- MILITARY DEVELOPMENTS
- POLITICAL DEVELOPMENTS
- HUMAN RIGHTS SITUATION AND INTERNATIONAL RESPONSE
Belarus Review (2023 edition, issue 10)
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).
July 10, 2023
During the past week, there was an intensification of movements of the Russian Armed Forces by rail. According to our data, at least 8 echelons with personnel and equipment of the Russian Armed Forces left Belarus between July 3 and July 9. In total, these echelons could have taken out at least 164 units of equipment (wheeled and tracked) and around 1570 personnel. The echelons departed from Osipovichi-1, Polonka, and Lesnaya stations (Baranovichi district). It is known that the echelons arrived in Russia at Kolodeznaya and Maslovka stations (Voronezh region). There was also information that echelons with equipment and personnel of the Russian Armed Forces were arriving at Polonka station. Such activity is typical for the rotation of the Russian contingent stationed in Belarus. As before, the rotation consists of the following: trained Russian units were sent from Belarus to Russia, and instead of them new Russian servicemen arrived from Russia to the training grounds of the Armed Forces of Belarus for training. According to the latest satellite image data, the dismantling of some Russian Armed Forces’ camps is being carried out on the grounds of Belarusian Armed Forces landfills. Thus, as of July 4, the field camps at the Obuz-Lesnovsky (works started no later than June 30), Lepelsky and Osipovichy (works started no later than July 2) landfills were almost completely dismantled. At the above-mentioned training grounds, field camps existed since October 2022. It is important to note that there is no talk about the complete withdrawal of the Russian military from the territory of Belarus. At present, it is not known exactly what the activity described above is related to. New contradictory information continued to be received about the field camp in Osipovichi district, where the mercenaries of the PMC Wagner were supposed to be stationed. Thus, on July 6, Lukashenka said that there were neither mercenaries of PMC «Wagner,» nor the owner of the company, Yevgeny Prigozhin, in Belarus. According to the data of the monitoring group of the “Belaruski Hajun” project of July 6, reportedly about 200 mercenaries of PMC «Wagner» might be on the territory of the military training ground «Losvido» (Vitsebsk district). It is known that the mercenaries were training with the Belarusian military. On July 7, a representative of the Belarusian Defense Ministry said that representatives of PMC «Wagner» had not yet arrived to inspect the possible location for the mercenaries in the camp in Osipovichi district. The camp itself was constructed for the training of both the military and representatives of the local administration. The latest statements confirm that the information about the deployment of many mercenaries of PMC «Wagner» in the field camp in Osipovichy district, which has been actively disseminated in the information space over the past two weeks, is an information provocation.
On July 7, the Office of Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya announced the results of long-lasting cooperation between Belarusian democratic forces and the Polish Ministry of Interior: Starting from July 2023 Belarusians living in Poland will be able to obtain travel documents in a simplified procedure. Not only Belarusians holding a permanent residence permit in Poland will be able to obtain travel documents, but also those residing in Poland temporarily or children of Belarusians born on the territory of Poland. Moreover, the requirement to provide proof that a Belarusian citizen has no possibility to obtain a passport according to a regular procedure is lifted, and travel documents are issued free of charge for Belarusians. On July 5 -7, the leader of the United Transitional Cabinet Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya was on a working visit in Rome, Italy. Tsikhanouskaya met with Members of Parliament, Italian Prime Minister and Minister of Foreign Affairs, and vice presidents of parliamentary chambers. The group For Democratic Belarus comprised of 38 MPs, was established in the Italian parliament. The group will cooperate with Belarusian democratic forces and civil society and will take patronage over political prisoners. It is the largest of its kind in the Italian parliament. Italian and Belarusian sides agreed to cooperate in bringing the Lukashenka regime to justice both for crimes against humanity and the illegal transfer of Ukrainian children. Italy will support statements on Belarus in the final resolution of the NATO summit and will continue to issue visas for Belarusians, will raise the issue of Belarus during its G7 presidency starting from January 1, 2024, and will consider assistance to Belarusian volunteers fighting in Ukraine. Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya will attend several events in the framework of the NATO Summit in Vilnius on July 11-12. At the Summit, the Office of Tsikhanouskaya organizes two side events on Belarus, where the role of Belarus for transatlantic security as well as the deployment of tactical nuclear weapons in Belarus will be discussed. Last week, in preparation for the NATO Summit in Vilnius, Lithuanian, Latvian and Polish Presidents issued a letter to NATO’s Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg and other NATO leaders, alerting them on the security threat posed by Russia’s aggressive actions and the current situation in Belarus. In their letter, they underlined that “the cooperation between Russia and Belarus has deteriorated the security of the region and that of the entire Euro-Atlantic area”. The three Presidents noted in their letter that the announced deployment of tactical nuclear weapons is “another flagrant violation of the NATO-Russia Framework Act and a living proof that this document is no longer in force”. As we already stated in our Belarus Review of July 4, the topic of PMC “Wagner” mercenaries and TNW deployment in Belarus might be discussed at the NATO Summit. On July 8, Polish Minister of Defense Mariusz Blaszczak announced that Poland is continuing to fortify Belarusian-Polish Border security and started to deploy 1,000 soldiers and around 200 units of vehicles from the 12th and 17th mechanized brigade. The Minister said it is a demonstration of Polish readiness to react in the event of attempts to destabilize the situation.
HUMAN RIGHTS SITUATION AND INTERNATIONAL RESPONSE
The Minsk City Court sentenced Andrei Fomin, a 29-year-old editor of the Vestniki network of samizdat publications, to seven years in a high-security penal colony for calling for sanctions against Lukashenka. The verdict was handed down on June 21, but it became known about it only now. Fomin was found guilty of violating Part 3 of Article 361 («Calls for sanctions»), part 1 of Article 342 («Participation in actions grossly violating public order»), Part 3 of Article 361-1 («Creation of an extremist formation») of the Criminal Code. According to the security forces, the political prisoner was the editor and author of articles for the samizdat network «Vestniki», which was recognized as an «extremist formation». On July 5, 2023, the Minsk District Court delivered a verdict against political prisoner Eduard Babaryka, the son of ex–presidential candidate, who has been held in custody for over three years. He was sentenced to eight years of a medium-security penal colony. According to the prosecution, Eduard Babaryka provided assistance to Lukashenka’s rivals in the presidential elections in 2020, in particular to “Tsikhanousky and other persons”, “aiding in organizing mass riots accompanied by violence, arson, destruction of property and armed resistance to government officials committed by a group of persons by prior agreement.” He was charged with incitement of hatred (under part 3 of Article 130), organizing mass riots (part 1 of Article 293), and tax evasion (part 2 of Article 243 of the Criminal Code). The state prosecution dropped the charge of money laundering under part 2 of Article 235 of the Criminal Code. Babaryka pleaded not guilty during the trial. He testified in court, “I have not committed a single crime I am accused of. The investigation did not find a single piece of evidence of my guilt.” On July 4, UN Special Rapporteur on Belarus Anaïs Marin presented her new report at the 53rd session of the UN Human Rights Council. She noted that the human rights situation in Belarus is “catastrophic and only getting worse.” According to Anaïs Marin, amendments to the Belarusian legislation have led to a sharp increase in politically motivated prosecutions and convictions. The expert noted that the lack of accountability for human rights abuses creates an atmosphere of fear among victims and their families. She stressed that no one in Belarus has been held accountable for the arbitrary detention of tens of thousands of peaceful demonstrators in 2020, nor for the violence or torture, many endured. The pervasive impunity and the environment of fear resulting from repression have led hundreds of thousands of Belarusians into exile. The OSCE Parliamentary Assembly (OSCE PA) at its 30th annual session in Vancouver adopted a declaration on July 4, in which it stressed the «shameful role of Belarus as a co-aggressor» in the war of Russia against Ukraine, demanded that the Lukashenka regime stop facilitating and supporting the war, and called on parliaments of OSCE participating states to “explore options for how it can be held accountable” for this. OSCE parliamentarians pointed at the “soft annexation of Belarus” by Russia and called the Lukashenka regime illegitimate. They demanded the release of all political prisoners, independent journalists, and opposition members in Belarus and Russia. The deputies also recognized Russia as a state sponsor of terrorism, and the Wagner PMC as a terrorist organization. In addition, the OSCE PA “strongly condemns Belarus for supporting and allowing the construction of a military base of the Wagner Group on its territory.” The declaration calls on OSCE participating states to tighten international norms recognizing the terrorist nature of PMCs, as well as Russia’s responsibility for the “sponsorship of terrorism”.
