The drills are taking place amid growing tensions between the West and Russia and just a few weeks after CSTO intervention in Kazakhstan where Putin underlined his status of «the world’s leading defender of authoritarianism» (although Lukashenka claimed it was a tandem leadership operation by him and Putin).
The Kremlin is believed to fabricate a false-flag operation during the drills to justify new invasion in Ukraine before mid-February to expand its territorial gains (in addition to proxy-controlled areas in Donetsk and Luhansk regions as well as currently occupied Ukrainian territories in Crimea peninsula that were illegally annexed by Russia in 2014).
The U.S. State Department considers Russia’s growing military presence in Belarus an «extremely dangerous» show of force. Along with overall expectation of Russia’s invasion in Ukraine «at any point«, CSIS (a DC-based think tank) analysts forecast that Belarus may well be used by Russian forces for an attack directing Ukraine’s capital, Kyiv (for details, see maps here).
On January 18-20, the U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken is traveling to Kyiv and Berlin to continue diplomatic engagements to resolve tensions caused by Russia. On Friday, January 21, Blinken will be meeting Russia’s FM Sergei Lavrov in Geneva to discuss Ukraine standoff.
BELARUS UNLIKELY TO PROVE ITS VERSION OF RYANAIR HIJACKING
ICAO has released its fact-finding report on hijacking of Ryanair aircraft in May 2021. Although the report only provides factual materials of the case (without further analysis on the responsibility of Lukashenka regime), it already seems very likely that Belarus will not be able to support its claim and may reasonably be found guilty of state terrorism and / or international air piracy. The materials provided by Belarus and reported in the document are misleading and do not match the materials provided by all other parties. ICAO will announce further actions in this case on January 31, 2022.
UKRAINE ACCUSES BELARUS OF CYBERATTACKS
The regime of Aliaksandr Lukashenka long played its pseudo-neutrality card in relations with Ukraine. In 2021, however, Lukashenka openly said he will undoubtedly assist Putin in a military operation against Ukraine.
Last week, Serhiy Demedyuk, deputy secretary of Ukraine’s national security and defence council, told Reuters that Ukraine believes that a major attack against government websites was conducted by a group of hackers known as UNC1151 linked to foreign intelligence of Lukashenka regime.
«We believe preliminarily that the group UNC1151 may be involved in this attack,» Demedyuk said, adding that «The defacement of the sites was just a cover for more destructive actions that were taking place behind the scenes and the consequences of which we will feel in the near future». Speaking of UNC1151, he noted: «This is a cyber-espionage group affiliated with the special services of the Republic of Belarus».
The hackers left a warning to «be afraid and expect the worst». The messages were in three languages: Ukrainian, Russian and Polish. They referred to the mass murders of Polish civil population committed by the Ukrainian Insurgent Army (UPA) in Nazi-occupied Poland, which remains a major point of contention between Poland and Ukraine.
Demedyuk also added that the group UNC1151 had a track record of targeting Lithuania, Latvia, Poland and Ukraine and had spread narratives decrying the NATO alliance’s presence in Europe.
In November last year, a renowned US cybersecurity firm Mandiant became the first to attribute multiple cyberattacks against NATO’s eastern members to Belarusian military intelligence. They believe UNC1151 is responsible for hacking the mailbox of the Polish Prime Minister’s Head of Chancellery Michał Dworczyk as well as multiple attacks against Poland, Lithuania, Ukraine and representatives of the Belarusian civil society.
LITHUANIA HAS TERMINATED POTASH CONTRACT WITH BELARUS
Lithuania has terminated the contract between its state-owned Railways and Belaruskali on the grounds that it was not in the interests of Lithuania’s national security. Lithuanian Minister of Transport and Communications Marius Skuodis told reporters that the agreement will be annulled as of February 1, 2022.
Belarusian analysts agree that this decision will be the hardest blow to the Belarusian economy to date and is likely to provoke Lukashenka’s reaction comparable to the artificial migration crisis instigated by the regime in Minsk after the previous round of EU sanctions was imposed in June 2021.
Hence, in addition to potential involvement of Belarus into Russia’s operation against Ukraine, Lukashenka is believed to reactivate the artificial border crisis on the EU frontiers. This week, Pavel Latushka presented plans of Lukashenka regime to extend migration crisis on the border with the EU by lifting limitations for Afghan drug trafficking routes into Europe via Belarus in the upcoming spring months. Although the border crisis is currently less disturbing than it was in mid-2021, in 2022 neighboring Poland has already recorded nearly 600 attempts to enter its territory illegally through Belarus and detained nine members of a major human trafficking gang that operated from September 2021 to January 2022.
