- MILITARY DEVELOPMENTS
- POLITICAL DEVELOPMENTS
- HUMAN RIGHTS SITUATION AND INTERNATIONAL RESPONSE
Last week, nuclear strike training was conducted with the Belarusian Armed Forces, and the Belarusian MoD acknowledged the rotation of the Russian Armed Forces contingent of the regional grouping of troops stationed in Belarus.The Head of the State Border Committee (Border guard service of Belarus) resigned, Anatoly Lappo was discharged from military service to the reserve. Lappo was in the post since 2016. Chief of Hrodna Border Security Group Konstantin Molostov was appointed as the new Head of the State Border Committee.Belarusian Armed Forces trained in nuclear strikes. Belarusian MoD reported that the unit of the 465th Missile Brigade equipped with the Iskander-M operational-tactical missile system practiced preparing and carrying out missile strikes in conventional and special (nuclear) equipment. The Defense Ministry did not publish a photo/video of the said training. Currently it is unknown whether the tactical nuclear weapons arrived on the territory of Belarus. Changes in military agreements between Belarus and Russia. The so-called Parliament of Belarus has adopted in one reading the draft law “On ratification of the Protocol between the Republic of Belarus and the Russian Federation on amendments to the Agreement between the Republic of Belarus and the Russian Federation on joint provision of regional security in the military sphere of december 19, 1997” The protocol specifies the norms of the Agreement on regional grouping of troops (forces) of Belarus and Russia, providing for the possibility of deployment of formations and military units of the Russian part of this grouping and military infrastructure facilities of the Russian Armed Forces that ensure their operation. The Belarusian MoD confirmed the rotation of part of the Russian contingent stationed in Belarus. It was reported that planned rotation of military units and subunits of the Russian component of the regional grouping of troops was underway. Personnel, weapons, and equipment from arms and tank units arrive in the territory of Belarus by combined means (by rail and public roads). We note that we informed about the rotation of Russian units in the Belarus Review by iSANS -–May 30, 2023. According to our data, in May at least 109 pieces of military equipment and about 540 personnel could have been withdrawn from Belarus, and 164 pieces of equipment and about 864 personnel were brought in from Russia. The size of the Russian contingent in the regional grouping of troops in Belarus can be estimated at about 4,500 servicemen of the Russian Armed Forces.Personnel reshuffle in the power block.
Last week the Head of the United Transitional Cabinet of Belarus Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya attended the GLOBSEC forum for security in Bratislava, Slovakia. In her speech the leader of democratic forces underlined the necessity to further defend democratic values and support Belarus and Ukraine. Ukraine’s success will weaken the regimes of Putin and Lukashenka, thus giving Belarusians a chance for a democratic transition. She noted that it is crucial to prepare for the window of opportunity in Belarus once it opens and the international community needs a strategy for Belarus to free it from dependence on the Kremlin and help democratic forces steer the country towards democracy. Tsikhanouskaya urged not to abandon Belarus. The leader of the democratic forces met with the Slovak Minister of Foreign and European Affairs Miroslav Wlachovský on the sidelines of the forum and discussed the situation of political prisoners in Belarus, visas for Belarusians, accountability for the perpetrators of crimes, and the response to the illegal stationing of nuclear weapons. Tsikhanouskaya once again emphasized the need to distinguish the regime and the people of Belarus. The Slovak Minister assured that Slovakia will continue to support the democratic movement and issue visas to Belarusians. The issue of the rehabilitation of Belarusian volunteer fighters was also discussed. The Minister pointed out that Slovakia was one of the initiators of the investigation against Putin’s regime in the International Criminal Court over the forcible displacement of Ukrainian children. They agreed to append new evidence of Lukashenka’s complicity, presented in the report by National Anti-Crisis Management, to the case. Despite Belarus not being the frontline topic at the GLOBSEC, it was spoken about at two panels and on the sidelines of the conference. It should be noted that French President Emmanuel Macron named Belarus twice in his speech at the GLOBSEC forum. First time as he spoke about Russia’s aggression against Georgia in 2008 and Ukraine in 2014 and 2022 stating that Putin is making Belarus his vassal, and for the second time as he spoke about security guarantees for Ukraine and ensuring peace in Europe, stating that the