POLITICAL ACTIVITY AND ECONOMY
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A month after August 9 elections, the protests keep growing. So does the tension between state security institution and the society. More and more protesters now hold onto each other with crossed arms in a so-called scepka (‘coupling’). In Minsk, Vitsebsk, Hrodna, Baranavichy and other towns people get back their fellow protesters from the police during arbitrary detentions, and make groups of the police run away. The difference in numbers of the protesters and mobile police groups turns overwhelming. Students continue actions of solidarity inside universities on a daily basis. Now professors join them.
In the first week of September, Belarusians claimed $200 million worth of bank deposits. According to consolidated state budget, the economy will end up in deficit of $2.4 billion. State reserves lost 15% of funds in August. Interbank overnight rates grew from 3,92% (August 10) to 25,19% (8 September).
The protest movement has given birth to a new consciousness that both mobilizes and unites Belarusians. Moscow is aiming for something we have called ‘soft annexation’. However, too many Western politicians are immobilized by the expectation that Russia will invade Belarus or use repressive means to keep Lukashenka in power. To be sure, the Kremlin will not shy away from using its covert leverage to achieve its goal of soft annexation. But it will face fierce resistance from Belarusian society. In this situation, Western democracies cannot be passive or, worse, supportive of a Russian-controlled transition.
For Belarusians, such acquiescence would amount to a brutal betrayal of their hopes, substituting the current dictatorial regime with an equally brutal dictatorship by the Kremlin. Western leaders must offer full-throated support for the Belarusian democratic movement and its leader, Sviatlana Tsikhanovskaya – in a form of clearly-defined Marshall Plan for Belarus – and shape the incentives for actors on the ground waiting to see how events play out.
In their new publication for Foreign Affairs, Michael Carpenter (Managing Director of the Penn Biden Center for Diplomacy and Global Engagement, iSANS expert) and Vlad Kobets (Executive Director and Co-Founder of iSANS, the International Strategic Action Network for Security) elaborate on why there hasn’t been a better time for the West to support the protesters.
On 8 September, Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya addressed the members of the Committee on Political Affairs and Democracy of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE) via videoconference. She urged international pressure, including sanctions on Aliaksandr Lukashenka and his government. She also recalled the abductions of her comrades. According to Tsikhanouskaya, Belarus needs immediate assistance from international institutions: ‘My country, my nation, my people now need help. We need international pressure on one person who is desperately clinging to power. We need to pressure those people who gave and carried out criminal orders that violate international law and human rights’. She stated that Lukashenka has no legal grounds to remain the president.
After Tikhanovskaya’s speech, the Chairman of the International Affairs Commission of the House of Representatives of the National Assembly of Belarus Andrei Savinykh made a statement in favor of Lukashenka’s regime. Although Savinykh claimed that the parliament ‘welcomes a broad dialogue on the issue’ which is possible ’in strict compliance with our laws’, all state organizations and bodies avoid any conversation with the protesters and their leaders, and prefer to cancel all pre-arranged meetings with the voters. Moreover, state institutions violate numerous laws – including the Constitution and the Criminal Code – creating an absolute default of all national and international legal norms.
In the last few days we spotted new unidentified units wearing balaclavas and green uniform (with no identification marks whatsoever) who work along with OMON during detentions. Whether these people represent OMON or someone else yet remains unknown. It may well look like an effort of Belarusian authorities to play with ‘little green men’ narrative by dressing its own OMON in different uniforms. The videos that feature verbal communication between these people and OMON make us assume that these are indeed OMON servicemen in new uniforms that leave no opportunity to identify these people.
De-facto, the law does not work anymore in Belarus, and the old authorities are now desperately trying to impose as many repressions and illegal actions they can afford to keep Lukashenka in power. If the violence against the society will continue, Belarus will end in a state-orchestrated civil conflict between the society and state security organizations (primarily – the Ministry of Interior that plays key role in repressions, torture and enforced disappearances of the civil population). The role of the army yet remains unclear, but it will play an important role in potential conflict since the scope of backgrounds and political views in the army is overly motley, and their loyalty to Lukashenka is doubted.
