Belarus Review by iSANS – October 11, 2021

Belarus Review by iSANS – October 11, 2021

Your insight into Belarus crisis

Dmitry Levkovets / Unsplash
13.10.2021 iSANS
  1. OCCRP EXPOSES A DEAL BETWEEN TWO MEMBERS OF LUKASHENKA'S «INNER CIRCLE»
  2. THREE EU COMPANIES ALLEGEDLY INVOLVED IN GUN SALES TO BELARUS
  3. INTERNATIONAL TRIBUNAL FOR LUKASHENKA AND HIS SUBORDINATES
  4. MIGRATION CRISIS: POLAND REPORTS SHOTS FIRED FROM BELARUSIAN SIDE
  5. LEGISLATIVE «AVALANCHE»
  6. ECONOMIC SITUATION IS EXPECTED TO SERIOUSLY WORSEN IN 2022
  7. MOSCOW AND MINSK IN THE NEXT TWO YEARS
  8. REPRESSIONS RISE AFTER A SHOOTOUT INCIDENT
  9. HUMAN RIGHTS GROUPS SWIPED OFF THE LANDSACAPE

OCCRP EXPOSES A DEAL BETWEEN TWO MEMBERS OF LUKASHENKA'S «INNER CIRCLE»

Documents from the Pandora Papers — a massive leak of nearly 12 million documents from 14 offshore corporate service providers — are reported to have proved that the two Belarusians, a major tycoon Alexander Zingman and Siarhei Sheiman (the son of Lukashenka’s most trusted ally, Viktar Sheiman), used jointly-owned shell companies in the Seychelles and the U.K. to mask their involvement and the conflict of interest at the heart of the deal involving gold mining in Zimbabwe. This publication should be of particular interest for the financial regulators of the U.S., the U.K., Canada, the E.U., and their international partners.

THREE EU COMPANIES ALLEGEDLY INVOLVED IN GUN SALES TO BELARUS

Brussels-based online outlet EUobserver reports at least three EU-based firms that «are suspected of trying to smuggle arms to Belarus and Russia, in what might be the tip of a larger black market».

INTERNATIONAL TRIBUNAL FOR LUKASHENKA AND HIS SUBORDINATES

The European Parliament expressed its support of further discussions about a possible international tribunal for human rights violations in Belarus to be set up in The Hague (see Section T-36). The idea of international tribunal must be simultaneously supported by targeting Lukashenka’s Russian enablers, writes Brian Whitmore in his latest publication for the Atlantic Council:

Whitmore suggests targeting major Russian enablers of Lukashenka regime (such as German Gref, the CEO of Russia’s SBERBANK), while acting simultaneously on various international fronts: for instance, suspending Belarus membership at the United Nations Council of the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO).

Meanwhile, Belarus alternative police union, BYPOL, announced its plan to request suspension of Belarus membership at Interpol as it presents proofs of abuse of Interpol membership by Lukashenka’s armed groups to exercise trans border political repressions.

MIGRATION CRISIS: POLAND REPORTS SHOTS FIRED FROM BELARUSIAN SIDE

«A Belarusian patrol fired shots at Polish soldiers who were patrolling the border together with Border Guard officers»reports spokeswoman of the Polish Border Guard Anna Michalska. She added that Belarusian armed units most likely used blank ammunition. Lukashenka’s subordinates denied their participation. Amid continuous provocations and record numbers of daily attempts to cross the border, Poland decided to extend the state of emergency introduced in 183 towns along the Belarusian border for another 60 days.

On Wednesday, September 29, the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE) has adopted an urgent resolution on the creation of a «permanent body on the human rights situation in Belarus» in response to the artificial migration crisis instigated by Lukashenka. The mechanism is expected to monitor the aspects of Lukashenka’s terror rule and keep the world informed about his crimes.

