Belarus Review by iSANS — March 05, 2024 

Belarus Review by iSANS — March 05, 2024
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Belarus Review (2024 edition, issue 09)

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).

From February 27 to March 1, a commission of the General Staff of the Armed Forces of Belarus inspected the territorial defense authorities of Minsk. The purpose of the inspection was to assess the level of training of the territorial defense, as well as the organization of the people’s militia. On February 28, the draft law “On Amending Laws on National Security” was adopted in the second reading. One of the main innovations of the draft law is the toughening of responsibility for evasion of military registration and conscription, as well as the possibility of informing citizens about the need to appear at the military enlistment office by SMS-messages. On February 28-29 in Astana (Kazakhstan), a delegation of the Armed Forces of Belarus took part in the meetings of the heads of international military cooperation bodies of the defense ministries of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) and the Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO). The meetings discussed issues related to strengthening security in the SCO and CSTO regions. On February 28, the troops of the Western Operational Command began a command-staff training under the leadership of the Chief of General Staff of the Armed Forces of Belarus. It was noted that the theme of the training is purely defensive in nature and is a response to the Dragon-2024 exercise, which is being held in Poland. On February 28-29, the transfer from peacetime to wartime was practiced in Minsk military commandant’s office. The purpose of the events was to check the training of servicemen in coordinated actions when bringing the military unit to the highest degrees of combat readiness. Servicemen of the 6th and 11th mechanized brigades are being trained as snipers in the 56th training center for junior specialists of the motorized rifle troops of the Russian Armed Forces. Based on the available information, it can be stated that at least part of the remaining mercenaries of the PMC “Wagner” may have left Belarus for Russia. A likely reason for their departure could be their participation in the training of volunteer formations of the Russian Federal Guard before being sent to the front. The exact number of mercenaries who have left is unknown. It is premature to speak about the complete curtailment of mercenary activities in Belarus.