On September 9, Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya arrived to Warsaw to meet local politicians (including the Prime Minister of Poland Mateusz Morawiecki) and Belarusian diaspora in Poland. Prior to that, she published a video address to the Russian people: ‘Let us not allow the propaganda to poison the relations between friendly peoples, and let’s not let the ill-considered decisions of politicians harm the interests of both Belarus and Russia. Support the Belarusian people!’.
On Tuesday evening, a march of solidarity with Maryia Kalesnikava took place in Minsk following her enforced disappearance (for details see below in repressions section). Up to 1,000 people gathered, but they were brutally dispersed. The police used gas against women, and smashed protesters on the ground and beaten.
The protesters chose new tactics after they found out the state security workers are deadly scared of publicity and deanonimization. Now, the protesters rip off the masks from the police and state security workers who immediately run away after their faces turn visible to public.
Lukashenka had an interview with four Russia’s major propagandists. He admitted that he had ‘spent a little more than necessary’ in the presidency. But then added that he may not leave the post because otherwise everything he had done for 26 years would be destroyed. Lukashenka considers male protesters in Belarus fascists. He also stated that Belarus is enforcing borers at all directions except for Russia and believes the protests in Belarus are arranged by the USA (from space!), Poland, Czech Republic, Ukraine, and Lithuania.
Lukashenka is to visit Moscow on Monday, September 14, but this date yet remains tentative, according to the Kremlin. The main issues on agenda are related to trade and economy.
Lukashenka appointed new attorney general, Andrey Shved. He is the ex-chairman of the State Forensic Examination Committee with a reputation of a man who will perform any order of the Belarusian leader.
Russian RBC holding published an article claiming Minsk sent its plan for overcoming the crisis to the OSCE and Moscow. This information was very likely leaked to RBC by patrons from the Kremlin. The plan, reportedly, includes a constitutional reform in Belarus (no later than 2022) that will weaken the power of the president in favor of the government and parliament, and re-elections after the new constitution is introduced. This plan is not acceptable – primarily because it’s goal is to keep the bureaucracy and Lukashenka in power under the cover of reforms. the plan includes no dialogue with Tsikhanouskaya and the Coordination Council who are now legitimate representatives of the people of Belarus. The so-called government of Belarus that was appointed by Lukashenka is illegal since it was set up prior to inauguration (unlike is required by law) while Lukashenka has no reasonable support that will statute his legitimacy as the president both inside and outside the country.
Latvia issued visas to 41 victim of political repressions. 5 Belarusian citizens applied for political asylum in Latvia.
Polish foreign minister Zbigniew Rau stated that changed in Belarus are inevitable because its people are not afraid of Lukashenka regime since it has no legitimacy anymore.
U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo called on the Belarusian authorities ‘to end the violence against their own people, release all those who have been unjustly detained, including U.S. citizen Vitali Shkliarov, and engage in meaningful dialogue with genuine representatives of Belarusian society’. Pompeo also stated that the US and their Allies are considering ‘additional targeted sanctions to promote accountability for those involved in human rights abuses and repression in Belarus’, and reminded the Belarusian authorities of their ‘responsibility to ensure the safety of Ms. Kalesnikava and all those unjustly detained’.
On Tuesday, NATO Secretary General spoke with Foreign Ministers of Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, and Poland on the crisis in Belarus. He stated that All Allies support a sovereign and independent Belarus. Both Minsk and Moscow should respect the right of the Belarusian people to determine their own future.
Norway will join sanctions against Lukashenka’s regime unless new fair elections take place.
The Representative/Vice-President of EU Foreign Affairs and Security Policy Josep Borrell issued a statement on arbitrary and unexplained arrests and detentions on political grounds: ‘The EU will impose sanctions on individuals responsible for violence, repression and falsification of election results.’
The Ambassador of Lithuania Andrius Pulokas entered the apartment of a member of the Presidium of the Coordination Council, and Nobel Prize laureate Sviatlana Alexievich and remains there after unknown people tried to enter the apartment. The police is now behind her door. For details, see below.
121 protester has been detained on Tuesday September 9.
Belarusian human rights organizations acknowledged 6 new political prisoners : businessman Aliaksandr Vasilevich, mediator Liliya Ulasava, employees of the IT company PandaDoc Yulia Shardyka, Dzmitry Rabtsevich, Viktar Kuushynau, and Uladzislau Mikhalop. As of September 8, there were 55 political prisoners in Belarus. Most of them were detained after August 9 elections. Putin’s spokesman Dmitri Peskov said (in the context of Kalesnikava’s detention) they were ‘not ready to acknowledge the existence of political prisoners in Belarus.’
