- U.S. CONGRESS HEARINGS ON BELARUS
- LUKASHENKA IS SUED IN GERMANY FOR CRIMES AGAINST HUMANITY
- LUKASHENKA SEEKS ETERNAL RULE WITH HIS NEW «LAW»
- DEHUMANIZATION OF CIVILIANS AND URGE TO VIOLENCE BY STATE-CONTROLLED MEDIA
- LUKASHENKA REALIZES HIS UNPOPULARITY, BUT WON'T RESIGN UNTIL HE IS FORCED TO DO SO
U.S. CONGRESS HEARINGS ON BELARUS
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).
Last week, Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya addressed the US Congress Human Rights Commission calling for «concrete actions» during online hearings in the Lantos Commission. She was joined by the Former US Assistant Secretary of State David Kramer.
Kramer highlighted that the United States need to ensure criminal prosecution of those engaged in atrocities against civilians in Belarus, and should urgently expand sanctions to include the so-called moneybags, «individuals connected to Lukashenka who prop him up financially». These include Russian and Belarusian figures who have been instrumental in Lukashenka’s staying power. Kramer called to cut off the flows from them to «water down the thin ice on which Lukashenka stands».
Kramer specifically mentioned Viktar Sheiman, Aliaksei Aleksin, Mikalai Varabei, Aliaksandr Zaitsau, Aliaksandr Mashenski, and Vladimir Peftiev as primary targets for sanctions.
According to David Kramer, new U.S. sanctions should also be targeted against Mikhail Gutseriyev, a Russian-British oligarch who is very close to Lukashenka. Gutseriyev helped Lukashenka replace TV presenters who quit in protest over the crackdown and replaced them with RT fill-ins. Gutseriyev’s son bought the fifth largest bank in Belarus, and his oil company Safmar was the only supplier that continued to ship oil to Belarus after Putin cut shipments in January 2020. Kramer additionally mentioned the need to sanction Russian propagandists – foremost the employees of RT – for their direct engagement in post-August 9 events on the behalf of the Kremlin and Lukashenka.
Kramer additionally mentioned German Gref and Russia’s major state-owned banks: Sberbank, VTB, VEB, and Gazprombank that «play key roles in the Belarusian banking system and should be sanctioned». Kramer also named Gazprom, Slavneft, Rosneft, and Uralkali as companies that must be added to U.S. sanctions list in relation to violent events in Belarus.
Kramer explicitly discussed the need to isolate Lukashenka internationally. He mentioned Russia and the UAE in particular as «a country where Lukashenka has established close business connections». He suggested the Emirates and others in the region «need to choose: support Lukashenka or stay in the good graces of the United States».
Kramer, who is long exposed to the the situation in Belarus, urged the United States to entirely block the sale of arms and other products from Belarus to other countries, and introduce sectoral sanctions against state-owned enterprises (which are de-facto entirely controlled by Lukashenka).
LUKASHENKA IS SUED IN GERMANY FOR CRIMES AGAINST HUMANITY
Last week, a group of four lawyers brought a massive case to try Aliaksandr Lukashenka and the security apparatus of Belarus in Germany for crimes against humanity conducted in and after August 2020. The case was filed in Germany’s Federal Public Prosecutor’s Office in Karlsruhe, home to the country’s top courts.
This case is of principal importance for victims of repressions and torture (as human rights groups keep over 1,000 records of torture victims). German universal jurisdiction laws allow Germany to try such crimes even if they were conducted abroad. If the Prosecutor’s Office will continue with the case, Lukashenka will face new reality that will heavily affect the loyalty of officials around him who are yet promised no accountability for their wrongdoings against civilians. New criminal cases against Belarus officials may significantly speed up the end of dictatorship rule as the accountability of state security and officials has never really existed there since mid-1990s.
Lukashenka’s reaction to the news from Germany was hysteric. He labeled the people and officials of Germany «the heirs of fascism» and said that new elections in Belarus would only happen if they will take place «simultaneously with the United States» (which, however, is typical Lukashenka’s bravado seen on so many occasions since his rise in 1994).
