- MILITARY DEVELOPMENTS
- POLITICAL DEVELOPMENTS
- HUMAN RIGHTS SITUATION AND INTERNATIONAL RESPONSE
Belarus Review (2023 edition, issue 14)
A weekly update on the ongoing political crisis in the Republic of Belarus was prepared for you by the International Strategic Action Network for Security (iSANS).
Last week the organized movement of PMC Wagner mercenaries to Belarus continued and at least one column carrying 15 items of equipment and 70 personnel arrived in Belarus. In total, from July 11, fourteen columns arrived in Belarus with 3900-4100 personnel and 845-885 items of automotive equipment. On August 1, it became known that two helicopters (Mi-8 and Mi-24) of the Belarusian Air Force invaded Polish airspace. We would like to note that the two helicopters were deployed to the border region with Poland to ensure Lukashenka’s security, who was at that time in his residence “Viskuly”. According to the obtained data, it can be concluded that the helicopters might have crossed Polish territory by accident. Belarusian Ministry of Defense denies the incident. Moreover, according to our information, the pilots of the mentioned helicopters were met by the Lukashenka regime officials after arriving at their initial place of deployment at Machulishchy Airfield. On August 3, Yevgeny Prigozhin might have been in Belarus as two business jets connected to Prigozhin’s businesses and PMC Wagner (Bae 125-800 B, registration plate RA-02878, and Beech C90GTi King Air, registration plate RA-07893) arrived in Belarus that day. In total, from June 27, 2023, eight planes affiliated with PMC Wagner arrived in Belarus. The main stationing base of PMC Wagner mercenaries in Belarus is still the field camp near the village Tsel in Osipovichy district. According to our sources, since mid of July the mercenaries started to use the territory of the former military base No. 28 “Poplavy”, also located near Osipovichy. The purpose of use of the territory of military base No.28 is yet unknown. According to openly accessible sources, on the territory of the military base, there are 10 warehouses, an equipment storage facility, and other constructions. The PMC Wagner mercenaries continue to train Belarusian soldiers. It was announced that joint drills were conducted with the servicemen of internal troops, the 51st artillery brigade, and the 6th mechanized brigade. On August 5, Ukrainian Air Force informed about a launch of a missile attack from the territory of Belarus. According to the data of the Belarusian Hajun project, no such launches were seen. Later, the Commander of the Ukrainian Air Force denied the information about the missile launch from Belarus.
Last week, the EU imposed new sanctions against Belarus. The sanctions included 38 individuals, mainly judges, prosecutors, and the ones responsible for politically motivated persecutions, detentions, ill-treatment in prisons, and 3 companies. The sanctions target mainly the military industry, including aviation parts, and are also aimed at banning sanctions evasion by Russia. The full list of sanctioned goods was published on August 4 in the official journal of the EU. On August 4, as a reaction to growing tensions at the Belarusian-Polish border due to close PMC Wagner mercenaries’ presence and after two helicopters of Belarusian military breached Polish airspace, Lithuania’s Vice Minister for Foreign Affairs Arnoldas Abramavičius announced plans to close two out of six border checkpoints on the border to Belarus in the immediate future. The leadership of Poland, Lithuania, and Latvia discuss the full closure of the EU’s Eastern borders if tensions continue to grow. Also, last week, the Lithuanian Migration Department announced that 910 Belarusians were considered a threat to the country’s national security: 205 persons were deprived of previously valid temporary residence permits, 337 persons were denied issuance of temporary residence permits, 121 denied prolongation of permits, two persons denied of issuance of permanent residence permits. Office of Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya issued some advice for Belarusians that landed on the list issued by the Lithuanian migration service. Starting from August 2 until August 5, the Coordination Council of Belarusian democratic forces held hearings of the reports of the United Transitional Cabinet representatives. After all representatives’ reports, the Coordination Council will advise on the prolongation of the UTC representative’s mandate and on the improvement of their work. After the report hearings ended on Sunday it was announced that the mandates of Alina Koushyk, Representative for National revival, Valery Sakhashchyk, Representative for National Security and Defense, Valery Kavaleuski, Representative for Foreign Affairs, Pavel Latushka, Representative for Transition of Power, kept their mandates for another year. Tsikhanouskaya dismissed Aliaksandr Azarau, Representative for Restoring Rule of Law, from his post and announced a vacancy for the post of Representative for Economic Affairs at the United Transitional Cabinet. However, Tsikhanouskaya offered Azarau to keep working on the “Peramoha” (Victory) plan and maintain contact with the underground movements in Belarus. On August 5-6, Belarusian democratic forces, including the United Transitional Cabinet, Coordination Council, and Office of Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya held a conference “New Belarus” in Warsaw, Poland. The conference resulted in a declaration containing plans for Elections 2024 in Belarus, the deepening of cooperation with Ukraine, and the European Choice for Belarus among other things. Moreover, the project of an alternative Belarusian passport was presented at the conference, Belarusians are invited to fill out a questionnaire on the platform Golas, whether they would like to obtain such a document. The results will also show the number of Belarusians and allow the planning of further steps in the implementation of the project.