question of Belarus will arise in the immediate future. In the discussion after his speech the President underlined the necessity to build sustainable peace in Europe after Ukraine war ends and answering the question whether there is more to be done by the European Community than support to Belarusian civil society and independent media, Macron said the decision was made in 2020 when Europe imposed sanctions against Lukashenka’s regime, pushing Belarus closer to Russia and he underlined Europe’s decision to be tough was right. Moreover, the French President stated that if the question is whether Europe should be more aggressive with Belarus, then his answer is “No”, in his opinion Europe should not deepen the conflict in Belarus, on the contrary, Europe should keep pressuring the regime to prevent Belarus joining the war. Macron’s speech was evaluated by different international experts as turning point in his policies towards Eastern Europe. Moreover, last week was marked by a significant turn in Belarusian-Ukrainian relations. The Head of the National Anti-Crisis Management Pavel Latushka met with the Advisor to the Presidential Office of Ukraine Mikhail Podolyak in Kyiv to discuss strategic cooperation between Belarusian democratic forces and Ukraine and his main takeaways where that “Lukashenka’s train has left, and the station Kyiv is closed for him”. Latushka confirmed to have heard from Ukrainian side that it doesn’t negotiate with the official Minsk and that it will ensure cooperation with broad spectrum of Belarusian democratic forces. Topics that were discussed were the role of the Union State in unfolding the war against Ukraine, Lukashenka’s complicity in the war and in organizing illegal deportation of Ukrainian children from Russian occupied territories, if to mention a few. Earlier last week the Verkhovna Rada of Ukraine announced that it supported government’s initiative and denounced bilateral Agreement with Belarus on pension provision, Zelenskyy imposed sanctions against about 20 Belarusian companies and about 51 individuals, next to new sanctions against Russia.
HUMAN RIGHTS SITUATION AND INTERNATIONAL RESPONSE
On June 2, 2023, eight leading Belarusian human rights NGOs recognized twenty-three people as political prisoners over charges under various defamation articles of the Criminal Code and in connection with the “desecration of state symbols of the Republic of Belarus” and other actions aimed at the legitimate exercise of freedom of expression. Human rights defenders demanded an end to the persecution of legitimate forms of expression and the decriminalization of defamation. The total number of political prisoners in Belarus exceeds 1,500. Human Rights Center “Viasna” issued an overview of the human rights situation in Belarus in May 2023. Administrative persecution is actively used for political repression, with 395 cases of detention registered in May. The grounds for persecution include “distribution of extremist content”, “violating the procedure for holding mass events”, “breaching public order” and “resisting arrest”. More than a third of the detainees are women. Three members of “Viasna” convicted earlier this year were finally sent to serve their sentences: Valiantsin Stefanovic was sent to correctional colony No. 15 in Mahilioŭ, Uladzimir Labkovich to correctional colony No. 17 in Škloŭ, and Ales Bialiatski to correctional colony No. 9 in Horki. The three penitentiaries are known for systematic acts of torture and ill-treatment of political prisoners. For 110 days, there is no information about Mikalai Statkevich, who is being held in a penal colony in Hlybokaje. Similarly, there is no confirmation about the exact whereabouts of Viktar Babaryka. During the month, the Ministry of Internal Affairs extrajudicially added 112 people to the list of individuals involved in “extremist activities”. The list currently includes 2,868 names. The KGB updated the list of persons involved in “terrorist activities”, adding seven new names to the registry. As of the end of May, 33 journalists and media workers were imprisoned in Belarus. On May 29, Poland imposed sanctions against 365 citizens of Belarus due to the upheld sentence of eight years in penal colony against journalist and activist of the Union of Poles of Belarus Andrzej Poczobut and the ongoing repression against political opponents of the Lukashenka regime. Sanctions were imposed on 159 parliamentary deputies, 76 judges, seven prosecutors, 32 representatives of the local administration, 28 members of security forces, 23 representatives of propaganda media, 24 athletes and sports activists, eight employees of state institutions and eight cultural and academic figures. The sanctions list also includes 16 entrepreneurs (15 Russians and one Belarusian) associated with Russian assets. In addition, sanctions have been imposed against 20 legal entities (19 of them are associated with Russia and one with Belarus).
