- COVID19 SITUATION HAS WORSENED SIGNIFICANTLY, LUKASHENKA REMAINS IN DENIAL
- MIGRATION CRISIS
- LUKASHENKA REGIME FACES EXCLUSION FROM U.N. ECOLOGICAL TREATIES
- GUBOPIK ASPIRES TO ENFORCE ILLEGAL REVOCATION OF CITIZENSHIP
COVID19 SITUATION HAS WORSENED SIGNIFICANTLY, LUKASHENKA REMAINS IN DENIAL
The situation with COVID-19 in Belarus is getting out of control. «The ministry of health» in Lukashenka’s government provides unreliable data on the number of people infected.
Past week, Belarusian Telegram channels have been publishing photos of overcrowded hospitals, where patients are being kept in corridors and canteens, and overfilled morgues that store corpses outside. Due to the spike in new cases, on October 9, a mandatory mask regime was introduced in Belarus for the first time since the beginning of the pandemic. Minsk City Hall has introduced mandatory vaccination for delivery and taxi drivers.
On October 18, the acting «Health Ministry» temporarily suspended all planned medical treatments – examinations, rehabilitation care, physiotherapy procedures, treatment in day care units, planned dental care, etc. 30% of beds in Belarusian hospitals have been repurposed for patients with coronavirus infection. On October 21, Babruisk in Mahiliou region became the first Belarusian city to impose restrictions on the unvaccinated people (they have been forbidden to visit entertainment venues at night).
In response, Lukashenka, known for his denial of COVID19 pandemic, ordered to lift all restrictions, and said that the coronavirus is in fact a cure for cancer, as the number of cancer patients has dropped in the past year. All restrictions were lifted immediately.
At least 8 people died and many more are reported missing by their families as migration crisis expands. The United Nations report worsening conditions that may cause new chain of deaths. Despite freezing temperatures (on Sunday, first snow fell in North-East of Belarus), Minsk regime would unlikely refrain from blackmailing the EU with migrants. Hence, the EU should prepare to witnessing graphic footage of dozens of people freezing to death on Europe’s borderline.
Kremlin-controlled media take the lead in disinformation campaign to blame the West for increased migrant flow. According to Vilnius-based analytical center DebunkEU, in September 2021 Sputnik, RIA Novosti, Lenta.ru, and other pro-Kremlin outlets provided over 70% of fake or misleading content in their publications on migration crisis. The behavior of Kremlin-controlled media outlets serves as yet another argument of Russia’s support of artificial migration crisis.
While only nearly 5100 migrants entered the EU through the Mediterranean Sea in 2021, Poland and the Baltic states have already reported nearly 22,000 attempts to illegally cross their borders from the side of Belarus by third-country migrants. These people enter Belarus through «migrantion tours», receive Belarus visas, and are assisted by Belarus military that sends truckloads of asylum seekers to the border with Poland and the Baltics – and thus is a part of human trafficking scheme.
The EU began to discuss new response to the artificial migration crisis created by Lukashenka, but its decision-making is still very slow. Although large-scale human trafficking is clearly endorsed by the Minsk regime, the EU refrains from bringing charges against Lukashenka and his regime despite legal non-recognition of Lukashenka in any official capacity. Overall, the perceived effectiveness of EU sanctions is decreasing, according to recently published results of ZOiS online survey.
Hence, the EU must be a lot faster and harsher to make its sanctions policies effective – and perceived as such. As the fifth package of the EU sanctions and increasing pressure on certain airlines is being agreed upon, there’s growing concerns that new sanctions would again include numerous loopholes and exclusions for the Lukashenka regime.
UNHCR calls on all states in the region to end stalemate at Belarus-EU border. However, international organizations (and, foremost, UN bodies in Minsk) should put pressure on Minsk regime to end state-sponsored human trafficking and stop weaponizing migrants as a form of hybrid warfare against its EU and NATO neighbors (instead of blaming Poland and the Baltic states for their national defense action). Despite certain limitations on asylum seekers from the third countries, the Baltics and Poland consistently harbor Belarus nationals who were forced to leave the country due to repressions and now seek political asylum.
Minsk regime clearly stated the migration crisis is a response to sanctions regime. Now it not only destabilizes political systems of both the EU and NATO on their Eastern flank, but it also creates favorable conditions for the growing support of the far-right inside the EU – who have long been the most welcoming allies of the Kremlin in the region. This requires more attention – also because Lukashenka and Putin extended agreements on two Russian military facilities in Belarus (with one of them located near Polish border).
NATO allies in the Baltics also express reasonable concern that Russia can be using Belarus to transit its Middle Eastern (foremost, Syrian) agents into the EU and destabilize the Union. To secure its border, Poland has nearly doubled its troop presence on the border with Belarus since last week. Now, close to 6,000 Polish soldiers take part in borderline patrols. The country that now faces the largest influx of migrants hopes that the EU will introduce new sanctions against Minsk regime as soon as possible.
This year, 5,000 to 6,000 came to Germany via Belarus and Poland. As three German states bordering Poland (Brandenburg, Mecklenburg-Western Pomerania and Saxony) report larger influx of migrants, there is hope that Germany will speed up European reaction to current migration crisis. However, recent news about attempts of Belgian officials to ease sanctions against Lukashenka regime, expose bitter truth. 14 months into the most violent repression in 50 years of European history, certain EU member states are still missing out on policy against the most repressive tyranny in Europe and treat business deals above declared human rights concerns.
In his latest publication for the Atlantic Council, Brian Whitmore highlights that recent actions of the Putin-Lukashenka axis of autocrats «represent a security crisis that demands more urgency from both the EU and NATO than we have seen thus far».
LUKASHENKA REGIME FACES EXCLUSION FROM U.N. ECOLOGICAL TREATIES
Over 270 NGOs have been purged and criminalized in Belarus since July. In response to crackdown against ecological NGOs, members of the U.N.’s Aarhus Convention (on access to justice in environmental matters) voted to threaten the suspension of Belarus’ rights and privileges under this international treaty. The decision has become the first such vote in two decades of the convention’s history.
If Lukashenka regime will not cancel the liquidation of Ecodom (a Minsk-based ecological NGO shut down during the anti-NGO campaign announced by Uladzimir Makei), Belarus will face serious consequences in relation to its ecology-related membership in Aarhus Convention and nearly 20 ecology-related treaties. Ecology experts questioned by iSANS share thoughts that Belarus nuclear program may, too, face the consequences.
GUBOPIK ASPIRES TO ENFORCE ILLEGAL REVOCATION OF CITIZENSHIP
Although Belarus Constitution prohibits the state from revoking Belarus citizenship, the acting «Interior Ministry» proposed to revoke citizenship of those Belarusians who “fled the country and work in the interests of the West.” Relevant amendments to national laws have already entered into force in June. According to them, Belarusians found guilty of extremism, terrorism and crimes causing “damage to the interests of Belarus” can be stripped of their citizenship. So far, however, the measure only applies to those who have acquired citizenship by ways other than birthright.
Now, the Interior Ministry wants to extend this measure to the Belarusian citizens by birth. “People who fled our country, hate it and work in the interests of Western countries should not have the right to be called Belarusians,” said Vyachaslau Arlouski, head of the infamous GUBOPiK unit of the Interior Ministry. The Ministry also announced the upcoming publication of personal details of “extremists” (both citizens of Belarus and foreigners).