HUMAN RIGHTS SITUATION AND INTERNATIONAL RESPONSE
On July 31, the Supreme Court considered an appeal of the editor-in-chief of TUT.BY Maryna Zolatava and the director of the same media outlet Lyudmila Chekina. Their complaint was left without satisfaction, the verdict entered into force. Maryna Zolatava was found guilty of “dissemination of materials with public calls for the seizure of state power, forcible change of the constitutional system, calls addressed to foreign states, foreign and international organizations to actions to the detriment of the national security of the Republic of Belarus, carried out using mass media and the Internet” and “intentional actions aimed at inciting social enmity on the basis of a different social affiliation, committed by a group of persons”. In addition to the same accusations as Zolatava, Lyudmila Chekina was found guilty of “tax evasion”. Both were sentenced to 12 years imprisonment in a general regime colony. Lyudmila Chekina was additionally fined and banned from engaging in activities related to the performance of organizational, administrative, and economic duties for 5 years. On July 31, the Office of Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya informed that the concept of rehabilitation of victims of repression of the Lukashenka regime will soon be submitted for public discussion. The document, which was developed considering international experience in rehabilitation together with experts, lawyers, and human rights defenders, covers the period from the moment Lukashenka took the presidential oath on July 20, 1994, to the present day. According to Tsikhanouskaya’s legal adviser Kristina Rikhter, a broad public discussion is needed for understanding whether the public agrees with the approach and whether it can be used as a basis for the process of rehabilitation. Moreover, public opinion will be collected, and the document adapted accordingly. On July 31, the Belarusian PEN published a chronicle of human rights violations in the field of culture for the period from July 15 to July 31, 2023. As of this day, at least 32 authors and around 127 cultural workers are in custody. The chronicle includes sections on politically motivated criminal cases against cultural workers, authors, and performers; politically motivated administrative detentions and arrests; trials and arrests for demonstrating the Belarusian and Ukrainian national symbols; prison conditions, torture of prisoners; destruction of memorial locations; repression in the publishing field, and discrimination based on language. On August 2, the Human Rights Center «Viasna» summed up the results of monitoring politically motivated cases in Belarus in July 2023. As noted, about 150 Belarusians were repressed, 73 people were tried for participation in protests, and in five cases, charges for “slander and insults” were added, this month. Whole groups and families are tried for political reasons, which indicates a “blanket character” of repression. In 100% of cases, punishment in politically motivated criminal cases is related to deprivation or restriction of liberty. There is a growing trend of repression for donations: 11 people were tried for this in July. On August 2, the Supreme Court considered complaints about the illegality and unreasonableness of the verdict, as well as the excessive severity of the punishment in the case of the independent workers’ association “Rabochy Ruh”. The verdict was upheld, and the complaints were not satisfied. Within the framework of this case, 10 people were sentenced to 11 to 15 years in prison, having been found guilty of slander, treason, creation of an extremist formation and participation in it, and illegal actions related to weapons. The prosecution insisted that the participants of the “Rabochy Ruh” were engaged in collecting and transmitting information to foreign states and organizations on sanctions evasion as well as on mechanisms to counter them. The liquidation of independent political parties that have not been re-registered under the new legislation continues in Belarus. Only three parties have been re-registered, all of them pro-Lukashenka: The Republican Party of Labor and Justice, the Liberal Democratic Party, and the Communist Party. A new pro-Lukashenka “White Russia” party has also been registered. According to the schedule of sessions of the Supreme Court, the liquidation of parties will be considered every week: on July 27 and on July 31 the cases on the liquidation of, respectively, the Green Party and the Belarusian Social Democratic Party Hramada were considered, on August 8 – the Republican Party, on August 9 – the Social Democratic Party of National Accord, on August 14 – the Belarusian Popular Front (BPF). iSANS published a new policy paper “After More than a Decade, OSCE