LUKASHENKA SEEKS ETERNAL RULE WITH HIS NEW «LAW»
Nine months (275 days) into its most violent political crisis since 1944, Belarus is in a stalemate. Despite obvious and explicit lack of public support, Lukashenka refuses to resign or engage in dialogue with his political competitors. Lukashenka has chosen a mix of repressions and violent deterrence to eliminate all forms of public political expression as he seeks new ways to ensure guarantees of his own political and physical survival.
Lukashenka remains key obstacle in peaceful resolution of political crisis that will inevitably destabilize the region. On August 17, 2020 Lukashenka announced his commitment and plan to rule Belarus until his death. Less than a year later, on May 9, Lukashenka reestablished his claim to become a lifelong ruler of Belarus – and signed a «Decree on protection of sovereignty and constitutional order» that essentially makes him the ultimate source of power in the country and ensures that Belarus will turn into a military junta in case of his violent death.
New «law» (full text is available here) ensures transfer of power from Lukashenka to a collective military junta («security council») in case of his violent death. It also requires immediate establishment of the state of emergency or martial law across the country in case of Lukashenka’s violent death (although the name is not mentioned in the «law», it is clearly a once-in-a-lifetime procedure only applicable to a specific individual in very specific situation. The decision-making process at the «security council» is established through anonymous voting procedure: which by default eliminates accountability of its individual members for whichever illegal activity they may administer. As of May 2020, the «security council» of Belarus is built up of 20 people, mostly current or former state security and army officers – with many of them sharing strong pro-Russian views.
The so-called «Decree on protection of sovereignty and constitutional order» signed by Aliaksandr Lukashenka should be considered null and void as this individual is not entitled to change national legislation and has no right to act in official capacity on the behalf of the Republic of Belarus since Fall 2020 as he is not recognized the president of Belarus both internationally and internally. This document has no legal power as it directly violates the Article 89 of Belarus constitution that clearly says that if the president is unable to continue his work (i.e. in case of death), the power is transferred directly from a president to a prime-minister. Article 89 of the Constitution can not be changed without a referendum, and even if Lukashenka will initiate any kind of referendum, it will remain illegal anyways.
Popular Telegram channels in Belarus acknowledge that since late 2020 Lukashenka is building a de-facto state of «internal occupation» with civil and military administration treating and targeting civilians as an occupying power that separates itself from the majority of the population and is entirely illegal. The judiciary, legislature, and law enforcement systems in Belarus are entirely transformed into tools of repressions and focus on political cases. The civil population is denied all forms of public political expression as people face severe punishments based on colors of clothes and in staged provocations used to increase law enforcement statistics of politically-motivated arrests. In such conditions, street activism become an extremely dangerous endeavor.
The number of political prisoners grew to 370 people, close to 4 times more than in previous 26 years of Lukashenka’s authoritarian rule. At least 12 journalists and 4 human rights lawyers and volunteers of human rights group «Viasna» (Marfa Rabkova, Andrei Chapiuk, Leanid Sudalenka and Tatsiana Lasitsa) remain in detention for performing their professional duties.
DEHUMANIZATION OF CIVILIANS AND URGE TO VIOLENCE BY STATE-CONTROLLED MEDIA
We note growing expansion of dehumanization and hate speech practices on state media that are fully controlled by Lukashenka and his office. We notice similar notions in public communication of state agencies (especially, the ministry of interior), governmental organizations, Telegram-channels affiliated with the regime, and social media accounts of state officials (in at least one case, a public official from Minsk Region reportedly used a popular social network to threaten a group of civilians to murder them for their political preferences). The above mentioned forms of public communication are endorsed by the office of Aliaksandr Lukashenka, and are aimed at violent mobilization of his radical followers among the state security and promote impunity for crimes targeting civilians who dare to criticize Lukashenka in public.