On February 27, the USA imposed sanctions against the Sandvine company, which is related to the internet blockage during protests of 2020. Export sanctions against this business were introduced for the supply of technologies to the government in Egypt. Export restrictions affected the company‘s branches in Sweden, Japan, UAE, India and Malaysia. Sandvine is a Canadian company owned by the American Francisco Partners. The headquarters of the company are in San Francisco. On the same day, it became known that the Ukrainian Prime Minister Denys Smyhal insisted on the need for international community to impose sanctions against Rosatom and disconnecting all Russian and Belarusian banks from the SWIFT system, limit imports from Russia to the European Union of LNG, gold, iron ore, titanium, aluminum, copper, nickel, palladium, and ban imports of Russian agricultural products to EU countries. The politician considers these measures necessary in addition to already imposed sanctions and tremendous USD 400 billion loss that Russia has already suffered to even greater hit Russia’s ability to finance the war machine. Against the background of closing by Lithuania two more border checkpoints at Lithuania’s frontier with Belarus, “Lavoriskes” and “Raigardas”, and a dynamic public discussion around the issue, Lithuanian political scientist Vytis Jurkonis explained in an Interview with Svaboda why the Lithuanian government made the decision to close additional two border checkpoints from March 1, 2024. Jurkonis stated that Lithuania clearly differentiates between the official Minsk and the Belarusian civil society, Belarusian democratic forces. The country is not tired from supporting the democratic path of Belarusians and the opinion should not be made according to statements of one or two parliamentarians. Moreover, the ways and means to increase the pressure on the regime are not used in full and Lithuania is in favor of synchronization of sanctions against the Lukashenka regime with those imposed against Russia. On February 29, New Zealand updated its sanctions list and added the price cap on oil of Russian origin, made explicit the prohibition on exporting restricted items to Russia and Belarus through third countries, designated 45 individuals and 16 entities providing material or strategic support to Russia by enabling sanctions evasion or by facilitating the procurement and transfer of military equipment for Russia’s use against Ukraine. Last week, a disinformation campaign was carried out in Lithuania. First, Lithuanians received messages from, as it turned out, a fake account, stating that Lithuanians shouldn’t insult Belarusians as there are over 100 thousand of them already in Lithuania and claiming that Vilnius is a Belarusian city, which will be taken from Lithuania and threatening “to come to their wives and children”. Reportedly, the actions could have been made by the Lukashenka’s siloviki to discredit the democratic forces of Belarus. At the same time, Belarusians residing in Lithuania received calls from allegedly the Department of Migration threatening with deportation of them from the country. Representatives of the Department made a statement that they are aware of such events and that this is a provocation, and urged Belarusian citizens residing in Lithuania not to storm the Department, but first of all to check their individual “cabinets” on the e-portal of the Department. Amid the ongoing protests by Polish farmers blocking state borders to Ukraine and other neighboring countries, to make sure that Ukrainian or Russian grain does not enter Poland, Ukrainska pravda investigated the matter and found that Polish trucks ship Russian agricultural goods to Poland from Belarus, with the volume of these shipments increasing. A Ukrainian journalist, who was briefly detained in Poland, found out that “in just three months after the introduction of the ban on Ukrainian products, the Poles purchased almost USD 8 million worth of rapeseed meal through Belarus”. According to a Polish expert, the Ukrainians propose that one of the conditions of the agreement to unblock the border between Poland and Ukraine should be Poland’s participation in the campaign to restrict trade with Russia and Belarus. Polish Prime Minister Donald Tusk announced a possible ban on imports of agricultural products from Russia and Belarus, which leads to market distortions. Latvia has already banned grain imports from Russia and is demanding that the EU imposes similar sanctions. Last week, the leader of the Belarusian democratic forces and the Head of the United Transitional Cabinet Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya, following her visit to Switzerland, called on Belarusians to support a fundraising campaign for drones for Belarusian volunteers. “Every donation we make, which goes towards providing fighters with gear, equipment, and especially drones, helps save lives. And that allows the fighters to do everything they can to bring peace to both Ukraine and Belarus and end the dictatorships, aggression, and violence.” Also last week,  Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya launched the first Belarusian Business Forum in Washington, where she called on Belarusian businesspeople to support each other in solving current business problems and advocating their needs and rights. On March 1, following the tragic death of a Belarusian young woman in Warsaw, Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya made a statement condemning the gaps of justice when holding the criminals of sexual crimes accountable and regretted that women cannot feel safe. She also offered condolences to the family of the deceased Lizaveta.


As of February 29, at least 100 people are being tried for receiving “foreign aid” through INeedHelpBY. During a massive raid by security forces at the end of January, at least 287 people were persecuted, most of them women. One of the reasons for the searches, interrogations and detentions was the help to the families of political prisoners with food transfers via E-delivery from the INeedHelpBY initiative, which the authorities recognized as an “extremist formation”. Since the beginning of February, people across Belarus have been tried en masse for “using foreign aid to carry out extremist activities”. Some have already been imposed heavy fines to compensate the “foreign” payment.

Architects are being massively detained in Minsk, there are already about 40 detainees. Presumably, the first detentions began on February 14. Their family members were detained along with them – up to 70 people in total. Some have been subsequently released, but others have been placed under administrative arrest or criminal cases have been opened against them.

At least 12 members of the bar were detained in Minsk after a KGB raid on February 29. Most of them were released; however, two remain behind bars. The exact reasons for the persecution are unknown. Over the past three and a half years, hundreds of bar members have been subjected to repression for political reasons: some have become defendants in criminal and administrative cases, and some have been deprived of licenses. Currently, six bar members are in custody and have been recognised as political prisoners.

Over the past three years, five political prisoners have died in custody in Belarus. Human rights activists fear that the death of Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny in detention may further aggravate the situation of political prisoners in Belarus. “It looks like Russia will get away with this situation. This will become a signal to the Belarusian regime that dictators are forgiven a lot,” says Pavel Sapelka, lawyer of “Viasna” Human Rights Center. Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya spoke about the consequences of Navalny’s death. “The murder of Navalny looks like a green light for other murders. If there is no strong reaction [from the international community] now, it will be bad news for Belarusians who are already in prisons.” “Everyone who is currently in prison, especially political prisoners, is slowly dying there,” she stated.