However, despite potential national security risks for Lithuania, there is a chance that private rail operators in this country might step in to take over the lucrative business of transiting Belarusian potash to the Lithuanian port in Klaipeda. The most likely candidate is Lithuanian businessman Igor Udovicki, one of the main beneficiaries of the terminated potash scheme, who apart from owning the Bulk Cargo Terminal in Klaipeda is also the owner of Gargždai Railways company.
In December 2021, a scandal erupted in Lithuania when it turned out that its national railways extended the contract with Belaruskali which was already on the EU and US sanctions lists despite the Lithuanian government’s declaration to stop the transit. The director of the Lithuanian Railways was fired as a result.
RUSSIA'S NEW AMBASSADOR TO LAND IN MINSK
Belarus’ Ministry of Foreign Affairs agreed to appoint Boris Gryzlov, one of the leaders of the United Russia party (as well a close ally of President Vladimir Putin) as Russian ambassador to Belarus. Gryzlov was Russia’s Interior Minister from 2001 to 2003 and Speaker of the State Duma from 2003 to 2011. He is also the head of the Russian delegation to the Trilateral Contact Group on Ukraine and is expected to keep this position for the time being.
Gryzlov will become Russian 5th ambassador to Belarus in the last three years. Current Russian Ambassador to Belarus Yevgeny Lukyanov was only appointed at the end of March 2021. For comparison, their predecessor Aleksandr Surikov, served as Russian ambassador to Belarus for 12 years, from 2006 to 2018.
Belarusian analysts have different opinions about this appointment. Some believe it is simply a sinecure and an honourable retirement for Gryzlov, while others believe it marks the intensification of Russia’s activities in the Belarusian direction. For instance, professor of Moscow State University, political analyst Andrei Manoilo believes that this appointment shows that the Belarusian direction is now a priority for Moscow: “heavy artillery” is needed here. “The previous ambassador took an observational position, and Gryzlov’s appointment would be a transition to active action,” he told Belsat.
Two Belarusian cross-country skiers, Svyatlana Andryiuk and Darya Dalidovich, have been barred from all competitions after Belarusian sports officials accused them of supporting the democratic forces. Belarus Ski Union annulled their individual athlete registrations and therefore they are no longer able to take part in official competitions organized by the International Ski Federation (FIS), including the Olympic Games that start in less than a month. Andryiuk and Dalidovich say the head of the Belarus Cross-Country Skiing Federation, Alyaksandr Darakhovich, ordered to bar them from competing. FIS confirmed that the two athletes’ individual registration numbers had been deactivated.
The Belarusian Sport Solidarity Foundation (BSSF) said on social media on January 11 that it officially urged the FIS to restore the athletes’ status, and said it is in touch with the International Olympic Committee (IOC) over the issue. “We are in active contact with the Belarusian side to get a complete picture of the situation,” the BSSF quoted representatives of the IOC.
GOOGLE FINED BY "THE SUPREME COURT OF BELARUS"
«The Supreme Court of Belarus» (an institution currently controlled by Lukashenka regime) fined Google 1.5 mln BYN ($580,000) after the company lost in court to Lukashenka regime officials. Google LLC failed to challenge the decision of the «Ministry of Antimonopoly Regulations and Trade of Belarus» (MART,an institution currently controlled by Lukashenka regime) on violation of the antimonopoly legislation. Earlier MARTs experts stated that Google Play service occupies a dominant position in the market of Android mobile application shops.
MART says it has found that Google LLC offers the Google Play app shop to manufacturers of Android smartphones and tablets for pre-installation on their devices only if several conditions are met. Among them is the pre-installation of a suite of Google Mobile Services apps (including Google Search, Google Chrome, Gmail, Google Maps, and YouTube). At the same time, these applications have to be installed on screens of smartphones and tablets on places specified by Google LLC, and it is prohibited to install services of other companies, MART said.
In July 2021, Google LLC appealed the decision, but «the Economic Court of Minsk» and «the Supreme Court of Belarus» dismissed the company’s complaints, and the statements of MART were acknowledged “legitimate and justified”.