Tsikhanouskaya’s ally Maryia Kalesnikava went missing on Monday after she was seen being bundled into a minibus, there was no information about her whereabouts until the next day. All state security organizations either refused to comment, or denied any connection to the enforced disappearance of Kalesnikava. On Monday evening, her relatives filed a complaint with the police about her disappearance.
Belarusian Helsinki Committee filed a note to OHCHR Committee on Enforced Disappearances. Maryia’s location now remainsunknown for two days. Lawyers are not provided any information on her location although it is known she is under control of Lukashenka’s state security employees. Maryia is deprived of their right to defense, which is guaranteed by the Constitution of Belarus.
On 8 September morning, a representative of the State Border Committee of Belarus acknowledged that Maryia Kalesnikava and two other members of the Coordination Council, Anton Radniankou and Ivan Krautsou (who were detained on September 7 morning minutes after Kalesnikava disappeared), ‘passed border control and departed towards Ukraine’.
They were driven early Tuesday to the Belarus-Ukraine border, where authorities forced Radniankou and Krautsou to cross into Ukraine. Kalesnikava resisted the deportation to Ukraine and ripped her passport into small pieces and threw them out the window at the Belarusian state security officers who were involved in her kidnapping and yet stood around the car. This made her deportation technically impossible. After she jumped out of the car window, Krautsou and Radniankou drove away towards the Ukrainian side of the border. Kalesnikava was again captured by the Belarusian state security, and presumably remains in custody on unknown grounds.
On Wednesday morning (September 9), three people in civilian clothes and masks smashed the door in Maryia’s apartment in Minsk downtown, and broke inside the premises. Around 1 AM (local time) on September 9, Kalesnikava was discovered at pre-trial detention center in Valadarskaha street (central Minsk). Since 1991, this place is widely known as the location of death penalty executions in Belarus.
A member of the Presidium of the Coordination Council, and Nobel Prize laureate Sviatlana Alexievich claims unknown people kept calling her in the morning of September 9, and rang the bell at her door. As of midday (local time), crowds of people and journalists arrived at her house to protect the writer from enforced removal from her apartment in Minsk downtown. At least two cars with diplomatic number plates were spotted nearby. Nobel Prize laureate published an open letter where she states she will never leave Belarus and what happens in Belarus is not a revolt of the Coordination Council, but ‘an uprising’ of the whole nation.
In violation of national legislation, state security workers and police employees now drive civil cars with no number plates when performing professional functions. The police does not follow the Code of Criminal Procedure, and as a rule the representatives of state security do not identify themselves, they wear civil clothes and and, in some cases, the bulletproof wests.
Since August 6, even the top executive of state security are involved in direct actions against the protesters. Pictured below is Colonel Mikalai Karpiankou (The head of the Main Directorate for Combating Organized Crime and Corruption of the Ministry of Internal Affairs / ГУБОПиК) who led arbitrary arrests in Niamiha area on Sunday. He was spotted in a video using a baton to destroy the property of a private cafe in central Minsk where a few protesters found a refuge. His position in the national security hierarchy can be compared to the level of the U.S. Assistant Secretary of State for International Narcotics and Law Enforcement Affairs. Whether it was his own initative, or the government uses all possible sources now, is a good question.
The lawyer of Viktar Babaryka’s headquarters, Maxim Znak, was kidnapped by unknown masked people on Wednesday morning. His lawyer Dzmitry Layeuski said that the Investigative Committee is working in the premises and are related to Znak’s disappearance. A search is to take place in Maxim’s apartment. The apartment of another lawyer of Babryka’s headquarters, Ilya Saley, was searched. He was driven away in an unknown direction by people in masks.
The daughter of TUT.BY Editor Galina Ulasik, Valeria, was detained as suspect in criminal case on mass riots. She was sentenced to 10 days in jail. Their apartment was searched.
Maxim Dauzhenka who was detained by OMON on August 11, and delivered to Akrestsina detention center where he was kept in a room with 37 more people. He was diagnosed with COVID-19 which he got from another detainee in the same cell.