The Assembly acknowledges that the migration crisis has been orchestrated by the acting Minsk-based regime in response to EU sanctions as nearly 4000 Middle Eastern, African, and Central Asian migrants fled through Belarus into Germany since August 2021 (with at least 1183 of them – in the first week of October) Poland only has recorded around 16,000 attempts to cross its border illegally with nearly 1/3 of them in October.

Poland and the Baltic states officially acknowledged Lukashenka’s endorsement of illegal migration as a «hybrid war against the EU». NATO, however, remains reluctant to respond to what is treated a «hybrid war» by the political leadership of these countries.

Meanwhile, the members of the so-called «parliament» of Belarus supported the decision to not readmit migrants from the EU. This step may worsen the ongoing borderline crisis even worse in the upcoming weeks as temperatures in the area get closer to the freezing point.

Bild reports that the German authorities are now officially investigating the involvement of the self-proclaimed «president» Lukashenka in the transportation of illegal migrants to Germany which may result in yet another case against Lukashenka as this private individual acts to coerce Europe to lift sanctions that jeopardize his de-facto rule.

LEGISLATIVE «AVALANCHE»

On October 4, the members of the so called «parliament» returned from recess and immediately passed a number of bills. Amended Criminal Code will criminalize calls for sanctions. People calling for sanctions against the Lukashenka regime can now face up to 12 years in prison.

The members of the so called «parliament» unanimously voted for the so-called «constitutional amendments» which would introduce a «single voting day» to hold future local and parliamentary elections on the same day.

This means that local elections, which were supposed to take place no later than January 18, 2022, will be postponed by a year and a half and will take place on the same day as the parliamentary elections (no later than 5 November 2023). The regime clearly realizes that any election campaign in the upcoming months will trigger mass mobilization for new wave of protests, hence this solution is taken.

Since this decision is made by the illegal and illegitimate body (the parliamentary elections of 2019 were not recognized internationally), foreign governments should consider announcing persistent non-recognition of all local governance bodies of the Republic of Belarus after January 18, 2022 due to the expiry of their mandate.

Lukashenka, nevertheless, still aims to hold a «constitution referendum» in February 2022 which should be treated null and void by default.

ECONOMIC SITUATION IS EXPECTED TO SERIOUSLY WORSEN IN 2022

Last week, Moody’s rating agency revised its outlook for Belarus and state banks from stable to negative. The agency is expecting a hard hit to Belarusian economy with American sanctions entering into force in December 2021, and new package of EU sanctions to be introduced in late October 2021.

The European Parliament urged the European Commission to introduce the fifth (in less than a year) package of the EU sanctions against Lukashenka regime as soon as possible. New package of the EU sanctions is recommended (see section U-13) to target steel, wood and chemicals sectors as well as all the remaining state-owned banks and key companies such as Belaruskali and Beltelecom in the economic sanctions package.

The European Parliament also recommended the Commission to introduce a ban imports of products which are often produced by inmates in penal colonies, and called the EU to coordinate its measures with the United States, the G7 partners and «other like-minded democracies».

The World Bank, too, has dramatically worsened its forecast for the Belarusian economy for 2022. In the previous review, the World Bank expected the Belarusian GDP to grow by 1.9% in 2022. Now, the economists expect Belarusian GDP will fall by 2.8%, thus a full-fledged recession is very likely in the Belarusian economy in 2022. One of the main reasons is the impact of sectoral economic sanctions.

Analysts expect that one of the Lukashenka’s regime’s main objectives today is to adjust to the sectoral economic sanctions. Luckily for Lukashenka, the sanctions haven’t been imposed overnight, but gradually, leaving Belarus time to adjust, find new markets, minimize the consequences – and mock the West again for its inability to react when it’s necessary and cope with the regime of a man who is often referred to as «collective farm ruler».

MOSCOW AND MINSK IN THE NEXT TWO YEARS

The election results were tallied in Moscow in September, and it is clear a new definite stage has been reached that will last until the spring of 2024. The State Duma of «eternal Putin» has been formed, and while not all the constitutional amendments of 2018 have found manifestation in legislation, the deputies have work in front of them.