Last week, the regime made yet another attack on the freedom of speech. The House of Representatives approved in the second reading a new draft law “On the Media”, which will expand the list of grounds for revoking state registration of the media and restrictions on access to internet resources, online publications, and news aggregators. Requirements are being introduced for the activities of owners of Internet resources that distribute the products of TV and (or) radio, media. In addition, the draft expands the possibility of applying certain “retaliatory measures” against foreign media, Internet resources, and journalists. Propaganda continues to impose the narrative that Belarusians who fled the country as a result of repression allegedly want to return home. “Commission on the Return of Displaced Belarusians” held its second meeting, at which the appeals of “over 20 persons” were discussed. Prosecutor General. Andrei Shved said that some have already returned to Belarus. In April the Commission received more than 70 appeals. At the meeting of the Heads of Security Services and Special Services of the CIS countries on June 1, Lukashenka repeated some old propagandistic slogans: First, the West is preparing forcible coup in Belarus: allegedly, illegal armed groups are being formed in Poland, Lithuania and Ukraine and “sleeping” cells of extremists are being created in Belarus itself. Second, the war in Ukraine started long before 2014. In addition, he unexpectedly recalled some Russian „sainted” („conscientious”) people who had demanded in 2014 „to protect the Russian man in Donbass”, and when it came to war they fled Russia and criticized Putin. Apparently, it refers to those who first supported the invasion of Ukraine and then became disillusioned with the actions of the Russian Army. Third, Ukraine had many options to ensure people lived in peace. Neither previous Heads of State of Ukraine, nor the current one did not use this opportunity, because the West allegedly “pushed” them to current situation. “Everything was coming to this. The only mistake we probably made was not solving this issue [with Ukraine] in 2014-2015, when Ukraine had no army or readiness…” In addition, Lukashenka announced of some threats to the CIS, that it was going to be “split up”. Lukashenka underlined that CIS Special Services continue to cooperate; the latter is poorly known to the West. Propagandists try to justify continued tightening not only inside the country, but also on its borders with the old narrative “Belarus is in the ring of enemies”. At the meeting of Heads of Special Services, the Head of the KGB Ivan Tertel explained the strengthening of control along the perimeter of the border by the need to “filter the contingent”. He announced that he receives information about real plans of armed groups, formed in the territory of Ukraine, Poland, Lithuania, Czech Republic, and others. Earlier the media reported about the thorough inspections at the borders of Belarus with the EU countries. Also, controls were recently introduced at the border with Russia. At the same time the regime used the scandal around final exam results at schools to its own benefit. Many soon to be school graduates who took the “centralized exam” in May were shocked by the undervalued results, which could not be challenged. The scandal reached Lukashenka. As a result of the inspection, it turned out that the assessment methodology was too complicated. “That’s why President of our country Alexandr Lukashenka gave a specific instruction – to simplify the calculation methodology and make it understandable for everyone”, said the Minister of Education Andrei Ivanets. And the propagandist Shpakouski was quick to praise: “This is reasonable behavior of the responsible authorities. Some might say that they “Couldn’t solve the issue without the President’s intervention. But this is exactly why we have the model of a presidential republic, where the head of state acts as an arbiter in difficult issues”. Despite growing tensions, strikes on inner Russian regions, failures at the front and other issues, propaganda continues to praise “Union State”. On June 9 celebrations of the Russia Day will be held in Minsk that will include a huge concert with attendance of prominent Russian popstars, among other things. Best regards,iSANS team