- MILITARY DEVELOPMENTS
- POLITICAL DEVELOPMENTS
- HUMAN RIGHTS SITUATION AND INTERNATIONAL RESPONSE
Belarus Review (2023 edition, issue 32)
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).
From December 4 to December 7 the Third International Exhibit for Defense and Military Industries EDEX-2023 took place in Cairo, Egypt. Belarus was represented by a delegation headed by the Commander of Belarusian Air Forces and Air Defense Forces Andrei Lukyanovich. During the visit, Lukyanovich held official meetings with the Commanders of the Air Forces and Air Defense Forces of Egypt. The participation of Egypt and Belarus at the joint events of combat training and the modernization of air defense systems were discussed. On December 5, the Russian State Duma ratified the Agreement with Belarus on the establishment and operation of Combat Training Centers (CTC) for joint training of military personnel. The document was signed on March 28, 2023. Belarus ratified the agreement on July 17, 2023. The main tasks of the CTCs are joint combat training (duty), exchange of experience on the issues of combat application of military equipment, training in practical skills on military equipment samples, unification of combat training of the Armed Forces, etc. On December 7, Chief of the Department for International Military Cooperation of the Belarusian Defense Ministry Valery Revenko met with the Secretary of the Council of Defense Ministers of the CIS Countries Yury Dashkin in Moscow. Both parties of the meeting evaluated the results of the cooperation in 2023. Readiness to host events on the Planning of the agenda of the Council of Defense Ministers of the CIS Countries for 2024 in Minsk was confirmed. Planned combat readiness checks of the Belarusian Armed Forces were carried out during the last week. The exercises practiced issues of bringing military units to combat readiness and training personnel to act in various conditions of the situation. According to previous announcements of the Commander of the Belarusian Air Forces and Air Defense Forces Andrei Lukyanovich, the Belarusian military should have received four helicopters Mi-35M, four fighter jets Su-30CM, as well as radar stations Rosa, Vostok, and Opponent by the end of 2023. Currently, there is no information about deliveries of the equipment to the Armed Forces of Belarus. It is unlikely that the named equipment will be delivered on the announced terms. PMC Wagner mercenaries held fire and tactical training with the servicemen of the 51st Artillery Brigade. In 2024, a new Special Operations Unit will be established on the base of the First Militia Brigade of the Internal Troops. Last year, nine such units were established at the Internal Troops of Belarus. In October 2022, the Defense Ministry of Belarus announced that the military equipment was sent for modernization to Russia, including the T-72 tanks and armored personnel carriers. As of December 2023, there was no news about the return of the equipment after modernization. This confirms that the military equipment was not sent to Russia for modernization but transferred to the Russian military. It is known about the transfer of over 200 items of equipment, including T-72A tanks, BMP-2 infantry fighting vehicles, and Ural vehicles. Preparations for the construction of a firing range for the Southern Operational Command of the Armed Forces of Belarus started. Based on the available information, four sites where the firing range will be built have been identified. They are in the Gomel and Rechitsa districts. In June, it became known that the Investigative Committee of Russia established a military investigation department in Belarus. According to the available information, the 484th military investigation department became part of the military investigation department for Strategic Missile Forces and is in the village of Ozerechye, Kletsky district. The village is home to the Baranovichi radio-technical node (Volga radar station), which is an element of the Russian missile warning system.