People who made transfers to charitable foundations are being prosecuted under high treason charges. The ByHelp initiative states there are several such cases: “We receive reports that those who have regularly and extensively donated to BYPOL and other organizations are now threatened not with paying off a hundredfold, but with a charges of treason – this is up to 15 years in prison. Today it became known about yet another such case. First, authorities will try to cut off money from you, but then they will put you in jail anyway.”

On February 29, a new trial of Aliaksandr Ziyazetdinau began. He has been in custody since June 2022: security forces detained him for transferring cryptocurrency to BYPOL. In the autumn of the same year, he was sentenced to three years in prison under the charges of financing extremist activities. This time, Ziyazetdinau is charged with financing extremist as well as terrorist activities. He faces up to 15 years in prison.

On March 5, the trial of political prisoner Volha Mayorava will begin in the Zheleznodorozhny district court in Homel. She will be tried for malicious disobedience to the legitimate demands of the colony administration and may be sentenced to two more years of imprisonment. On October 17, 2022, the Hrodna Regional Court sentenced her to 20 years in prison. She was found guilty under five articles of the Criminal Code. She pleaded not guilty at the trial. In prison, she was repeatedly placed in a punishment cell and removed from court sessions. In one of the letters, she wrote that she was suspected of having diabetes.

During her working trip to Geneva last week, Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya met with Ambassadors Bathsheba Nell Crocker and Michelle Taylor, who represent the United States in international organizations at the United Nations. She spoke about the conditions in Belarusian prisons and the critical situation with political prisoners, as well as about recent deaths behind bars. The parties discussed ways to implement the decision of the Human Rights Committee on urgent measures regarding Maksim Znak, Viktar Babaryka and Siarhei Tsikhanouski. Separately, Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya drew the diplomats’ attention to the need for decisive action with regard political prisoners by the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights. She noted that it is necessary to demand access to prisons and medical care, and to look for ways to release political prisoners through international organizations. Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya also underlined the importance of bringing the regime and its accomplices to justice in the International Criminal Court and handed over the evidence, collected by National Anti-Crisis Management, that testifies to the crimes against humanity committed, namely the forced relocation of Ukrainian children. The issues of legalizing Belarusians abroad and possible actions in respect of Belarus in the International Organization for Migration were also raised.

BYSOLByHelpDissidentby and the Country for Life Foundation have created an emergency humanitarian aid service. On this occasion, on March 1, ByHelp and BYSOL co–founder Andrei Stryzhak commented: “Our organizations were established at different times and in different conditions, but this does not prevent us from having a common goal – to support victims of repression and express solidarity with them. Us being united in the “Emergency Humanitarian Aid Service” is an unprecedented coordination of efforts that has never been done before. Speaking together, we represent the interests of the Belarusian humanitarian community in front of partners and external players. Thanks to close coordination, we optimize support in conditions of limited finances. We show that we are able to negotiate in order to achieve a common goal.” The Service is open to cooperation with other civil society structures that provide assistance to the repressed.

“Commissions on loyalty to the regime” have been established at the faculties of the Belarusian State University. They decide whether a contract with an employee should be signed or not. Previously, the issue of hiring was resolved through a competition, discussion of the results of the work of a potential employee at a meeting of the department, then by the Academic Council of the faculty and of the University. Now, the new commissions are also involved in this, they check potential employees for loyalty to the authorities. Commissions include the dean, the deputy dean for ideological and educational work, and others.

On February 26, the German Foreign Ministry condemned the systematic repression during the “elections” in Belarus. “The Lukashenka regime is doing everything possible to suppress people’s desire for democracy. He felt the power of the democratic idea – and this power continues to frighten the regime,” the Foreign Ministry stated.

