Belarus Review by iSANS — July 24, 2023 

Belarus Review by iSANS — July 24, 2023
Photo: New York Times journalist Christian Triebert


Belarus Review (2023 edition, issue 12)

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).

On Sunday, July 23, Belarusian ruler Alexander Lukashenka arrived in St. Petersburg to hold talks with Russia’s President Putin. This meeting is the first after Prigozhin’s mutiny in Moscow and Lukashenka acting as its “resolver”. Reportedly, Lukashenka told Putin that Wagner’s mercenaries are “asking to go West, to go on a trip to Warsaw, to Rzeszow”, but at the same time, he assured Putin of keeping their agreement. Moreover, Lukashenka demonstrated a map which, according to him, shows the routes of the Polish Armed Forces to the borders of the Union State and underlined that “the ground is being prepared (for an attack)”. Furthermore, Lukashenka claimed that there are many conversations about accepting parts of Ukraine to NATO. He accused Poland of wanting to “tear off a piece of Western Ukraine under the guise of accepting this part into NATO” and he also claimed that under the guise of NATO membership Poland wants annexation of that part of Ukraine as payment for active participation of Poles in “this operation against the Russian Federation.” He deemed such Polish actions unacceptable and underlined readiness to support people of Western Ukraine if they need it. Lukashenka repeated Putin’s slogan as he spoke about alleged Polish claims to territories in western Belarus and said that any aggression against Belarus would be an aggression against Russia. The organized movement of mercenaries of PMC «Wagner» to Belarus continued during the week. According to available information, at least six columns of mercenaries’ equipment arrived in Belarus from July 17 to 19. In total, from July 11 to 23, at least ten convoys with the equipment of PMC «Wagner» (from 670 to 700 units of vehicles, 3,450-3,650 mercenaries) arrived in Belarus. Currently, it can be stated that the field camp at the village Tsel in Osipovichy district became the main base of mercenaries’ accommodation in Belarus.  There is no information about other places of their deployment. The mercenaries of the PMC “Wagner” continue combat training with Belarusian servicemen. In particular, it was reported that soldiers of the 38th Airborne Assault Brigade of the Belarusian Armed Forces were trained at the Brestsky training ground. It should be noted that the deployment of several thousand mercenaries of PMC Wagner in Belarus creates new potential threats to military security, primarily for neighboring NATO countries. The use of mercenaries for military provocations cannot be ruled out. At the same time, the fact of deployment of Wagnerites cannot exclude the element of information and psychological operation. This is indicated, for example, by the deliberate demonstration of the training of mercenaries and the Belarusian military at the training ground near the border with Poland. On the morning of July 18 Yevgeny Prigozhin‘s business jet came to Belarus for the fourth time. Later it became known, that Prigozhin together with Dmitry Utkin visited a field camp at the village Tsel, where he greeted mercenaries on „the arrival to Belarusian land “. On July 17, the Lukashenka regime ratified the Agreement with Russia on the establishment and functioning of military and combat centers for joint training of servicemen of the Belarusian Armed Forces and the Armed Forces of the Russian Federation. The decision to establish training centers was made back in March 2021. In Belarus, training centers were established as early as August-September 2021: at the Baranovichy airfield for aviation with the task of training crews on SU-30SM fighters; on the basis of the 1st anti-aircraft missile regiment in the Grodno district for the anti-aircraft missile forces with the task to train crews to operate S-400 anti-aircraft missile systems. Ratification of the agreement has legally formalized the status quo. On July 19, there has been a move of the Russian air grouping in Belarus. On that day, at least nine fighter jets SU-34 and SU-30SM of the Russian Armed Forces took a flight from Machulishchy to Baranovichy airfield. At the same time, nine helicopters of the Russian Armed Forces took a flight from Baranovichy to the Machulishchy airfield. The relocations are connected to the completion of runway repair at the Baranovichy Airfield. Repair of runways at the Lida and Machulishchy airfields can be expected in the nearest future, as construction materials were previously purchased for these purposes.


