POLITICAL ACTIVITY AND ECONOMY
Post-election protests now continue for 30 consecutive days. On 7 September, grand rallies for resignation of Lukashenka and new elections took place in Minsk and most large towns of Belarus – including Hrodna, Brest, Baranavichy, Homiel, Vitsebsk, and Mahiliou. At least 100,000 joined the protest rally in Minsk on Sunday.
On Monday, September 7, one of the most prominent activists (and a member of the presidium of the Coordination Council on Power Transition), Ms. Maryia Kalesnikova, was kidnapped in Minsk downtown around 10:05 a.m. local time. Maryia’s relatives filed a complaint about her disappearance. All state security institutions deny or do not comments on their connection to enforced disappearance of Ms. Kalesnikava. Minutes after Maryia was kidnapped, her colleagues Anton Radniankou and Ivan Kraucou (both representing the Coordination Council) were detained. State Control Committee conducted a search at Kraucou’s apartment.
Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya reacted on the abduction of her fellow teammate: ‘The authorities are engaged in terror, there is no other word for it. The abductions of Maryia Kalesnikava, Anton Radniankou and Ivan Krautsou are an attempt to disrupt the work of the Coordination Council and intimidate its members’.
The Coordination Council demanded the immediate release of all detainees, and required the confirmation of the possibility of the free return for Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya and two members of the Coordination Council’s presidium who yet remain abroad.
Viktar Babaryka’s lawyer, Dzmitry Layeuski, claims that now more legal experts are calling to recognize the post-election police violence in Belarus an act of genocide under the national law (Art. 128 of the Criminal Code) due to ongoing torture and beatings of peaceful protesters and people in detention.
Now, only two (out of seven) members of the Coordination Council presidium remain at large inside the country: lawyer Maxim Znak and Nobel Prize awardee Sviatlana Alexievich. Two members of the Council are now in Poland (Ms. Volha Kavalkova had taken refuge in Poland amid threats of imprisonment, and Pavel Latushka reported threats of imprisonment). Two more are already in jail, and one (Kalesnikava) is now missing. Maxim Znak acknowledges that state violence has reached the level of what can be treated a ‘legality default’.
Hydro-testing of the reactor has begun in plant first power unit of the Belarusian Nuclear Power Plant. Despite severe political crisis and internal instability, Lukashenka did not order to halt NPP pre-launch services.
Belnaftakhim (a state-owned concern for Belarusian Oil Chemistry) confirmed the beginning of preparations and negotiations for the transfer of Belarusian oil products export from Klaipeda (Lithuania) to Russian seaports. This work has started after the Baltic countries introduced personal sanctions against 31 Belarusian nationals responsible for rigging elections and orchestrating police violence. The Minister of Energy of Russia Alexander Novak earlier said Belarus up to 4 million tons of oil a year to transfer to Russian ports.
The state reserves of Belarus fell by almost $ 1.5 billion in August 2020. They amounted to $ 7.457 billion as of September 1. Worsening situation generates new propagandistic narratives. Last week, Belarusian state TV broadcasted a record that was represented as an ‘intercepted’ conversation between Berlin and Warsaw on the subject of Navalny’s poisoning. Germany and Poland responded to accusation – the information was denied and labelled a ‘fake’.
Business is getting nervous amid growing uncertainty. Kaspars Rozkalns, the Director General at Investment and Development Agency of Latvia, said that a hundred commercial companies from Belarus is now considering relocation to Latvia, while 10 more are already in the process of relocation. More and more IT businesses evacuate their teams to Ukraine, Poland, and Lithuania.
Meanwhile, the mortality rate in Belarus in June 2020 beat five-year record, according to data provided to the UN by Belarus for the first half of the running year. In June 2020, the number of deaths by 3,753 cases exceeded the last year’s figures for the same month (13,016 vs. 9,263). This data may likely reveal the actual numbers of COVID19 lethal cases that the Ministry of Health manipulated on numerous occasions (often – by not mentioning COVID-19 as the reason of death when the patient was infected, against WHO requirements). In April-June 2020, the average number of deaths in Belarus grew by close to 5,000 deaths compared to the same period in 2019. Moreover, the number of deaths on a graph is gradually increasing within Q2 2020 statistics which has not the case in pre-COVID times.
Germany demands to know whereabouts of ‘kidnapped’ opposition figure Maria Kolesnikova.
Lithuanian Minister of Foreign Affairs Linas Linkevicius described the persecution and abductions of the representatives of the Coordination Council as ‘Stalinist NKVD methods applied in 21st century’s Europe’.
EU Minister for Foreign Affairs Josep Borrell Fontelles called ’arbitrary arrests and kidnappings on political grounds’ in Belarus ‘unacceptable’.
The Ambassador of Ukraine to Belarus, H.E. Igor Kizim, returned to Minsk after consultations at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Ukraine. In mid-August, he was recalled from Minsk for consultations following a scandal when Belarus refused to extradite captured PMC ‘Wagner’ employees to Ukraine, and sent them back to Russia instead. The return of Kizim to Belarus does not change the fact that all relations between Ukraine and Belarus have been put on hold at the initiative of Kyiv due to potential reputation costs for Ukraine.
Since August 9, over 10,000 people have been detained across the country, or faced arbitrary arrests. On September 6 only, 633 protesters were detained across Belarus according to the interior ministry (102 of them – in Hrodna). Human rights centre Visna was able to identify at least 200 names of last weekends’s detainees. The police again acted violent, many people were beaten or detained for no reasonable reason. This past weekend brought the largest detention campaign since August 12 events.
To avoid arrests on Sunday in Minsk, some people jumped into Svislach river after they were chased by the aggressive groups of OMON and internal forces. All local lifesavers (6 to 8 people) who were at the scene and helped people out of cold water, were later arrested and driven to Akrestsina detention centre.
Colonel Mikalai Karpiankou (The head of the Main Directorate for Combating Organized Crime and Corruption of the Ministry of Internal Affairs / ГУБОПиК) led arbitrary arrests in Niamiha area on Sunday. He was personally involved – when people searched for a refuge inside O’Petite cafe, Karpiankou personally chased the civilians, and smashed the glass in a cafe with a baton – only to arrest people hiding inside the cafe. One of the people detained under Karpiankou’s personal commandment is an IT manager Kanstantin Kanopka who earlier published a bold appeal to Aliaksandr Lukashenka asking him to stop persecuting his rivals, and to resign.
In the last 4 weeks, more and more mysterious deaths happen, and people tend to connect them to a crackdown against the protesters. The body of 25-year-old Aliaksei Dziamidau was found on the edge of the Serabranka district in the morning of September 5. The circumstances of his death are unclear even to close relatives who reported severe injuries on his body, but the preliminary death certificate states the young man died of poisoning by an undetected substance.
Internal Affairs Minister Yuri Karayeu defended the actions of his employees: ‘I want to say this: there are no more humane, restrained and cool-headed police anywhere in the world’.