The President of the Congress of Local and Regional Authorities of the Council of Europe, Marc Cools, called voting held in Belarus a “fiction”. “Without freedom of speech, assembly and association, without genuine opposition and independent media, as well as in the absence of democratic standards governing the electoral process, they cannot be considered free and fair,” he said. He expressed support to the families of political prisoners and Belarusians affected by the actions of the Lukashenka regime. The Council of Europe expects cooperation with representatives of democratic forces and civil society, he noted: “We hope that one day we will be able to welcome the future democratic Belarus as a member of the Council of Europe”. The President of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe, Theodoros Rousopoulos, emphasized that the disregard of international commitments and obligations under international law, accelerated repression, and the complete absence of any credible election monitoring have formed the backdrop of these so-called elections. “In such circumstances, it can only be concluded that these “elections” are a travesty of democracy and lack any democratic legitimacy,” he noted. “The Assembly has repeatedly reaffirmed its dedication to supporting and advocating for the rights, freedoms and safety of all Belarusians. I use this opportunity to call for the immediate and unconditional release and rehabilitation of all political prisoners, and for the cessation of repression. The Assembly will continue its efforts to support Belarusian democratic forces and to stand by the people of Belarus for a democratic, independent, sovereign, prosperous and peaceful future,” Theodoros Rousopoulos concluded.

On 26 February, UN experts expressed concern at the reported critical health condition and ill-treatment in detention of Ryhor Kastusiou, a 66-year-old political prisoner, the leader of the Belaruski Narodny Front (BNF) party, serving a ten-year sentence for “conspiracy to seize power in an unconstitutional way”. Ryhor Kastusiou was diagnosed with cancer shortly after his arrest, but has not received adequate and timely medical treatment and care. Anaïs Marin,  Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Belarus,  Priya Gopalan,  Matthew Gillett,  Miriam Estrada-Castillo, and Mumba Malila, members of the Working Group on arbitrary detention,  and Claudia Mahler, Independent Expert on the enjoyment of all human rights by older persons, stated that failure to provide adequate medical treatment and care to detainees in critical condition violates Belarus’ obligation under international human rights law to treat persons deprived of liberty with humanity and respect for their inherent dignity, and may even amount to torture. “The failure of the prison medical services to provide Ryhor Kastusiou, his lawyer and his family with the results of his medical examinations in a timely manner has deprived him of the opportunity to effectively seek release from detention on medical grounds,” the experts said. They noted that despite his deteriorating health, Kastusiou has been repeatedly transferred to a punishment cell and a cell-like premise. According to several consistent allegations received by UN experts over the past year, both types of facilities are notorious for inhumane conditions of detention. The experts highlighted the lack of adequate legal safeguards and effective remedies to prevent and challenge the abuse of disciplinary measures by prison authorities. “Despite his advanced age and medical condition, Ryhor Kastusiou has reportedly been repeatedly subjected to harsher conditions of detention than those provided for in his sentence and has been deprived of effective remedies to challenge these conditions,” they said. In view of Kastusiou’s grave health condition, the experts called on Belarusian authorities to consider granting him a pardon or remission of sentence or replacing his imprisonment with an alternative form of deprivation of liberty, in accordance with the United Nations Standard Minimum Rules for Noncustodial Measures (Tokyo Rules)

On March 3, 36 human rights organizations around the world demanded the release of political prisoners – members of “Viasna” Human Rights Center. One year ago, Nobel Peace Prize laureate, Ales Bialiatski, International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH) Vice-President Valiantsin Stefanovic, and “Viasna” lawyer Uladzimir Labkovich were sentenced to ten, nine and seven years of imprisonment on fabricated charges, respectively. The Observatory for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders (FIDH-OMCT) and 35 other organizations demand their immediate and unconditional release, and call on the international community to use all available diplomatic, political and other means at its disposal to urge the Belarusian authorities to respect the rule of law and to free all those convicted under politically motivated charges.