On December 5, on the eve of the Strategic Dialogue between the US and the Democratic Forces of Belarus, the US imposed fresh sanctions against Belarus targeting eleven entities and seven individuals, which are named by the US Treasury Department as the revenue generators for the Lukashenka regime. Sanctions were imposed against the Chairman of the Belarusian Red Cross for the complicity in illegal transfer of Ukrainian Children from Russia’s occupied territories of Ukraine, against the “Lukashenka’s wallet” businessman Aliaksandr Shakutsin and his company Amkodor, Republican Production and Trade Unitary Enterprise Management Company of the Holding Belarusian Cement Company (BCC), against major Belarusian Woodworking, Paper and Pulp company Bellesbumprom, Beltamozhservis, LLC Tabak Invest, the leading tobacco manufacturer and retail and hotel business, among others. The US State Department’s Spokesperson Matthew Miller said on the following day to Belarusian journalists that there would be no ease of sanctions until the release of political prisoners. New US sanctions were commented on by the Lukashenka’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs by calling them a “ritual dance.” On December 6, the UK announced imposing sanctions targeting people and groups that are supplying or financing Putin’s war machine. UK blacklisted 46 entities and individuals in Belarus, China, Serbia, Turkey, the UAE, and Uzbekistan. Among sanctioned Belarusian entities is JSC Display Design Bureau, a Belarusian defense organization linked to manufacturing military technology for the Belarusian regime, which has directly facilitated Putin’s illegal war. The Executive Board of the IOC announced on December 8 that it would allow Russian and Belarusian athletes at the Paris Olympics 2024 under neutral status. The strict eligibility conditions based on the recommendations issued by the IOC EB on 28 March 2023 for International Federations and international sports event organizers will be applied. This decision was not welcomed by several countries, primarily by Ukraine. The Ministry of Youth and Sports of Ukraine condemned the decision of the leadership of the IOC to admit Russian and Belarusian athletes. Currently, it is known that only 8 Russian and 3 Belarusian athletes qualified as neutrals for the upcoming Olympics. The IOC promises not to allow athletes who actively support the war to participate as well as athletes who work under a contract with the Russian or Belarusian military or power structures. The Lithuanian NOC also reacted to the IOC’s decision by stating that it would do everything possible to diminish the number of such athletes to the lowest minimum possible. German MoI Nancy Faeser called for thorough checks to be carried out on each athlete from Russia and Belarus. Last week was marked by the visit of the Leader of the Belarusian democratic forces Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya to the United States of America and the first in history Strategic Dialogue between the US and the democratic forces of Belarus. Apart from the significant event Tsikhanouskaya held many meetings, and addressed the students at Yale University alongside the historian Timothy Snyder. Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya accepted the Bush-Thatcher Award for Freedom of the International Democratic Union (IDU) on behalf of herself and two political prisoners the Chairperson of the Belarusian United Civic Party (UCP) Mikalai Kazlou and the Chairperson of the Belarusian Popular Front Ryhor Kastusiou. In her speech, Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya dedicated the award for political prisoners. Also, during her visit to the US, Tsikhanouskaya together with the Vice President of ABBA Ales Alachnovic and the representative of BEROC Dzmitry Kruk had a meeting at the International Monetary Fund (IMF) with the representatives of Lithuania, Austria, Belgium, France, Greece, Spain, Ireland, and Poland. Discussions covered plans for transforming the Belarusian economy, including pension reform, privatization models, and the green transition. Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya expressed hope for IMF support in conducting and adjusting reforms after the democratic transition of power in Belarus. Additionally, the Leader of the Belarusian democratic forces had a conversation with the Foreign Secretary of the United Kingdom, David Cameron. The politicians discussed appointing a UK special envoy for Belarus and initiating a strategic dialogue between the two countries.
