Belarus Review by iSANS – November 2, 2021

Belarus Review by iSANS – November 2, 2021

Your insight into Belarus crisis

Andrew Keymaster / Unsplash
01.11.2021 iSANS
  1. CRIMES AGAINST HUMANITY IN BELARUS: UNIVERSAL JURISDICTION
  2. «REFERENDUM» PLANS ANNOUNCED
  3. MIGRATION CRISIS: LATEST DEVELOPMENTS
  4. MIGRATION CRISIS: DIPLOMATIC REACTIONS OUTSIDE OF THE EU
  5. FINANCIAL SITUATION
  6. ATTACK ON LAWYERS AND DE-FACTO BAN OF PRIVATELY-OWNED ADVOCATE PRACTICES
  7. NEW REPRESSIVE MEASURES AGAINST CIVILIANS AND FOREIGN ORGANIZATIONS

CRIMES AGAINST HUMANITY IN BELARUS: UNIVERSAL JURISDICTION

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 European Center for Constitutional and Human Rights (ECCHR) and the World Organization Against Torture (OMCT) are filing a criminal complaint with the Attorney General in Germany against six named, high-ranking members of the Belarusian security apparatus for crimes against humanity.

«REFERENDUM» PLANS ANNOUNCED

«Eternal» head of Lukashenka’s «elections commission» who remains in office since 1996, and was in charge of all rigged elections in Belarus after the rise of Lukashenka, announced that the only question in the so-called referendum will be formulated as «Do you support changes to the constitution». The question is manipulative by nature, while poor legal grounds and violations of procedures of the so-called «referendum» organized by a self-declared «president» underline lack of legitimacy and legality of this process.

MIGRATION CRISIS: LATEST DEVELOPMENTS

On Monday, November 1, the 10th migrant was found dead in the borderline (since the summer). Another 35 year old man from Iraq was found dead in Minsk shopping center. Minsk landscapes – as well as provincial areas of Belarus change dramatically as migrants set up their camps and sleep in central streets of Minsk (an unprecedented view in post-WW2 history of Belarus).

Two Polish soldiers have been hurt as migrants were trying to assault the Belarusian-Polish border. The incident took place on Sunday evening near Usnarz Gorny where a group of about 30 migrants have been staying in a provisional camp since August. A group of some 60 migrants tried to force their way across the border from Belarus. Every 24 hours, Poland records nearly 700 attempts to cross the border illegally by third-country nations.

«Among those who were storming the border, Polish officers identified Belarusian soldiers in plain clothes who, among other things, cut the wire coils with scissors,» the spokeswoman for Polish Border Guards Anna Michalska said. The formation also posted a video showing men throwing stones and trying to break the barbed wire fence with a branch. As a result, two Polish soldiers – who were deployed to assist the Border Guards – were taken to hospital with facial injuries.

Following the incident, Poland announced plans to deploy extra 2,500 troops at the Belarusian border bringing the total number of soldiers watching the frontier to 10,000. Soldiers of the 10th Armored Cavalry Brigade will join their colleagues from 12th, 16th and 18th Mechanized Divisions.

Commenting on the decision, Lukashenka claimed that Poland «might start a war with us» and promised a tough response. «This is just another excuse to bring troops closer to the Belarusian border. We’ll wait for a while, warn them. And then we have plenty of stuff to move closer to the border. We, and especially Russia. We will react brutally, regardless of any criticism from them,» said Lukashenka during a meeting with Russian prosecutor general Igor Krasnov.

The Polish announcement came hours after Germany said it had deployed another 800 police officers to the Germany-Polish border amid the exponential growth of migrants crossing from Belarus. Since the beginning of August, at least 6162 migrants have entered Germany illegally via Belarus and Poland (over 5,000 of them – in October only). The number is growing exponentially – 474 in August, 1903 in September, 3785 in October. In his interview to the Bild am Sonntag, German CSU Interior Minister Horst Seehofer said that, if necessary, he is ready to reinforce the border even more. He also proposed joint patrols under Polish command to increase the border security, welcomed by his Polish counterpart, Mariusz Kaminski. On top of that, Seehofer called on the EU to develop a common strategy for dealing with migration and urged putting pressure on Vladimir Putin. «The key to the solution of this problem lies in Moscow,» he said.

In turn, commenting on the border crisis and the role of Belarus’s Lukashenka, the CDU Minister President of Saxony Michael Kretschmer said: «If we allow ourselves to be blackmailed by such a person, then we as the European Union have no chance.»

The record numbers of migrants reaching Germany from Belarus also attracted the attention of German far-right groups. On Sunday German police arrested some 50 members of the extreme right-wing group The Third Way (Der III. Weg) who gathered at the Germany-Polish border to prevent migrants from entering Germany. Brandenburg Police said pepper spray, bayonets, machetes and batons had been found on those arrested.

MIGRATION CRISIS: DIPLOMATIC REACTIONS OUTSIDE OF THE EU

Following the information that some Iranian nationals have been stranded on the Belarusian border, the Iranian Foreign Minister Hossein Amir Abdollahian held a phone conversation with the head of Lukashenka-controlled «MFA of Belarus» Uladzimir Makei to discuss the situation.

Tehran Times reports that Amir Abdollahian expressed his grave concerns over the situation and demanded that Belarus officials and border guards offer humanitarian cooperation for the purpose of locating the stranded Iranians and providing them with medical care. He also urged the Belarusian authorities to facilitate the Iranian embassy’s access to them in order to return them home. Amir Abdollahian said «worrisome news is making the rounds on social media regarding the situation of these people». 

