- MILITARY DEVELOPMENTS
- POLITICAL DEVELOPMENTS
- HUMAN RIGHTS SITUATION AND INTERNATIONAL RESPONSE
Belarus Review (2023 edition, issue 7)
A weekly update on the ongoing political crisis in the Republic of Belarus prepared for you by the International Strategic Action Network for Security (iSANS).
On June 16 became known that the Russian Investigative Committee created its Military investigative department in Belarus. Its establishment is associated with the location of Russian Defense Ministry units on the territory of Belarus. It is worth noting that it is common practice for Russia to establish military investigative bodies abroad, usually at military base cantonment sites. The creation of the Russian military investigative department in Belarus may be due to the following reasons: 1) presence of the permanent grouping of the Russian Armed Forces on the territory of Belarus; 2) systematic commission of crimes by servicemen of the Russian Armed Forces. This confirms the plans for continuous permanent presence of the Russian military on the territory of Belarus. On June 16, in his speech at the St. Petersburg International Economic Forum Vladimir Putin announced that Russia had already moved some of its nuclear warheads to Belarus. Currently, there is no independent confirmation about the start of an actual relocation of tactical nuclear weapons (TNWs) to Belarus. At the same time, in the past several months, both Putin and Lukashenka made a number of contradictory statements on the terms of TNWs deployment in Belarus. As we noted in Belarus Review by iSANS — June 12, 2023, contradictory statements of Putin and Lukashenka on the terms of TNW placement in Belarus can mean: 1) Lukashenko’s lack of complete information and real control over the process of TNW deployment in Belarus; 2) a disinformation campaign coordinated between Putin and Lukashenka. The purpose of such a campaign could be, for example, to create political pressure in the run-up to the NATO summit to be held in Vilnius on July 11-12, as well as the ongoing Ukrainian counteroffensive. The North-Western Operational Command of the Belarusian army is preparing for «surprise checks of combat readiness”. Such a conclusion can be drawn on the basis of the state procurement conducted by the military. The combat readiness inspections will involve calling up a large number of reservists from the reserve as well as the deployment of mechanized brigades to wartime positions.Plans to modernize tanks for the Belarusian army have not yet been implemented. In February 2023, Dmitry Pantus, chairman of the Belarusian State Committee for Military Industry, announced plans to upgrade 20-30 T-72 tanks annually to the level of the T-72BM2 model for the needs of the Belarusian army. Despite the fact that almost half of the year 2023 has already passed, tests of the new tank are still underway, and serial modernization has not been started yet. From this, we can conclude that the ambitious tank modernization plans are in jeopardy.
On June 13, The U.S. Bureau of Industry and Security renewed the Temporary Denial Order (TDO) that fully cuts off access of the Belarusian state air carrier Belavia to U.S. goods and technologies for another 180 days due to solid evidence that Belavia had continued to engage in conduct prohibited by the TDO and Export Administration Regulations. Belavia had continued to operate aircraft that were subject to valid restrictions and operated flights into Belarus and/or Russia from/to Hurghada (Egypt), Tbilisi, (Georgia), Doha (Qatar), Moscow (Russia), Istanbul (Turkey), and Sharjah (United Arab Emirates). The President of the United States Joe Biden extended sanctions against the Belarus regime as declared in the “Notice on the Continuation of the National Emergency with respect to Belarus”. On June 12 was announced that the European Court in Luxemburg refused to lift sanctions against three individuals connected with the Lukashenka regime: First Deputy Minister of Education Aleksandr Bakhanovich, Rector of the Belarusian State Medical University Sergei Rubnikovich, and Vice-Rector for Education of the Belarusian State Economic University Sergei Skriba. Lukashenka’s closest oligarch Shakutin also lost his case on lifting sanctions against him in the EU Court of Justice on June 7. Last week, Aliaksandr Lukashenka made the main headlines in the public space and media during his visit to ammunition manufacturers in the Minsk region. He claimed that the placement of Russian TNW had already begun, explained his stance towards Volodymyr Zelenskyy calling him “a scumbag”, but admitted that “he has grown as a politician”, and made many other contradictory statements. The international community reacted to Lukashenka’s and Putin’s statements regarding the Russian TNW deployment in Belarus. In particular, NATO Secretary General Stoltenberg stated before the Defense Ministers meeting in Brussels that “NATO sees no change in Russia’s nuclear posture, which would require a change in NATO’s posture”. 44 UN member states signed a joint resolution denouncing Russia’s plan for TNW deployment in Belarus and called on Russia and Belarus to scrap an agreement to house Russian TNWs in Belarus. Lithuania’s envoy to the UN stated that by deploying nukes Russia and Belarus violate the International Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons as well as provisions of the Budapest memorandum in relation to Belarus. The US government assured that it will keep monitoring the situation further, but “don’t see a reason right now to alter the strategic posture”. A group of African states decided to propose a peace plan to Russia and Ukraine. On June 16 and 17, President of Senegal Macky Sall and President of South Africa Cyril Ramaphosa headed a delegation that included leaders from Zambia, Comoros, and Egypt, on a trip to Kyiv and St. Petersburg to try to mediate between the two countries in conflict. The measures that African leaders are planning to propose reportedly could include a Russian troop pull-back, removal of the TNW from Belarus, suspension of the implementation of an ICC arrest warrant targeting Putin, and sanctions relief. The Head of the United Transitional Cabinet Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya was on a working visit in Estonia last week, where she met Estonia’s state and government officials. The establishment of the “Friends of Democratic Belarus group” at the Estonian parliament was announced during her visit by the Speaker of the Parliament Lauri Hussar. The group’s immediate plans include hearings on Belarus, a resolution on Belarus regarding the placement of TNWs, and a parliamentary visit to devise a working strategy on Belarus. Tsikhanouskaya discussed with the Estonian speaker of the parliament cooperation between democratic Belarus and Estonia, a European perspective on Belarus, and Belarus’s role in the regional security system.