HUMAN RIGHTS SITUATION AND INTERNATIONAL RESPONSE
On December 3, Deputy Minister of Internal Affairs of Belarus Gennady Kazakevich stated that more than 130 searches and 145 seizures of property had been carried out within the frame of the “Coordination Council case” during the week. “The Coordination Council is recognized as an extremist formation in our country. A criminal case has been opened, which is being investigated by the Investigative Committee under the order of the prosecutor’s Office, that is, on legitimate grounds. We are following the instructions of the investigation. What is important is what we saw: apartments, cars, houses, cottages,” he said. Mass searches of the homes of people associated with the Coordination Council, including Pavel Latushka, Yuras Hubarevich, Siarhei Chaly, Roza Turarbekava, and employees of the People’s Anti-Crisis Management took place on November 28. A Telegram channel associated with Belarusian law enforcement bodies linked the searches to the upcoming elections to the Coordination Council. In absentia trials for “compensation for harm” were also announced concerning those associated with the Coordination Council. Experts, however, note that the confiscation of property can affect everyone. According to the current legislation, the basis for this may be “unfriendly actions” towards the state. On this basis, the property can be seized from foreign states, persons from foreign states, as well as “affiliated persons”. The latter definition may relate to many. “Absolutely any person can be classified as affiliated, and therefore property can be seized from anyone,” comments LegalHub, a free and anonymous legal aid service. The Belarusian authorities urge those wishing to return to their homeland after the events of 2020 to apply to the Commission on Return, established based on the Prosecutor General’s Office in February this year. Last year, Aliaksandr Lukashenka called on the Belarusians who left to return, “repent” and “kneel.” Although this method of return is not extremely popular, some Belarusians are trying to use it. Aliaksandr Kulikou, a resident of Mahilou, returned from Poland believing the investigator’s promises and received three years in prison for comments about Aliaksandr Lukashenka. Kulikou left for Poland in May 2023, when a criminal case was already opened against him. After he left, his mother called him and said that an investigator was looking for him. He threatened to put Kulikou on the wanted list and, at the same time, promised him a non-custodial punishment if he returned to Belarus. Kulikou decided to return to Belarus and appealed to the Commission on Return. He was arrested at the border and was sentenced to three years in prison in July. Now Aliaksandr Kulikou is going to be tried again. The case will be considered by the Mahilou Regional Court. The trial was scheduled to begin on December 6 and will be conducted behind closed doors. This time, Kulikou is accused of joining an extremist formation to commit an extremist crime; participation in an armed formation on the territory of a foreign state, or in armed conflict, military operations, recruitment, or preparation of persons for such participation; passing training to participate in extremist activities. According to these charges, he faces up to 15 years of imprisonment. Employees of the Gomselmash, a Belarusian manufacturer of agricultural machinery, were taken on an excursion to the Homel women’s colony on the so-called “information day”. The event was held “to prevent corruption offenses and crimes.” In the colony, visitors were shown a film about the history of the colony, conducted a tour of the territory with a visit to a garment factory, during which they were able to familiarize themselves with the conditions of detention of convicts and their working conditions. In addition, the visitors “learned firsthand about the circumstances and reasons for the presence in the colony of those convicted of crimes bribery and appropriation or embezzlement of property.” On December 5, the State Security Committee updated the list of organizations and individuals involved in terrorist activities. Among others, Eduard Babaryka, son of Viktor Babaryka, banker and public figure, presidential candidate in 2020, appeared on the list. In July 2023, he was sentenced to eight years in prison. He was accused of tax evasion, aiding and abetting group actions that grossly violate public order, and aiding and abetting deliberate actions aimed at inciting hostility and discord based on social affiliation. On December 6, the rector of the Roman Catholic parish of St. Joseph in Valozhin, Priest Henryh Akalatovich, was not released after 20 days of preliminary detention. He has been given a preventive measure in the form of detention and remains behind bars – this means that he has been charged. Before the change in his status, the administration of the detention facility refused to accept warm clothes and food for him. In the first days of his detention, he could only receive some hygiene items, underwear, and pills – Henryh is about 70 years old, suffered a heart attack, and recently underwent gastric surgery due to cancer and, therefore, needs medical supervision and constant medication. What exactly