Since recently, state security and state-owned media compare all critics of Lukashenka to international terrorists. Earlier this month, the vice-minister of internal affairs Mikalai Karpiankou (Nikolai Karpenkov) has announced that the ministry of interior will deal with political opponents of current regime in a fashion similar to the murder of Osama bin Laden and Palestinian terrorists. State television host Aliaksei Holikau (Alexei Golikov) who runs a prime-time hate speech show on the evening news at state-run CTV channel, endorses executions of women and children conducted by Nazi soldiers during WW2, and the idea of shooting critics of Lukashenka «in their foreheads». These are just a few examples of latest systemic daily urge to violence promoted by state television across Belarus.
While urging violence through state television, Lukashenka regime is creating unbearable conditions for the last independent print newspapers that cover political topics. The publishers are denied access to state-owned print services across the country while private companies are forced to reject their offers in anticipation of unavoidable reprisals. Eight remaining independent newspapers faced unbearable obstacles in their work after August 9, 2020. For instance, they were denied access to print press distribution and delivery systems (both are monopolized by the state). Most of them were forced to give up on their print versions and went entirely online although their audiences were predominantly the elderly who either didn’t have access to Internet or had difficulties with using modern technologies.
As repressions expand, the representatives of national movement raise their concerns about growing use of violent and repressive practices unseen in Belarus since the times of 1941-1944 Nazi occupation – such as intentional and systemic continuous use of torture (that never ended since August 2020), such as the use of chlorine to poison prisoners and cause respiratory systems burns in detention centers across the country, but foremost in Minsk and Zhodzina. Recent comparisons of Lukashenka’s regime with Hitler’s domestic policies rise new concerns about early sentiments of Lukashenka as a politician.
At the rise of his career, Lukashenka praised Adolf Hitler and made public statements about Hitler’s legacy as the best practice of presidential rule. For instance, in an interview published in the November 23, 1995 issue of the Duesseldorf daily Handelsblatt, Lukashenka publicly supported Hitler’s domestic policies and stated on the record that Hitler’s regime corresponds with Lukashenka’s understanding of «a presidential republic and the role of a president in it».
LUKASHENKA REALIZES HIS UNPOPULARITY, BUT WON'T RESIGN UNTIL HE IS FORCED TO DO SO
On May 9th Lukashenka publicly urged the national movement to end «unnecessary» confrontation with him. This announcement should not mislead politicians, diplomats and experts abroad. Lukashenka’s words have nothing to do with reality: only in April 2021, over 300 civilians were detained on political grounds. Lukashenka expresses no signs of dialogue whatsoever. Remaining in power is his ultimate consideration since mid-1990s, and it never changed.
Inside Belarus, Lukashenka’s call for end of resistance was treated as his first public acknowledgement of own unpopularity and an effort to trade for his future – for the first time in 9 months. Lukashenka’s political weakness should be further utilized both nationally and abroad, and his positions should be further weakened – foremost, by sanctioning the «moneybags» of Lukashenka in Belarus, Russian businesses related to the regime in Minsk, and launching new criminal cases against the perpetrators of human rights in Belarus. The United States should now take the lead in further expansion of sanctions and international criminal prosecution of Lukashenka and his subordinates responsible for crimes against the humanity.
Lukashenka’s positions are getting worse internally as 2020 data shows that his subordinates manipulated the COVID-19 statistics. According to the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation (IHME, Seattle WA), Belarus has one of the worst per capita death tolls in the world with 459.6 deaths per 100,000 of its population. The official data published by the ministry of health of Belarus for 2020 is believed to have real statistics intentionally decreased by 10 to 30 times.
On 4 May, 2021 Lukashenka publicly stated that «Europeans and Americans are total bastards, who have done nothing to help us fight COVID». As in many other cases of Lukashenka’s controversial public stand-ups, state news agency BelTA and state media intentionally removed this sentence from English translation of official scripts to sugarcoat his speech for foreign audiences. iSANS team identified over $85 million worth of help provided by the United States, the EU and individual European countries to Belarus in 2020. Which is yet another reminder that Lukashenka will humiliate the West despite any efforts to build «pragmatic» cooperation with him and his close circle.