- iSANS PARTICIPATES IN THE U.S. HELSINKI COMMISSION HEARINGS
- ON THE GROUND SITUATION OVERVIEW
- POSSIBLE DRONE ATTACK OF OMON BASE BY AN UNDERGROUND RESISTANCE GROUP
- NEW DEATHS ON THE BORDER AS LUKASHENKA REGIME CONTINUES TO SUPPORT ILLEGAL MIGRATION
- THE REGIME IS PESSIMISTIC ABOUT ITS ECONOMIC PLANS
- MYSTERIOUS FLIGHT TO SOCHI
iSANS PARTICIPATES IN THE U.S. HELSINKI COMMISSION HEARINGS
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).
On September 21, iSANS representative Serge Kharytonau delivered his witness testimony to the U.S. Helsinki Commission. His testimony was focused on the systemic use of hate speech and incitement to violence against civilians in Belarus publicly-funded media.
As of September 2021, systemic use of hate speech and incitement to political violence in Belarus publicly-funded media is only comparable to malign practices of parties to Yugoslav wars at the time of the conflict. The so-called «state media» in Belarus perform the functions of psychological operations infrastructure (or pst-ops, in military terms) and their work should be halted to avoid further violent escalation of Belarus crisis. The complete text of Mr. Kharytonau’s testimony as well as relevant recommendations are available here. Please, contact iSANS if you seek additional details on this testimony.
During the hearings, David J. Kramer (Senior Fellow, Steven J. Green School of International & Public Affairs Florida International University) suggested that the West «should go after the so-called wallets or moneybags, individuals connected to Lukashenka who prop him up financially. These include Russian figures who have been instrumental in Lukashenka’s staying power, as well as Belarusians».
Mr. Kramer suggested sanctioning Russia-owned RT, VTB, VEB, Gazprombank, Gazprom, Slavneft, Rosneft and Uralkali as well as certain Russian individuals who played critical role in Lukashenka’s recent illegal activity. In addition to that, Mr. Kramer suggested addressing Middle Eastern partners of the United States (foremost – the UAE that play special role in Lukashenka’s corrupt activity) with a deal: to trade with Lukashenka or trade with the rest of the world, including the United States. The complete written testimony of Mr. Kramer is available here. Please, contact iSANS if you seek additional details on this testimony.
ON THE GROUND SITUATION OVERVIEW
The crisis in Belarus lasts for 13 months and 3 weeks now. As of September 27, 685 individuals in Belarus are considered political prisoners (+26 people in the past 3 weeks). In the past few weeks the situation with mass arrests is particularly concerning in Babruisk where at least individuals have been arrested on the charges of «terrorism». The pressure increases on representatives of unions. At least 13 members of workers’ movement have been detained by the KGB over the last few days. Political repressions against workers became a systemic daily practice with Belarus ranked as one of the world’s ten worst countries for working people, with «no guarantee of rights» on 2021 ITUC Global Rights Index.
In the above-mentioned attack on unions, workers from different enterprises across the country (including Grodno Azot, BMZ Steelworks, Belarusian railways) were detained past week. Some of these people are now in the KGB pre-trial detention facilities. According to the relatives and friends of the detainees, the searches were carried out under the charges of «treason against the motherland».
It is important to highlight that during the so called «detentions» or «checks» the members of formally state security and law enforcement organizations do not comply with legal requirements of local or international regulations for such acts, and intentionally damage or destroy private property, housing facilities, and personal belongings of civilians. Often, the activity of formally «governmental» groups is indistinguishable from Tzarist or Nazi pogroms when private property of civilians is destroyed without any legal grounds, but purely for the sake of police entertainment, as well as a way of intimidation or humiliation of civilians. In certain cases, illegal activity of state security and Lukashenka’s near circle leads to intentional murders of civilians, according to BYPOL findings and leaked phone call recordings of high-rank officials acquired by Cyperpartisans – leading high-tech group focused on hacks of state security systems of Lukashenka’s security units and state bureaucracy.
The United Nations Human Rights Council officially confirmed that the human rights situation in Belarus is getting worse throughout 2021.The monitoring of violations is becoming even harder as Lukashenka’s security units continue systemic repressions against human rights lawyers, volunteers, and activists.
In response to recent publications by the UN on human rights collapse in the Republic of Belarus, the so-called «minister of foreign affairs» own Lukashenka’s team, Uladzimir Makei, publicly admitted on Belteleradiocompany’s TV broadcast that he threatened the UN Secretary-General António Guterres to publish materials on how the UN funded protests in Belarus if the United Nations will continue publishing materials that expose facts of human rights abuses in Belarus. The conversation allegedly took place during their personal meeting in New York past week. Any publications on that matter that can be published by the acting «MFA of Belarus» controlled by Lukashenka in the meanwhile should be treated null and void.
POSSIBLE DRONE ATTACK OF OMON BASE BY AN UNDERGROUND RESISTANCE GROUP
Despite demolition of media and NGO landscape, continuous violence against civil population, and torture of political hostages that never stopped since August 2020, new forms of resistance are handed to detect. Neighbors gather in their «yard communities» to continue peaceful «minor sabotage» activity while a few anonymous groups claim to prepare for armed resistance. On September 25, one of such groups referring to themselves as «Black Stork» claimed a successful attack on OMON base in Minsk (OMON are state security units that are the most violent during the protests).