Henryh Akalatovich is charged with remains unknown, but the 20-day term for filing charges is provided for several “anti-state” charges such as espionage and treason. As of December 8, 1,479 people were recognized as political prisoners in Belarus. Bloggers, businesspeople, activists of the headquarters of presidential candidates, and protesters are in detention, far from their relatives and friends because they were not afraid to exercise their rights – the right to participate in peaceful assemblies, express their opinions, and take part in the political life of the country. Most of these people went through politically motivated criminal prosecution in connection with the events that happened during and after the 2020 presidential election campaign. In November 2023 alone, at least 465 politically motivated administrative courts were held. Of these, 105 resulted in fines, 69 in administrative arrest. On December 8, the Ministry of Internal Affairs of Belarus added Ales Bialiatsky, political prisoner, the chair of Viasna Human Rights Center, the recipient of the Nobel Peace Prize-2022, and the deputy head of Viasna, Valiantsin Stefanovich, to the list of “extremists”. Both human rights defenders are serving their sentences in Belarusian colonies. In addition, Raman Pratasevich, ex-editor of NEXTA, who was pardoned this summer and excluded from the list of “terrorists,” was included on the “list of extremists” starting December 1. It is indicated that his criminal record has not been extinguished. It became known that the security forces detained the organizers of the Letter.bel, through which people can send emails to political prisoners. The detainees are Ihar Uglik and Aliaksandr Lykshyn. Ihar Uglik has a disability. They were detained around November 29, and now they are in Valadarka prison within the frame of a criminal case investigation. The laureates of the Award of the Human Rights Community of Belarus for 2023 have been announced, the Viasna Human Rights Center reports. The award ceremony took place on December 10, the International Human Rights Day. Two winners have been announced in the nomination “Human Rights Defender of the Year-2023” – Deputy Chair of the Belarusian Association of Journalists Aleh Aheyeu and lawyer Natallia Matskevich. Political prisoner Aliaksandr Mantsevich, editor-in-chief of the Regional Newspaper, was recognized as the “Journalist of the Year 2023”. The BYSOL evacuation service has been named the “Human Rights Campaign/Initiative of the Year 2023”. Political prisoner Palina Sharenda-Panasyuk became the winner in the new nomination, “Human Rights Solidarity of the Year-2023”. The award for achievements in the field of human rights was established in 2008. On December 6-8, the US Department of State hosted the first Strategic Dialogue between the United States Government and the Belarusian democratic forces. Co-chaired by the leader of Belarusian democratic forces, Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya, and U.S. Deputy Assistant Secretary for European and Eurasian Affairs, Christopher W. Smith, the Strategic Dialogue convened representatives of numerous U.S. government agencies with a broad cross-section of Belarusian democratic actors, including political leaders, civil society representatives, independent journalists, human rights defenders, lawyers, union leaders, academics, and ordinary Belarusians. A key topic was the human rights catastrophe the regime in Minsk deliberately inflicted upon the people of Belarus since the fraudulent 2020 Belarus presidential election. Belarusian participants presented their analysis and several proposals for ensuring accountability of the Lukashenka regime for international crimes committed against Belarusians. The participants also discussed issues related to the future economic development of democratic Belarus, the significant role of Belarusian diasporas, pressure on independent media, countering disinformation and propaganda, as well as assistance to Belarus in protecting and restoring its full sovereignty. Several announcements were made in this regard. The United States’ efforts to promote accountability for the Lukashenka regime’s abuses in Belarus and abroad will continue, as exemplified by the sanctions levied on December 5 against 11 companies and eight individuals enabling or complicit in the regime’s misdeeds. The U.S. Agency for International Development is opening this month a dedicated office in Vilnius, Lithuania, for its Belarus program – it has partnered with the Belarusian people for 20 years, and the new office is proof that the partnership will continue as Belarusians strive for a sovereign, democratic and prosperous country. The US will initiate exchanges and other programming designed to promote and protect Belarusians’ unique national and cultural identity, including their language, literature, arts, and history. Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya’s chief adviser Franak Viachorka highlighted the main results achieved during the Strategic Dialogue between the United States Government and the Belarusian democratic forces. These include the creation of working groups in four areas: political prisoners and bringing the regime to justice, assistance to the private sector, cultural initiatives, youth, and Belarusian diasporas. The groups will meet and work regularly. Other important results include the following: the U.S. is ready to change its visa policy and issue three-year visas to Belarusians; a possibility of granting temporary protection status to Belarusians in the U.S. will be considered; a preliminary agreement has been reached on the appointment of a special envoy to work with democratic Belarus; and the Act on Democracy in Belarus 2023 should be adopted by the end of the year. Viachorka stressed that the strategic dialogue is not over and will continue every year. The German Interior Ministry has studied the situation with the passports of Belarusian citizens and concluded that local authorities may consider it inappropriate to require the replacement of a Belarusian passport if it is possible to prove the fact of political persecution of the passport holder in Belarus. The Ministry asked the relevant authorities to consider the possibility of issuing a German travel document to Belarusians in such cases. To receive such a document, citizens of Belarus must apply to local authorities. It will be necessary to explain in detail the reasons why it is dangerous to return to Belarus and provide evidence. On December 08, the UK updated its sanctions list for Belarus. 17 more people, including judges and prosecutors responsible for repressions or actively involved in the suppression of civil society, including judges who tried Maria Kalesnikava and Maksim Znak, Viktar Babaryka, Ales Bialiatski, BelaPAN and TUT.by journalists, and others, recognized as political prisoners, were included in the list. The decision of the British authorities provides for the travel ban and the imposition of financial sanctions, including the freezing of funds and economic resources. Next week, the European Parliament will adopt a resolution on the situation with political prisoners in Belarus. This was announced by Anatol Liabedzka, Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya’s adviser on constitutional reform and parliamentary cooperation when he presented the results of the 8+100 Interparty Forum, which was held in the European Parliament and gathered representatives of Belarusian and European political parties. Anatol Liabedzka noted several practical outcomes of the event: The Forum participants supported the European perspective of Belarus; it was stated at the Forum that Lukashenka’s elections were illegitimate and that their results could not be recognized by the international community; next week, the European Parliament will adopt a resolution on the situation with political prisoners in Belarus. Liabedzka expressed hope that the resolution would include an item on the creation of an international fund to support those behind bars for political reasons.
On December 4, in Beijing, at a meeting with Xi Jinping, the “President” of Belarus Aliaksandr Lukashenka thanked the Chinese leader for taking the time to receive him, because the Chinese chairperson “bears the burden of the leader of the planet.” “The most important thing is that you have determined the common destiny of humanity as your goal. Unlike Western countries that try to cut everything into pieces, you have set a single goal for everyone. Who can argue with that? Nobody. The world will be grateful to Great China for this,” said Lukashenka. He also stated that Belarus is very interested in the greatness of China. In response, Xi Jinping stated that “China firmly supports the development path of Belarus that corresponds to its national conditions and opposes the interference of external forces in the internal affairs of Belarus».
Belarusian propaganda marks Lukashenka’s visits to African states, the Middle East, and negotiations with China as another important foreign policy success, trying to highlight the role of the “president” of Belarus in global international affairs. On the ONT TV channel, “expert” of the state Belarusian Institute of Strategic Studies (BISR) Sergei Vergeichik said that China sees Belarus as “an important participant in the transformation of the modern world order.”
On December 5, at a meeting of the Republican Council for Historical Policy under the presidential administration, the possibilities of “cleansing” libraries of “ideologically wrong” books were discussed. According to the state agency BelTA, the meeting discussed “approaches to exclude extremist books and publications that distort historical truth from sale and remove them from libraries”. This entire project was called “import substitution in the sphere of culture.”
On December 6, the chair of the pro-government Liberal Democratic Party of Belarus (LDPB), Oleg Gaidukevich, said that Western sanctions only united the Belarusian people against a common threat: “Western sanctions and the fight against Belarus and Russia did not consider our mentality. In all challenging times, we have always united around the leader. They should learn the history better.”
On December 6, State Secretary of the “Union State”, Dmitry Mezentsev, announced that the Soviet ideological project of writing letters to their peers in Western countries by Russian and Belarusian schoolchildren “about the horrors of war and in support of peace” should be restored.
