- MILITARY DRILLS AND THE FUTURE OF BELARUS
- BELARUS AGGRESSION ACCOUNTABILITY ACT
- UKRAINE BANS BELARUSIANS FROM ENTRY
- BIRDERS TARGETED IN NEW CRACKDOWN CAMPAIGN
MILITARY DRILLS AND THE FUTURE OF BELARUS
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).
On February 9, Russian media reported on the publication of the text of the Military Doctrine of the so called «union state» of Russia and Belarus. Putin and Lukashenka approved the new version of the document in November 2021. In simple terms, the coverage of all possible military actions will be controlled by the Kremlin or coordinated with it. Given the consequences of 2020 in Belarus, it can be assumed that the armed forces of both states could (and will) be used to suppress protests in both Belarus and Russia as term «extremism» will be attributed to all dissident activity.
Hence, current military buildup may be targeting Ukraine as a secondary expansionist goal of the Kremlin. In addition to military means, Russia is using synchronized propaganda and pasportisation of Belarusians as hybrid instruments to further increase its influence ahead of future civil mass disturbances within Belarus – as Russia itself becomes notably less favorable among Belarusian civil population in the last few years.
Russia has added additional military capability along its border with Ukraine and in southern Belarus. In response to the latest events, the U.S. State Department urged American citizens to leave Belarus immediately. Despite the results of ongoing military drills, there are clearer silhouettes of what’s next for Belarus – and why further support of sovereignty and independence of this country is of utmost importance for Ukraine’s security.
The Russian-Belarusian Allied Resolve joint exercise began on 10 February and will last for 10 days, until 20 February. The legend of the exercise suggests that the Polesie Republic and the Northern Federation are attacked by the coalition of Neris, Pomerania, Klopia and Dneprovia from south, west and northwest. The official purpose of the exercise is «to stop and repel external aggression during a defensive operation, as well as to counter terrorism and protect the interests of the Union State of Belarus and Russia.»
Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia filed a transparency request under the OSCE rules to encourage Belarus to disclose key data about the exercise. The Baltics states requested a «detailed explanation on the exercise,» including the total number of troops, battle tanks, armored combat vehicles, artillery pieces, mortars and rocket launchers, envisaged sorties per aircraft, and rapid-reaction forces involved, a spokesperson for the Estonian Embassy in Washington told Defense News.
The response states that the total number of troops and weapons involved in the exercises doesn’t exceed the notification threshold set by the OSCE Vienna Document. It also notes that a number of Russian units deployed in Belarus don’t take part in the exercise – instead they were deployed to protect the Belarusian-Ukrainian border, where «security enhancement using Belarusian troops is impossible.» «The performance of these tasks is not a military activity and does not fall under the provisions of the Vienna Document,» the response reads. However, Russia’s troops are being spotted in new areas all across the country, foremost in Western, central and Southern regions – along the border with Ukraine and Poland.
Against this background, the State Border Committee of Belarus claimed twice last week that Latvia had violated the border with Belarus. On 8 February, the Committee accused Latvia of violating the Belarusian airspace by an An-2 aircraft. Latvia denied the violation and published an image of the aircraft flight path. On February 10, the State Border Committee of Belarus claimed that a Latvian AgustaWestland helicopter flew up to 400 meters into the Belarusian territory and returned back to Latvia. These messages may well be a part of long-list of recent hybrid provocations against the neighbors of Belarus – including recent claims of Lukashenka’s army that a military drone from Ukraine spied over drills area.
The beginning of this week, however, shows certain signals of change in rhetorics of Lukashenka and his team. Although just some 10 days ago Lukashenka promised to hit Ukraine (along with his allies from the Kremlin) to «return Ukraine into our faith» in a war «that will last 3 to 4 days», his bravado has vanished by now. On Monday February 14, the head of Ukraine’s MOD and Lukashenka’s «defense minister» had a phone call and agreed to let Ukrainian observer to the area of military drills. Lukashenka’s new message now is «nobody wanted war with Ukraine». In his classic move, Lukashenka denies all of his previous statements and acts, and plays innocent.
BELARUS AGGRESSION ACCOUNTABILITY ACT
On 11 February, US Senator James Lankford introduced the Belarus Aggression Accountability Act with the intention of sanctioning Belarus or any country «that aids Russia’s ongoing, unprovoked aggression toward the sovereignty and territorial integrity of Ukraine.» The announcement reads that «Belarus is allowing thousands of Russian troops into their country to line their border with Ukraine. The US should make it clear that strong economic and diplomatic sanctions will be applied to any country that supports Russia’s attempts to invade Ukraine.»
The act establishes mandatory sanctions for actions by Belarus that aid or assist Russia with an invasion of Ukraine. It includes participating jointly with Russia in an invasion of Ukraine, providing material, tactical, or other support to an invasion, hosting Russian forces that participate in an invasion, and working with the Russian intelligence sector.
UKRAINE BANS BELARUSIANS FROM ENTRY
On 13 February, Belarusian news outlet Euroradio reported, citing its sources, that Ukraine has stopped allowing all Belarusian men of conscription age into its territory. According to the source, the decision is temporary, the ban should last until the end of the Belarusian-Russian military exercises on 20 February.
Belarusians started experiencing issues with crossing the Ukrainian border in the middle of the past week. In some cases, women were not allowed into Ukraine either. On 12 February, among other, a prominent Belarusian blogger and journalist Mikita Melkaziorau was denied entry.
Ukraine has not yet officially commented on the situation. The State Border Committee of Belarus reports that Ukraine has not provided any official information about the changes in the entry procedures.
BIRDERS TARGETED IN NEW CRACKDOWN CAMPAIGN
On 9 February, Lukashenka’s «Ministry of Justice» filed initiated a liquidation of APB Birdlife Belarus – the oldest wildlife protection organization in the country. APB is labelled by the regime as a conspiracy-centered organization that «carries out extremist activities aimed at destabilizing the social and political situation in the country» under the guise of volunteering to save birds.
According to the regime, the birders’ organization APB «publicly expresses the idea of supporting protest activity among people, using the expression «Birds stand with the people», as well as publishes destructive pictures and calls for actions that grossly violate public order.» The APB’s members and volunteers «took active part in unauthorised mass events», according to Lukashenka’s subordinates.
«It may be a wasted effort, but we will try with counsel to appear in court. Liquidation means death to the organization, but not to its members and supporters. I have devoted my life to the protection of wildlife and I will protect it in Belarus or abroad», said the head of the organization Alyaksandr Vincheuski.
APB Birdlife Belarus was established in 1998. Over the past 20 years, more than 7,000 people have become members and more than 25,000 volunteers and supporters were annually engaged in the organisation’s birding activities and wildlife protection initiatives.
More and more people, foremost the middle class and professionals, leave Belarus recently due to continuous political violence and growing security risks as the number of political prisoners is fast approaching towards 1100 while torture of political activists is a nation wide everyday routine with very little international attention to the problem.