A common space from the political regimes in Moscow and Minsk shows that in both countries not institutional decisions («union state») matter, but the flow of informal decisions – power and media – related to repression, with a radical withdrawal from the global political process. They, however, do not solve Lukashenka’s problems, even if he attempts to hold early elections in his favor without alternative candidates before the start of Putin’s new term.

In two new publication, Alexander Morozov (iSANS analyst, political scientist, philosopher, lecturer at Charles University, Prague) explains six factors that will drive the political dynamics in Belarus and Russia, and how August 2020 events completely transformed external perception of Belarus in Western (foremost, European) academic circles.

REPRESSIONS RISE AFTER A SHOOTOUT INCIDENT

Following a lethal shootout in Minsk that left a civilian and KGB employee dead, over just a few days nearly 200 civilians were «arrested» across Belarus in Chechnya-like campaign of intimidation and humiliation of civilians. Lukashenka-controlled media channels exploded with calls for violent reprisals and aggressive antisemitic campaign since killed civilian was reportedly Jewish.

A KGB officer was shot dead in Minsk after a group of operatives tried to break into an apartment of a 31-year-old Andrey Zeltsar. Zeltsar was killed in his apartment after he used his registered hunting rifle in self-defence. This is the first case an officer of Lukashenka’s security services killed since the beginning of the protests. Senior regime officials have insist that the incident divided Belarus into «before and after» and promised a violent «revenge».

Deputy Minister of Interior Mikalai Karpiankou stated that everyone who left negative comments regarding the death of the KGB officer «deserve nothing but physical elimination» and that «the police» will first shoot and then talk with regime opponents if they refuse to open the doors of their houses. A high-rank «parliament» official, General Oleg Belokonevurged to murder 100 civilians in exchange to the death of a KGB worker.

The regime started mass arrests of people who left negative comments regarding the death of the KGB officer or even expressed their condolences to killed civilian and his family – a practice mirroring Slobodan Milosevic’s media censorship in former Yugoslavia. Lukashenka’s subordinates go further – the victims of «arrests» were violently beaten, filmed in humiliating and deliberately dehumanizing videos, forced to beg for mercy, and now face up to 12 years in prison – for «unappreciative» social media comments related to the death of KGB worker.

Lukashenka’s armed groups launched a «dress up a freedom fighter» («наряди змагара») challenge to produce the most humiliating video of a civilian detained. The victims are stamped with stickers, forced to appear in vulgar or humiliating poses, hold various objects in their hands, with their glasses being turned upside down. All this, beyond, any doubt, passes the threshold of human treatment and torture. The practices are being widely supported and promoted by Lukashenka’s office and related groups of public propaganda, including related Telegram channels.

So far, no details of the original shootout incident have been provided. The regime only stated that Zeltsar was plotting a terrorist attack. According to available information, Zeltsar worked as a team lead in American IT company, EPAM. Based on testimonies of his friends and colleagues, Zeltsar took part in protests on a few occasions but wasn’t a hardline opposition activist. His wife who was filming the incident was detained and is reportedly tortured in detention center. She is suspected of co-organizing to murder a KGB worker who broke into the apartment of Zeltsar family.

HUMAN RIGHTS GROUPS SWIPED OFF THE LANDSACAPE

On October 1, the Belarusian Helsinki Committee (operated in the country since 1995), became the last human rights organization to be liquidated in Belarus. Earlier this year the acting civil administration liquidated other human rights groups. The crackdown on human rights organizations is a part of a large-scale regime campaign to destroy any forms of civil society in Belarus deliberately announced by Uladzimir Makei in response to the economic sanctions. Belarus is currently the only European state to have no human rights organizations operating in its territory. Membership in unregistered human rights group will is punished as criminal offense.

Best regards,
iSANS team

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