On December 6, Lukashenka congratulated the “people of Finland” on the Independence Day. In his address, the Belarusian dictator said that “the creation of further barriers between Belarusians and Finns does not correspond to common interests” and proposed returning to “restoring lost and forming new economic and humanitarian ties”.
On December 8, propaganda channels celebrated the day of the establishment of the so-called “Union State of Russia and Belarus.” The state ONT TV channel called in its column the Treaty of creation of the “Union State,” signed in 1999 by Aliaksandr Lukashenka and Boris Yeltsin, “an act of historical justice.” Belarusian propagandist Grigory Azarenok said, “Lukashenka felt that people want unification, they want to correct the filth that came in 1991 [namely, the collapse of the Soviet Union]”. “I am convinced: Lukashenka saved Russia! Putin made a course towards revival, opposition to the West, towards a great Russia, but the author of this course is Lukashenka!” Also, on this day, ideological events dedicated to the “Union State” took place in Belarus, for example, pro-government student meetings.
In connection with the International Day of Commemoration and Dignity of the Victims of the Crime of Genocide and of the Prevention of this Crime (December 9), many events of an ideological nature were held in Belarus. The Belarusian prosecutor’s office claims that genocide was committed against the Belarusian people during World War II. The Lukashenka regime uses the rhetoric of genocide as an element of anti-Western propaganda.
On December 9, in one of the churches in Minsk, some of the government officials gathered to honor the victims of genocide. Among them were the Minister of Internal Affairs, the assistant to the President, the Chief of Minsk Police, and others. In addition, a pro-government conference was held on the same day in Minsk to mark the 75th anniversary of the adoption of the Genocide Convention. Speaking at the conference, the Prosecutor General of Belarus Andrei Shved said that young people in the West know nothing about the “Great Patriotic War” (WWII in Soviet rhetoric). “We need to convey this information [to Western citizens] in every viable way. We carry out extensive explanatory work. Together with TV channels, we are preparing a series of programs, documentaries, and printed publications. There should be many more such projects,” said Shved. Also, Shved said that in 2024 his department plans to deliver to court 10-15 criminal cases against those accused of war crimes during WWII. These accused persons are long dead. Recently, Belarusian legislation made it possible to hold deceased persons accountable. According to Shved, Belarus will insist on compensation for the damage and harm caused to the country during WWII. It is still unknown how it will be managed. Previously, the Lukashenka regime estimated the amount of damage at USD 2.3 trillion.
On the same day, at the opening of the memorial to the Ozarichi German death camp in Belarus, Deputy Head of the Presidential Administration Igor Lutsky said that after what happened to the Belarusian people in WWII, “the countries that impose sanctions against Belarus do not have the moral right to tell us anything.” “What they are now doing to the Ukrainian people, what they are trying to do to us by introducing these sanctions, is a repeat [of past crimes]. I am surprised why the Austrians and Germans behave this way towards us,” said Lutsky.
On December 9, in connection with the International Day of Commemoration and Dignity of the Victims of the Crime of Genocide, Belarusian Defense Minister Viktor Khrenin said: “There is no place for collaborationists in our society,” meaning Belarusian democratic forces. “In the Republic of Belarus, the memory of the Great Patriotic War (WWII) is part of the national idea, the foundation of statehood and civil harmony. In our society there is no place for collaborationists, manifestations of nationalism and xenophobia,” Khrenin said.
On December 9, in an interview with the state TV channel Belarus 1, Russian “expert” and propagandist Konstantin Shadrov said that the international isolation of Belarus is a myth, and it is Western countries that are isolated: “Belarus is happily greeted and welcomed in China… Because cooperation with Belarus is beneficial. If we talk about international isolation, it occurs in Western countries. Because, turning away from Belarus, they demonstrated that the place is never empty: we have something to fill these gaps with, there are no problems finding new partners and building normal relations with them,” said Shadrov.
iSANS teamBest regards,