Parliamentary Assembly Pays Serious Attention to Belarus but Governments Need to Take Concrete Actions to End Impunity”. The policy paper analyses a Declaration and a set of Resolutions, adopted by the Parliamentary Assembly of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe at its annual meeting in Vancouver and addressed to the governments and parliaments of 57 OSCE participating States. It notes the growing concern of the international community about the situation in Belarus and the actions of the Lukashenka regime and the fact that a separate resolution on Belarus was adopted this year after more than a decade when in 2012 a previous country-specific resolution was adopted to address the wave of political repression in the country. On August 2, the international human rights organization Human Rights Watch published a statement in connection with the extradition to Tajikistan of Nizomiddin Nasriddinov, a Tajik political activist with refugee status in Germany. “Belarusian authorities violated Nasriddinov’s rights by not waiting for the appeal hearing on his asylum request and forcibly returning him to a country where he is at risk of torture and other ill-treatment,” said Hugh Williamson, Europe, and Central Asia director at Human Rights Watch.
On August 4, the Day of Solidarity with the Civil Society of Belarus, Lech Walęsa, winner of the Nobel Peace Prize for supporting the labor movement and the struggle for human rights in 1983, one of the founders and the leader of the social movement «Solidarity», former president of Poland in 1990-1995, addressed Belarusians: “People are fighting for a new era, but the old one is defending itself. Your suffering will bear fruit, so hold on a little longer. The world will notice your dedication more and more. The day of freedom will come for you, the day of justice and peace. I will do everything to speed up these liberation processes».
On July 31, the Telegram channel of the state media holding Belteleradiocompany (BTRC) reported that the company signed a contract with Prigozhin. The intrigue was that only the surname of Prigozhin was mentioned, and no first name. It was not clear which of the two public persons named Prigozhin was meant – Yevgeny, the Chief of the PMC Wagner, which is currently in Belarus, or Iosif, pro-Kremlin music producer and media manager. On Wednesday, BTRC stated that Iosif Prigozhin is meant. He will lead one of the television talk shows. Therefore, the two notorious Prigozhins will be based in Belarus. On July 31, propaganda media widely reported about the visit of the «delegation from the Podlaskie Voivodeship of Poland» to the city of Grodno. The scandalous Polish politician Krzysztof Tołwiński headed the «delegation». At a meeting with the administration of the region, he reproached the Polish authorities for an “aggressive policy” and attempts to “provoke Belarus” by deploying army units to the Belarusian border because of the Wagner Group. He also stated that Poland should not be afraid of nuclear weapons in Belarus and spoke about the «problems of the Polish people» — «lack of vital medicines and a noticeable deterioration in the quality of food.» On August 1, at a meeting with rural residents of the Kamenetsky region, Alexander Lukashenka spoke about the deprivation of citizenship of opposition figures and public activists: “Citizenship can be deprived of those enemies who, living here or somewhere, are fighting against our country”. He underlined that no one was deprived of citizenship yet, but “they must understand” that the actions against the country such as calling for sanctions would be the reason for it. At the same meeting, Lukashenka called his statement about PMC Wagner mercenaries wanting to go to Warsaw and Rzeszow and him being the one holding them back and complying with the agreement with Russia, which he had delivered at the meeting with Putin on July 23, a “joke”. The “President” of Belarus also said that he “doesn’t need” the Suwalki corridor “for a thousand years” and “no detachment of the Wagner is moving towards it.” Lukashenka elaborated further that Russian nuclear weapons and the Belarusian nuclear power plant are security factors. He underlined that “Nobody has ever attacked a nuclear country before” and that Belarus’ nuclear power plant is a very strong safety factor. He added that «more than half of Russian nuclear charges have already been brought to Belarus and dispersed throughout the country and he hopes they won’t have to be used». On August 4, Deputy Prime Minister of Belarus Igor Petrishenko announced that new school history textbooks would include a section on the genocide against Belarusians during World War II. This section will be prepared based on materials from the Main Prosecutor’s Office. Best regards,iSANS team