Earlier last week, on July 21, New Zealand announced another sanctions package against Russia and Belarus. The new sanctions target six financial institutions of Belarus, including banks such as Development Bank, Dabrabyt, and Belinvestbank. According to the Minister of Foreign Affairs of New Zealand, sanctions against Belarus are imposed for Belarus’ complicity in the war against Ukraine. The Minister also condemned the deployment of TNW in Belarus as it imposes a direct threat to Ukraine and neighboring allies and “is a further attempt to destabilize the region”. On July 20, new restrictions imposed by the Italian government came into force. The restrictions were imposed for dual-use products that are being shipped to Armenia, Iran, Kazakhstan, and Kyrgyzstan and from there to Russia. The goal of the new restrictive measures is to prevent circumvention of earlier sanctions imposed against Russia and Belarus. Also earlier last week, Australia imposed sanctions against 45 entities, and individuals targeting Russian defense, technology, and energy sectors, senior Russian government officials, and senior military staff from Belarus. On July 18, after the end of the EU-CELAC Summit, it became known that the new sanctions package against Belarus was informally agreed upon by the EU member states. According to EU diplomats, the package will include restrictions on battlefield equipment, including aviation parts. The items on the new sanctions list shall mirror the sanctions against Russia, which is an effort to crack down on sanctions circumvention through Belarus. It was also confirmed that a discussion is ongoing on how to fully align the Belarusian sanctions with penalties against Moscow.


On July 17, former freelance correspondent of the Belarusian service of Radio Liberty Igor Karney was arrested in Minsk. His daughter said that the journalist was taken to the pre-trial detention center on Akrestsina, his house was searched, and he was detained under a criminal article, but it is not clear which one. Repressions against independent journalists in Belarus intensified after the 2020 presidential elections: dozens of criminal cases were opened against members of the press, more than a hundred searches were carried out, the largest editorial offices were destroyed, and equipment was confiscated. Many journalists have been forced to leave the country to avoid arrest. On July 18, Secretary General of the Belarusian Red Cross Society Dzmitry Shautsou openly stated in the report of the TV channel «Belarus 1» that his organization is involved in the removal of Ukrainian children from the occupied territories of Ukraine to Belarus. “I was simply outraged to the core by the fact that Belarus was accused of kidnapping children who come to us for recovery,” he said, “the Belarusian Red Cross has taken, is taking, and will take an active part in this.” A few days earlier, Shautsou visited the occupied Ukrainian cities of Mariupol and Lisichansk, where he also justified the deportation of Ukrainian children and posed for a TV interview with the “Z” symbol on his arm, demonstrating his support for the aggression. The International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC) launched an investigation into Shevtsov’s statements and his visit to the “Donetsk People’s Republic” and highlighted that “the extraordinary circumstances of this visit, including the use of a symbol associated with one of the parties to the international armed conflict in Ukraine, implicate the Fundamental Principles of the International Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement.“ Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmitry Kuleba had already called on the International Criminal Court to issue an arrest warrant for the head of the Belarusian Red Cross. On July 21, human rights defender and Viasna member, Leanid Sudalenka, was released from Vitsebsk penal colony, having served his prison term in full. He was sentenced to three years of imprisonment for the “organization and preparation of actions that grossly violate public order, and training and preparation of individuals to participate in such actions, as well as their financing or other material provision of such actions”. During his 20-year engagement in human rights work, Sudalenka has played a crucial role in preparing and submitting numerous individual applications to the UNHRC against Belarus. For his human rights work, Sudalenka was honored with the prestigious “Liberté-Égalité-Fraternité” Human Rights Prize of the French Republic in 2019. In the same year, he was also awarded the National Prize for Achievements in the Field of Human Rights in the category “Human Rights Defender of the Year” by the Belarusian human rights community. On July 16, the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights invited individuals, groups, and organizations to submit information and documentation relevant to the mandate of the examination of the human rights situation in Belarus. OHCHR is interested in receiving information related to all alleged human rights violations committed in Belarus since May 1, 2020, including the possible gender dimensions of such violations.  On July 18, the European Parliament’s Foreign Affairs Committee adopted a new report on EU relations with Belarus. In the text, MEPs condemn in the strongest terms the unabated repression and systematic human rights violations continuously committed by the regime of the dictator Aliaksandr Lukashenka against its own people and call on the International Criminal Court (ICC) in The Hague to consider issuing a warrant for his arrest. With about 1,500 political prisoners behind bars in Belarus, including lawyers, trade unionists, journalists, and human rights activists, the report also calls for the release of all illegally imprisoned, while noting that more than 300,000 Belarusians have left the country due to repression by the authorities. This report will serve as a basis for a resolution by the European Parliament which will be put to a vote at the September plenary session. On July 21, the President of the UN General Assembly Csaba Kőrösi announced the winners of the prestigious UN Prize in the Field of Human Rights for 2023. The Human Rights Center “Viasna” was among the winners. The recipients of the Prize were chosen by a Special Committee from more than 400 nominations received from Member States, the UN system, and civil society. The members of the Special Committee conveyed their admiration for all civil society actors who contribute to the promotion, protection, and advancement of human rights. They also acknowledged the important role played by human rights defenders and activists, praising them for their courage and dedication while strongly condemning any attempts to “silence and intimidate” them. The UN prize is awarded every five years for “outstanding achievements in the field of human rights”. Previous recipients have included Jimmy Carter, Nelson Mandela, Denis Mukwege, Eleanor Roosevelt, Malala Yousafzai, and the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC). The 2023 award ceremony will take place at the UN Headquarters in New York in December 2023 as part of the events dedicated to International Human Rights Day.