Belarusian propaganda reached the height of cynicism by putting together a propaganda report from prison IK-17 where 99 political prisoners are held. The report insisted that there are no political prisoners in Belarus, the rights of citizens are not infringed, and simply «heavenly conditions» have been created in the colonies. Propagandists expressed their outrage by the OSCE Moscow Mechanism report, which documented massive violations of rights and freedoms in the country. For the propaganda show, political prisoner, and former journalist of the state TV channel “Belarus-1” Dmitry Luksha, imprisoned for four years, was forced to carry out an “excursion” of the prison for journalists of this channel. According to the data of the Human Rights Center “Viasna”, he was sentenced for “discrediting Belarus” (Art. 369-1 of the Criminal Code of Belarus) and organization and preparation of actions that grossly violate public order, or active participation in them (Art. 342). To the direct question of whether he considers himself a political prisoner, he gave a negative answer, which was obvious, considering the circumstances. At the same time, Belarusian “President” Aliaksandr Lukashenka announced again that as Belarusian Criminal Code does not contain “political” articles and said, “There are no political prisoners in the country”. On July 4, during a meeting with national and international journalists, Lukashenka praised state propaganda, “thanks to whom” he, according to his words, is still in power. At the very same meeting, AFP journalist Barbara Wojazer asked Lukashenka, if did he do right in sacrificing part of the state sovereignty to the Russian Federation to stay in power. He called the question “silly” but responded. “To whom I sacrificed part of the state sovereignty to stay in power? I stayed in power thanks to my people, including Belarusian journalists who are here. They are propagandists and agitators of the very best that we have in the country. Only thanks to this I am in power”. At the same time, the “president” of Belarus defended Russian PMC “Wagner” and said that the mercenaries and commanders of the private company would gladly share their combat experience with Belarusian Armed Forces. According to him, the main reason for their deployment in Belarus is the participation of mercenaries in defense of Belarus. “I have absolutely no concern or worry that we will have a certain number of these fighters stationed with us”. He added that he “does not think that PMC can organize a mutiny in Belarus”. Moreover, Lukashenka declared that he is ready not only to welcome the “Wagner” mercenaries but also the representatives of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church of the Moscow Patriarchate, which are expelled from Ukraine. He also once again tried to justify himself for the illegal transfer of Ukrainian children to Belarus. Belarusian propaganda is increasingly making reports about Belarusians who fight on the side of Russia in the war with Ukraine. Sometimes, the propaganda passes Russians off as Belarusian fighters. For example, recently, an investigation showed that the «Belarusian» citizen from the report of propagandist Grigory Azarenka turned out to be a native of the Russian city of Surgut. On July 3, during the “Independence Day” celebrations, the so-called “president” of Belarus Aliaksandr Lukashenka stated in his address that the memory of the Great Patriotic War in 1941-45 is what unites the peoples of the former USSR. At the same time, Lukashenka pushed the old narrative of the “single state” stating that “we have common history”. On July 3, US Secretary of State Anthony Blinken congratulated Belarusians on the official Independence Day of Belarus and underlined that “the courage and perseverance of Belarusians in striving for a democratic future inspired the world”. In reaction to his statement, the Belarusian pro-government party “Belaya Rus” decided to remind itself and released a statement on the Independence Day of the USA, where it called on the American citizens to uprise. “We call upon the freedom-loving American people to take an example from the free Belarusians and resist the fascist junta of transnational capital. Remember the spirit of Washington, do not be a fertilizer for the construction of the world’s «Cattle Yard». Gain true independence. We, the freest people of Europe, believe in the strength of the American nation.» Best regards,iSANS team