- REGIME OFFICIALS: VERBAL THREATS AND BLACKMAILING
- MIGRANTS ARE FORCED TO CROSS THE BORDER ILLEGALLY
- META REMOVES A BUNCH OF KGB-RELATED FAKE ACCOUNTS
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).
The number of acknowledged political prisoners has almost reached 900 people, and keeps growing. At least 30 political prisoners are journalists and / or media workers. At least 143 individuals were convicted in politically motivated criminal trials in November 2021, according to Viasna human rights center.
In one of the most outrageous cases, a mother of five underaged children was sentences to 4 years in prison for civil activism. Volha Zalatar (38) was charged with creating a so-called «extremist group». This formula is being used on a wide scale against critics of Lukashenka regime who exercise their basic constitutional rights. For detailed overview of human rights violations in November, click here.
In another case, a 24 y.o. human rights defender Marfa Rabkova is facing 20 (twenty) years in prison for coordination of human rights volunteer groups.
On Thursday, 2 December, the US, EU, UK and Canada announced new sanctions against Lukashenka regime. As part of a coordinated Western response to an artificial border crisis, the sanctions were imposed against Belarus’ state-owned airline Belavia (puppetized by Lukashenka), as well as a range of entities and individuals.
The US Department of the Treasury imposed sanctions against 20 individuals, 12 enterprises, and 3 aircrafts, most notably: Belarus’ military manufacturers and exporters, traders and partners of Belaruskali, Guardservice (security / PMC), and Tsentrkurort (responsible for issuing visas to the migrants in coordination with Makei’s «Foreign Ministry»).
New sanctions are meant to block the loopholes that remained since the previous round of restrictive measures introduced on 9 August, 2021 (especially in relation to the state-owned cash-cow Belaruskali – the main source of foreign currency for Lukashenka’s regime). Notably, on December 8, earlier announced US sanctions (imposed in August 2021) will enter into force.
Since December 2, the US Treasury prohibits all transactions involving new issues of the sovereign debt of Belarus in primary and secondary markets, and more. Reportedly, Deutsche Bank has already issued complete ban on all transactions in USD and EUR involving all Belarus state-owned companies, state-owned banks, public figures, and related individuals and businesses.
The US Secretary of State Antony Blinken said that the latest round of sanctions is a response to repression of Belarusian people, undermining of security in Europe, and abuse of people seeking only to live in freedom: “The migrant crisis is only the latest example of the regime’s repressive brutality and blatant disregard for international norms”.
The EU has also imposed its fifth package of sanctions. The most important ones target Belavia and Syrian Cham Wings airlines (due to their involvement in human trafficking), as well as Belarusian manufacturing and chemical industry giants: Grodno Azot, Belarusneft, and Belshina. Josep Borrell, the head of the EU’s foreign policy, said the new round of sanctions is “another example of our determination to act when human rights are violated”.
The UK announced sanctions against eight individuals, and said it would impose an asset freeze on Belaruskali. “These sanctions continue to target important sources of revenue to the Lukashenka regime and place severe restrictions on those responsible for some of the worst anti-democratic acts in Belarus,” UK foreign secretary Liz Truss said in a statement.
REGIME OFFICIALS: VERBAL THREATS AND BLACKMAILING
In the latest effort to rise stakes in conflict with the West, Lukashenka and his subordinates (foremost – Uladzimir Makei) continue verbal threats of the West, Ukraine, and Belarusian civilians.
On Monday last week, Lukashenka stated that Belarus would not stand aside if “another war breaks out in Donbas or somewhere on the border with Russia”. He made it clear that Minsk would be on Russia’s side in this war: “And it is clear whose side Belarus will be on. They [Ukrainians] understand this, so they started strengthening their northern, Belarusian-Ukrainian border. Although there is no reason for this today. It’s absolutely quiet there, and it’s even calmer than before,” Lukashenka said during a meeting with his military. Following the meeting, Lukashenka’s «defense minister» Viktar Khrenin said that Minsk is planning joint drills with Russia to cover the Belarusian-Ukrainian border.