The group (that still keeps the identity of its members anonymous) claims the attack was conducted with the use of a drone armed with two improvised explosive devices (IEDs) that presumably contained liquid fuel and were dropped on OMON base from drone flight altitude. Although the video of what is claimed to be a drone attack in Minsk, was published online (available here), over the last 48 hours there has been no official reaction from Lukashenka’s «ministry of interior».
As of September 27, we are yet unable to confirm whether this attack took place in Minsk OMON base, and / or whether it was conducted by an underground resistance group or is an armed provocation organized and promoted by Lukashenka’s security units.
NEW DEATHS ON THE BORDER AS LUKASHENKA REGIME CONTINUES TO SUPPORT ILLEGAL MIGRATION
On Sunday, 19 September, Polish border guards reported three dead bodies have been found on the Belarus-Poland border. Another dead body was found the same day on the Belarusian side. All four victims are believed to be migrants trying to illegally enter the EU with the assistance of the acting Minsk-based authorities. The cause of death in all four cases is hypothermia as the night temperatures drop below 5C. Another migrant died on Thursday, 23 September, 500 m from the Belarusian border, and has become the fifth lethal victim of Lukashenka-controlled migration crisis in less than a week.
Polish news outlets report that the Polish government is planning to extend current state of emergency along the Belarusian border for another 60 days. Poland admits that the situation on the border hasn’t stabilized. On the contrary, in recent days the border guards have been registering record numbers of illegal border crossings from the territory of Belarus. Over 4,000 migrants tried to cross the Poland-Belarus border in September – compared to nearly 3,500 in August).
The number of migrants who have managed to successfully reach Germany and apply for asylum there also spikes. Bild reports that over 1,100 migrants who are believed to have illegally entered the EU from Belarus are now being kept in a detention center outside Berlin. The detention center’s administration says that nearly 850 migrants have arrived from Belarus since the beginning of August: 350 in August and 500 in September. The number increases every day: 40 people arrived on Monday, 69 on Tuesday and 80 on Wednesday last week.
UNHCR and IOM expressed verbal reactions, but little pressure on the acting regime in Minsk both inside the country or at international level.
THE REGIME IS PESSIMISTIC ABOUT ITS ECONOMIC PLANS
Yury Seliverstau (the so-called «minister of finance» in Lukashenka’s acting government) admitted that the budget for 2022 is planned to have a deficit of BYN 3 bn ($ 1,2 bln). The acting members of the Ministry of Finance predict that local budgets will remain in deficit until 2022, while the republican budget will remain in deficit until 2025. This year the situation is even worse. By the end of 2021, the representatives of the regime expect a national budget deficit of BYN 6 bn ($2.4 bn).
Over the last 9 months this figure has increased three times. In 2020, the expected deficit was almost three times lower.The debts of state-owned enterprises have exceeded Belarus’s GDP. Given that the Western economic sanctions haven’t come into effect yet, the prospects of the Belarusian economy are beginning to look increasingly dire even ahead of the upcoming halt of potash trade.
Last week, Lukashenka said that one of the most burning issues for the acting «ministry of industry» is what he treats as the «presence of Western spies» at Belarusian state-owned enterprises. According to Lukashenka, «Western spies» collect information about how respective enterprises circumvent sanctions and pass this information over to Western intelligence agencies. Lukashenka added that a number of «Western spies» have already been identified and that he will make sure they won’t get out of prison in a long time. These words were said a day after Lukashenka launched a crackdown on trade union activists and striking workers.
Independent economists, in turn, estimate the loss of GDP in first six months of 2020 at a scale of nearly 6% due to sanctions.
Meanwhile, Belarus announces it will soon launch the second reactor of Astravets nuclear power station. The first reactor, however, remains under repair since mid-July when it was stopped following a local emergency. By then, it only worked for slightly half a year.
MYSTERIOUS FLIGHT TO SOCHI
On Friday last week, Lukashenka secretly flew to Sochi «for a private visit». Russian news agencies reported that Lukashenka came to the city on a private visit. Allegedly to attend the Russian Formula 1 Grand Prix taking place on weekend. At the same time, Lukashenka’s «state media» remain silent as to Lukashenka’s whereabouts. Some Belarusian media noticed that this mysterious visit took place right after Vladimir Putin held a meeting with Russia’s Security Council. The agenda of the meeting was proposed by Putin: «the Union State with Belarus».
The suspicion that it is not just a holiday trip is also heightened by the fact that following Lukashenka, the head of Belarus’ State Border Committee general Anatol Lapa also flew to Sochi. On Friday night, the PM’s urgent approval of his travel order was published. As of Monday morning, no official comment followed.
Putin could be rushing his last ally to push certain steps that Lukashenka, however, will continue to oppose or slow down to his own comfort to keep his personal power above anything else. But as Brian Whitmore (Atlantic Council) puts it, «Like the Ukrainians before them, Belarusians are now continuing the breakup of the Soviet Union». And although Putin has his own opinion on what Belarus means for him (and so Lukashenka has his own), he can’t anymore ignore the subjectivity of Belarusian nation that seeks its way into Europe without Lukashenka (as well as without any integration with Russia).