After the Russian Ministry of Foreign Affairs announced the termination of the so-called ‘grain deal’ on Monday, July 17, Belarusian propagandist and pro-Lukashenka politician Oleg Gaidukevich commented in an interview with SOLOVIEV LIVE channel’s propagandist Grigory Azarenok that Ukraine had used the grain agreement for illegal import of weapons and claimed that the Ukrainian Armed Forces had actually used the corridors for transportation of weapons, reconnaissance, preparation of “terrorist attacks and their implementation”. Another propagandist Alexander Shpakovsky claimed that “the extension of the ‘grain deal’ against the backdrop of a demonstrative strike on the Crimean bridge would have received unambiguous negative interpretations in a society that is on the eve of the presidential elections. Considerations of domestic political expediency outweighed external factors in this case.” On July 18, the EU Parliament’s Foreign Affairs Committee adopted a report on Belarus, which calls on the ICC to issue an arrest for Aliaksandr Lukashenka for the illegal transfer of Ukrainian children from Russian-occupied territories to Belarus. Belarusian media propagandists reacted very painfully to comments to this report made by Pavel Latushka, Head of the Belarusian Anti-Crisis Management and deputy head of the United Transitional Cabinet of Belarus: A pro-government and pro-Kremlin “expert” Alexander Shpakovsky claimed that “there is a certain probability of issuing an arrest warrant for Aliaksandr Lukashenka by the so-called ICC” in The Hague, analogically to Vladimir Putin. He named the situation “cynical” and stated that “the West which supplies lethal weapons to Ukraine, blames Belarus for saving children from the war. In this case, a strong response will immediately follow, up to a complete breakdown of diplomatic relations.” He also added that the persons responsible for such a “blackmail are in imprisonment facilities in Belarus and their situation will worsen”. Another propagandist and “politician” Oleg Gaidukevich set a reward for kidnapping and forced transfer of Pavel Latushka to Belarus. Earlier, Gaidukevich stated that opponents of the regime should be brought by force in the trunk of a car to Belarus. On July 20, the Belarusian state news agency BelTA published a large propaganda report about the joint training of Wagner group mercenaries with the Belarusian army. The training was deliberately organized at the military training facility in the Brest region, close to the Polish border. In a video posted on the agency’s website, Belarusian servicemen enthusiastically praise Prigozhin’s soldiers for the “priceless combat experience” gained. Other state-backed media, including the Russian ones, also spoke positively about the Wagner as an “acquisition” for Belarus. On July 20, propaganda marked the 29th anniversary of Alexander Lukashenka’s tenure as “president” of Belarus. The propagandist Shpakovsky praised Lukashenka for acting as a leader today more than ever and underlined that he is enjoying the “well-deserved respect of his people”. Shpakovsky thanked Lukashenka in an old Soviet tradition: “Thank you, Comrade President and Commander-in-Chief!” On July 21, at the Russian Security Council meeting, Vladimir Putin stated that Russia would respond to a possible aggression against Belarus with all available means. Putin also said that the Western territories of modern Poland are “a gift from Stalin to the Poles” and that “if our friends in Warsaw have forgotten about it, we will remind them about it.” Moreover, he added that “Poland’s war against Belarus means a war against Russia”. In his statement, Putin accused Poland of wanting to tear off parts of the western territories of Ukraine and Belarus under the NATO umbrella, which he deemed a “dangerous game”.Best regards,iSANS team


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