Following the call, on Friday, 29 October, the delegation of high-ranked Iranian officials led by the deputy foreign minister Seyyed Kazem Sajjadi arrived to Minsk. The delegation held a meeting in the Iranian embassy with Andrei Savinykh, «a chairman of the International Committee of the National Assembly of Belarus». During the meeting Sajjadi has once again called on the Belarusian authorities to provide all the necessary help to the stranded Iranian nationals.

«The Belarusian government and authorities are expected to act responsibly and care about the lives of Iranians caught in bitter cold along that country’s border with Lithuania and Poland, and help the embassy offer humanitarian services such as providing them with blankets and warm food and help those who would like to return to their homeland,» Sajjadi noted.

Interestingly enough, both the phone call and the meeting were completely disregarded by the Belarusian state media and the Foreign Ministry’s press service. This as well as the fact that the Iranian delegation met with Savinykh instead of Makei increased the speculations that have been around since last Autumn that Savinykh could eventually succeed the «eternal foreign minister» Makei who has been in his office since 2012.

Similarly, Lukashenka regime preferred to not mention in its public materials the meeting of Lukashenka’s «ambassador» to Iraq with the prime minister of Iraqi Kurdistan who, either, criticized the behavior of Lukashenka-controlled border guards and security operatives.

FINANCIAL SITUATION

The Eurasian Fund for Stabilization and Development (EFSD) «does not rule out» a sharp increase of Belarus’ public debt in 2022 – from 46% of GDP up to 61% – as contingent liability shock might result in a surge in public financing needs.

On Wednesday, the EFSD published a paper which analyses potential risks of the implementation of direct and indirect contingent liabilities and their impact on budgetary and debt positions of the 4 EFSD-recipient countries – Armenia, Belarus, Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan. The paper emphasizes that in the case of Belarus «in the short run, a contingent liability shock would result in a surge in public financing needs. Under this pressure, the country’s borrowing needs will increase. However, given the limited international support and near closed market access, Belarus may face significant solvency and liquidity risks.»

«The modelling results show that if the risks materialize, the public debt in the Republic of Belarus <…> will increase significantly. Belarus public debt may increase to almost 61% of GDP in 2022, compared to 46% of GDP projected in the baseline scenario,» says the EFSD paper.

Belarus is currently involved in negotiations with the EFSD over a potential loan of up to $3 billion.

ATTACK ON LAWYERS AND DE-FACTO BAN OF PRIVATELY-OWNED ADVOCATE PRACTICES

The only remaining lawyer of Viktar BabarykaYeuheni Pylchenka, was stripped of his license, thus becoming the fourth (and the last) lawyer representing a jailed former presidential candidate who was banned from the profession.

Prior to that, on October 25, the Minsk Bar Association disbarred another Babaryka’s defender, Natalia Matskevich. Earlier, in July, days after Babaryka was sentenced to 14 years in prison for «grand bribery» and «laundering of illicit funds», the authorities stripped his then-lawyer Dmitry Layeusky of his attorney’s license, citing «inappropriate comments about the work of his colleagues.» The same happened to Aliaksandr Pylchenka, another prominent member of Babaryka’s defense team whose license was terminated by the Justice Ministry in October 2020 over supposed «incompetent comments to mass media».

At least 27 Belarusian lawyers have already been banned or suspended in reprisal for defending prominent opposition figures or speaking out against the repressions. In November, new restrictive amendments are expected to enter into force which will further increase the Ministry of Justice’s authority over Belarusian lawyers.

NEW REPRESSIVE MEASURES AGAINST CIVILIANS AND FOREIGN ORGANIZATIONS

In a new wave of crackdown on independent media and civil society, Lukashenka’s «interior ministry» has classified three of the country’s most popular Telegram channels – NEXTA, NEXTA Live and LUXTA – as «extremist organizations», effectively deeming 1.4 million of its followers in Belarus, Russia and elsewhere as extremists.

«The Ministry of Internal Affairs has made a decision to recognize a group of citizens carrying out extremist activities through the Telegram channels NEXTA, NEXTA-Live and LUXTA, an extremist organization and prohibiting its activities,» the «ministry» announced in a statement. Previously, anyone who shared content from NEXTA channels risked a fine or detention for up to 30 days. Under new regulations, the subscribers could potentially be prosecuted for participating in an extremist organization – which entails up to seven years in prison.

This week, Lukashenka’s subordinates have also classified as «extremist» and/or blocked a number of smaller Telegram channels and major media, including Deutsche Welle, Current Time, and others. Lukashenka’s «Ministry of Information» stated on its website that access to Deutsche Welle as well as several other news portals had been restricted because they allegedly linked to websites spreading «extremist material». Needless to say, the regime systematically labels critical materials as «extremism», while dissidents are called either «extremists» or «terrorists». The applications of these terms and relevant legislation violates international law.

Last Friday, the U.S. Embassy in Minsk said in a statement that it was forced by the authorities to close its humanitarian and outreach programs – Public Diplomacy and U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) offices, as well as the American Center in Minsk. «These actions reflect the Belarusian authorities’ deep insecurities about the role of diplomacy, people-to-people ties, and independent civil society,» the Embassy commented.

Best regards,
iSANS team

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