HUMAN RIGHTS SITUATION AND INTERNATIONAL RESPONSE
On June 13, 2023, a trial of Nasta Loiko, a prominent Belarusian human rights defender, started in Minsk. She is accused of “inciting hatred” and “insulting the government officials” and faces up to 12 years in prison. The basis for the criminal case is the report “Persecution of Anarchists, Antifascists, Leftists, and Social Activists in Belarus (2017-August 2018)”, which took a critical stance on the actions of law enforcement agencies. The hearing will be closed to the public. Loiko is a recognized expert and a leading member of the NGO “Human Constanta”. She was first detained on September 6, 2022, near the courtroom where the local anarchists of the Revolutionary Action movement were being tried. The human rights defender was initially released but was soon arrested again after a house search. Before the opening of the criminal case, Loiko spent 60 days in administrative detention at the Akrescina detention facility; she was given 15 days of arrest four times in a row. At one of the administrative courts, Nasta testified about being tortured. The Minsk City Court sentenced Stanislav Lupanosov, a former employee of the Main Department for Combating Organised Crime and co-founder of the BYPOL foundation, to 18 years in a high-security colony in absentia. He was charged under three articles of the Criminal Code: “state treason”, “unauthorized copying of information” and “abuse of authority”. The court also imposed a fine of 48,100 Belarusian rubles (about $16.1 thousand) on him. The BYPOL foundation was founded in 2020 by former law enforcement and security officers and is engaged in exposing repression in Belarus. It was the representatives of BYPOL who revealed the identities of the people who were involved in the murder of Raman Bandarenka, published recordings of beatings of protesters by security forces, and recordings of wiretapping of communications between employees of the KGB, the Ministry of Internal Affairs, the Investigation Committee and the Prosecutor’s Office. On 14 June, Deputy Chair of the United Transitional Cabinet of Belarus and the head of the National Anti-Crisis Management (NAU) Pavel Latushka announced that he had submitted to the International Criminal Court the first part of the documentation on the deportation of Ukrainian children from the occupied territories to Belarus. This submission will be followed by the second part, which has already been partially transferred to the Prosecutor General’s Office of Ukraine. The politician claims that Lukashenka and Putin had jointly approved the decision on the deportation of Ukrainian children. On 17 June, Alexey Talai, the organizer of the transfer of children from the occupied territories of Ukraine to Belarus, admitted in an interview with the state agency BelTA that he had received consent to this personally from Lukashenka. The Prosecutor General’s Office of Lithuania launched a pre-trial investigation against the Belarusian authorities on charges of illegally transferring Ukrainian children from the occupied territories to Belarus. Lithuanian Prosecutor General Nida Grunskene said that an investigation had been launched under two articles of the country’s Criminal Code: on deportation and resettlement of civilians (Article 102) and separation of children (Article 100-2). The Lithuanian side decided to start the investigation after evaluating the information received from the National Leader of Belarus Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya. A report prepared by the National Anti-Crisis Management indicates that about 2 thousand children were displaced to Belarus from the Ukrainian territories occupied by Russia. Belarusian democratic forces believe that this was possible on the instructions or with the consent of the Belarusian authorities. «Currently, during the pre-trial investigation, about 100 people have been recognized as victims, and more than 360 war refugees who arrived from Ukraine to Lithuania have been interviewed by witnesses,» the Lithuanian Prosecutor General’s Office said. The Law and Democracy Center and the Ministry of Justice of the Republic of Lithuania held an international conference “Responsibility of the Lukashenka regime for crimes against humanity and migrant crisis: Prospects for international justice” on 12 June in Vilnius under the patronage of the Prime Minister of the Republic of Lithuania Ingrida Šimonytė and the National Leader of Belarus Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya. More than a hundred experts in international law, politicians, civil society representatives, and other public figures from different countries in Europe and North America took part in the event. Participants concluded that there are reasonable grounds to believe that serious human rights violations in Belarus amount to crimes against humanity as defined by international law. They examined various avenues to ensure justice and accountability in Belarus, including national efforts to investigate crimes and prosecute the perpetrators under the principle of universal jurisdiction; making a referral to the International Criminal Court by concerned States Parties to the Rome Statute of the situation with the crimes of deportation and persecution of the Belarusian nationals who have fled to other countries, in accordance with the Bangladesh/Myanmar precedent; and the establishment of a special ad hoc international tribunal for the crimes against humanity committed in Belarus. Participants called on Latvia and Poland as the countries affected by the migrant crisis to join Lithuania in its efforts to seek accountability of the Lukashenka regime for the smuggling of migrants in the framework of the existing international instruments.