On Thursday, the head of the self-proclaimed «Donetsk People’s Republic», Denis Pushilin, also spoke about the possible involvement of Belarus in a new conflict in Donbas. “If the situation in Donbas deteriorates, the Donetsk people’s republic may seek help from Belarus,” he said. Earlier, he suggested that in the event of an attack by the Ukrainian Armed Forces, he might turn to Moscow.
By claiming involvement in «war» on the Kremlin’s side (or another form of imaginary military conflict with NATO or Ukraine that Lukashenka repeatedly mentions), self-declared «president of Belarus» has burnt the last bridges that would’ve let him or Makei sell the idea of Minsk regime as «the donor of stability» or «neutral peace talks platform». There can be no neutrality in circumstances when internationally unrecognized «leader» of the regime is fully reliant on the Kremlin’s support.
In turn, Uladzimir Makei returns to a classical manipulation that he widely used in 2015-2020. In his public communication (that is mostly addressed to internal audience) Makei claims that sanctions may lead to loss of Belarusian sovereignty and independence. While sanctions are only a response to crimes conducted by Lukashenka regime and its officials, Makei intentionally claims that the regime he represents is the synonym of Belarusian independence. Western governments should clearly understand the difference between the two and should not fall into the trap of Makei’s verbal manipulations.
Lukashenka and Makei have completely rejected the narrative of «neutrality» (which has been a useful manipulative tool in relations with the West in post-Maidan era). In an interview with RIA Novosti, Lukashenka explicitly said that Crimea was both de jure and de facto Russian, and added that he had agreed with Putin to visit Sevastopol for official recognition. Nevertheless, Lukashenka’s verbal position has no legal consequences, and does not represent the position of the Republic of Belarus since this individual acts in private, and not official, capacity and is both illegal and illegitimate in all terms related to his claim for «presidency» over the Republic of Belarus.
On Saturday, Lukashenka’s military claimed that Ukrainian pilots violated the Belarusian border during military exercises. On Sunday December 5, Lukashenka’s «defence ministry» had reportedly summoned Ukraine’s military attaché to protest against alleged violations of Belarus’ airspace by Ukrainian aircraft. Ukraine denies all allegations.
MIGRANTS ARE FORCED TO CROSS THE BORDER ILLEGALLY
Migrants stranded in Belarus are being forcibly sent back to Iraq and Syria, Russian Novaya Gazeta and German Spiegel report. Spiegel states that the migrants are being forced to cross the border: the Belarusian military threatens people that the camp will soon be shut down and everyone who didn’t make it to the EU will be deported to their home countries. In addition, numerous Kurds who returned to Erbil with recent repatriation flights say they were forced to do so: they were captured either in their rent apartments or in the streets, brought to the airport, and sent back to Iraq.
It is also reported that dozens of migrants are being kept in one of Hrodna’s detention centers. “Most of the cells on the first floor are occupied by people who came from Syria, Iran and Senegal. It is not known why they are detained there. It is possible that they have run out of money,” a source says.
The number of migrants, as well as the number of illegal attempts to enter the EU, has dropped dramatically. According to journalists, less than a thousand people remain in Bremino warehouse in Bruzhi. Polish border guards record 30 to 50 attempts to cross the border per day – about 10 times less than in October and early November.
META REMOVES A BUNCH OF KGB-RELATED FAKE ACCOUNTS
In its latest report, Facebook (Meta) acknowledged possession of evidence that the Belarusian KGB used fake accounts to simulate accounts of journalists and activists with the purpose of stoking tensions about the crisis at the border between Belarus and Poland. “These fictitious personas posted criticism of Poland in English, Polish, and Kurdish, including pictures and videos about Polish border guards allegedly violating migrants’ rights,” Meta said in an announcement on Wednesday last week.
In total, Meta said it had identified and removed 41 Facebook accounts, 4 Instagram accounts, and 5 Facebook groups linked to the Belarusian KGB. To make the fake personas convincing, some of the accounts likely used profile pictures of fake faces generated by artificial intelligence (AI), Meta reported.