INTERVENTION IN KAZAKHSTAN
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 reached 963 people (+34 over holidays season). Over 2021, the number increased by nearly 800 people. Human rights lawyers were able to identify at least 1,285 persons convicted in politically motivated criminal trials in 2021. New cases will undoubtedly appear in 2022 while civilians report «degrading» conditions even in non-politically charged cases – including the weaponization of homophobia as repressive instrument. For detailed report on human rights violations in Belarus over 2021, click here.
Internationally, the regime of Lukashenka is mirroring the steps of Western governments without proper grounding to manipulate public opinion among the population in the West, and continues aggressive steps against EU diplomats. While internally (after crackdown on media) the regime of Aliaksandr Lukashenka continues to impose the atmosphere of fear on civilians to block any public reflection on its activity. In the most recent case, two civilians were kidnapped and forced to publicly repent in Kadyrov-style «confession videos» for their social media comments criticizing Lukashenka’s policy in relation to Kazakhstan. In the last 18 months, such records appear in the aftermath of nearly all unpopular political steps or emergencies involving the acting regime in Belarus.
On January 5, 2022, Aliaksandr Lukashenka ordered sending Belarus troops to Kazakhstan in the aftermath of mass disturbances in this country. The troops are a part of Russia’s intervention to Kazakhstan under CSTO umbrella in the Kremlin’s effort to tighten its grip on Kazakhs.
Article 4 of the CSTO treaty clearly states that CSTO Member State only engage in military help of «If one of the Member States undergoes aggression (armed attack menacing to safety, stability, territorial integrity and sovereignty)» which clearly wasn’t the case in Kazakhstan. Hence, Tokayev’s rhetorics about foreign invasion.
Moreover, as a private individual Aliaksandr Lukashenka has no legal rights – both nationally and internationally – to send armed groups from Belarus to any country abroad. Thereby, foreign governments are recommended to clearly indicate illegality of Belarus military operation in Kazakhstan and question legal status of armed groups sent from Belarus. This mission is even more concerning in the light of Tokayev’s «shoot to kill without warning» order as both Kazakh forces and Lukashenka’s troops in this country widely abuse UN Peacekeeping insignia and emblems in a military operation that was not authorized by the UN Security Council, but is repeatedly called «a peacekeeping mission«.
The goal of invasion in Kazakhstan is straightforward: like in case of Belarus in 2020 and Ukraine (2013/14), Kremlin aims to ensure the survival of an allied regime. However, the situations in all three countries are all different and have to be distinguished from each other. But on top of that, Russian social media and propagandists have been active in calls to use the invasion to seize a swath of northern Kazakhstan or keep Russian forces and their allies (including Lukashenka’s armed groups) «for as long as necessary».
Overall, the «CSTO mission» is yet believed to have the count of up to 2,500 people with 100 to 300 of them being Belarus nationals representing 103rd separate airborne brigade of Vitsebsk. The troops and weaponry (including BTR-80s APCs and Chinese CS/VN3 Dajiang armored vehicles) were deployed by Russian military planes via Russia. According to Lukashenka-related military sources, Belarus national are involved in patrolling around Zhetygen military airfield.
Troops sent to Kazakhstan jeopardize one of the main foundations of Lukashenka’s «social contract» with his supporters – Belarusian soldiers were protected from any active involvement in foreign military conflicts for nearly three decades. Now the pendulum is moving for the first time. Human force losses in Kazakhstan may lead to substantial fall in support of this operation even among Lukashenka’s supporters.
Overall, the situation in Kazakhstan puts Lukashenka in an uncomfortable position as he seeks to play the Nazarbayev-style «facade transit» this year (that by itself makes Ukraine feel very uncomfortable about Lukashenka’s plans).
NORWAY'S YARA HALTS PURCHASE FROM "BELARUSKALI"?
Norway’s Yara announces its plans to stop purchasing potash from Lukashenka-controlled Belaruskali. Yara remains the last major European buyer of potash from Lukashenka regime, and is estimated to form up to 15% of potash exports from Belarus (while potash export itself is a major source of foreign currency for the regime).
Yara has been widely criticized by Belarusian activists for its continuous business with Belaruskali for nearly 18 months. Despite involvement in human rights abuses and the role of Belaruskali management in rigged elections, Yara repeatedly refrained from cutting its business ties with the regime-controlled potash company from Belarus.
As of January 10, Yara still buys its potash from Belarus Potash Company (BPC), Belaruskali’s sales subsidiary, but it now claims it will stop operations with Belaruskali since April 1, 2022 due to the U.S. sanctions.
Yara has been one of the largest Western companies that still continues its business with Lukashenka regime despite public outcry, but seems to fail continuing its operations in the face of the U.S. sanctions against Lukashenka regime. Despite sanctions, however, trade grew fast between Belarus and the Baltics in 2021 and imports from Belarus reached record or close to record levels. Most likely – due to the pandemic and internal EU restrictions that forced the Baltic countries to search for alternative suppliers.