Last week, Aliaksandr Lukashenka made the main media headlines. Most probably, he decided to “take revenge” after recovering from adenovirus in mid-May. On June 13, during his meeting with ammunition manufacturers in the Minsk region, Lukashenka made some resonant statements that became propaganda benchmarks for the upcoming days. First, he again discussed his favorite topic – the appearance of tactical nuclear weapons in Belarus. Lukashenka confirmed again that the deployment of tactical nukes in Belarus takes place upon his initiative: “I demanded it”, said Lukashenka. Further: “Belarus will receive nuclear rockets and bombs from Russia, whereas bombs will be three times more powerful than the ones dropped in Hiroshima and Nagasaki”. When asked if Belarus had already received nuclear weapons, he avoided answering. Meanwhile, Putin confirmed this week that nuclear weapons are already in Belarus. According to Lukashenka, tactical nuclear weapons in Belarus will be controlled by both Russians and Belarusians. Continuing, he elaborated on the topic of “red lines” for Belarus and stated that if those red lines are breached, Belarus would use tactical nuclear weapons. He said that such circumstances are not minor provocations. “Red lines” are a full-scale aggression for me”, Lukashenka said. While speaking about the war in Ukraine, Lukashenka: at the beginning of the war Belarusian side negotiated with Ukraine in Lviv, however, the process allegedly reached a dead end, “because the U.S. got involved.”Ukrainian Ambassador to Belarus Igor Kizim refuted that he is not aware of any negotiations in Lviv, which were mentioned by Lukashenka.One more propagandistic myth was promoted by Lukashenka: Allegedly, his son Nikolai reached Volodymyr Zelenskyy over the phone during the first days of the war and gave immediately the phone to his father so that both presidents could talk about peace. Moreover, Lukashenka also claims that during negotiations in Istanbul last spring, Moscow and Kyiv allegedly discussed the terms and conditions of “Crimea’s lease”. There is no independent information on this; Ukraine has also not confirmed this. Also for the first time, Lukashenka gave a detailed comment on the liberation of Raman Protasevich: “He did everything he promised, that is why he was pardoned”. “The man was convinced: he confessed that he had done wrong. We checked: he hadn’t been to the front; he hadn’t killed anyone”. Despite the non-recognition of the so-called “Peoples Republics of Luhansk/Donetsk” Belarus continues to legitimize these illegal formations by offering cooperation. On Thursday, during the International Economic Forum in St. Petersburg, Belarusian Ambassador to Russia Dmitry Krutoi and “the Head of Donetsk Peoples Republic” Denis Pushilin signed an agreement on the “development of cooperation in the field of agriculture, machinery, coal, and food products deliveries”, which was broadly reported in the Belarusian media. We have already noted in previous issues of Belarus Review that the propaganda media began to gradually change the tone of their publications from militant hate speech towards Ukrainians to a more conciliatory language. Last week this trend continued: Igor Tur, a propagandist for the state TV channel ONT said that “This year’s Slavyanskiy Bazaar (annual song festival) should definitely feature Ukrainian songs and songs in Ukrainian… Ukrainian songs at Slavyanskiy Bazaar will show that we very clearly divide the Kyiv authorities and ordinary Ukrainians”. Best regards,iSANS team