On February 26, after the elections, Aliaksandr Lukashenka said at a meeting with the CIS Secretary General, the head of the CIS observation mission Sergei Lebedev that the current government is supported by more than 87% of the population, but “there is a small number of hesitating people and of course some unhappy ones” and “there are still issues”: “We don’t have many such problems. We’ll tighten them up and fix them within a year”.  Lukashenka expressed confidence that “people will come to the presidential election in even greater numbers,” but warned that it would be “a difficult process”: “You, as an expert in this case, understand that we will be rocked very seriously. But we are ready for it”. On the same day, ONT employee Ihar Tur explained in his author’s program “Propaganda” why Lukashenka will go to the next elections: “Lukashenka is not a politician, he is a LEADER, who is interested not in the next elections, but in the next generations. Right now – there are a lot of threats that we have nothing to do with – we are just historically unlucky to be between two fires all the time. And what Lukashenka will not do is to shift the solution of issues from himself to someone else.” On February 28, pro-governmental political analyst Piotr Piatrouski developed a similar narrative in his TG: “The single voting day is another step in the formation of collective Lukashenka. Having survived 2020, having sovereignly and independently crushed the fifth column, our state is passing through a new stage of sovereign development, in which the collective Lukashenka is being formed as the political basis and the bearer of the values of the sovereign development of the Belarusian state in the future”. In turn, propagandist Aliaksei Dzermant said on STV that in Belarus “the authority and subjectivity of the state are largely formed around the personality of the President”, but warns that ideally it is necessary to “form a system that will work for decades to come, so that in the future there will be no critical dependence on personalities”, and therefore one should hurry to learn from Aliaksandr Lukashenka his understanding of global and domestic processes, as “the change of generations of managers will begin soon”. Another propagandist Andrei Mukavozchyk commented on the elections, saying that he was glad that OSCE representatives were not allowed to attend. He emphasized that “independent foreign observers from Germany, Switzerland and Italy” stated that “everything was really democratic, and they had no complaints”. According to Mukavozchyk, the OSCE ODIHR is “useless, and in some areas simply harmful,” because some of its employees are “representatives of special services,” who came to Belarus and all oppositionists and marginal politicians were constantly running to them; “outright spies,” who were engaged in recruitment; as well as “talkers from the series of “defenders of rights””. On February 26, it became known about the launch of a new joint TV project of Belarusian and Russian propagandists “Minsk-Moscow”: “Two capitals, two destinies, two countries, one Motherland! We are starting a new project! Every week we will discuss live what concerns people in Russia and Belarus. We will ask questions and find answers, rejoice at successes, and discuss the problems of our Union State! Presenters: journalist Liudmila Hladkaya from Minsk and Konstantin Pridybailo from Moscow. A guest of the program, Aliaksandr Shpakouski stated that in accordance with the new version of the Constitution, the authorities of Belarus “formatted the political field and excluded from it political entities that for many years were directly financed from abroad, as they lost the possibility to be nominated by a party, and the way of nomination through collecting signatures is closed for them, as they “never fought for the voters’ trust”. Aleh Haidukevich, leader of the pro-governmental party LDPB, echoed him on the air of Ryhor Azaronak, advising how to act during the presidential campaign-2025: “No fifth column! No scum in the elections! There will be no zmagars [Belarusian word for “fighter”, “proponent” which is used by Lukashenka and his propagandists as a derogative term for opposition members] in the legal field. Forget it! And nothing will be accomplished militarily. You’ll answer for the terrorist attacks to the fullest! Traitors of our Fatherland are trying to intimidate us, but it looks ridiculous.” On February 27, in her project “It’s different”, the propagandist of the Belarusian Broadcasting Company Kseniya Lebiadzeva praised Belarusians for “not becoming puppets of the USA” and compared the American authorities with the Nazi top brass: “Today the task of the West is to absorb and enslave the Slavs, to make them serve the Western bigwigs. This was Hitler’s opinion, and this is the opinion of the State Department representatives now. Therefore, once again they are trying to make us believe that we are wrong: we vote in the wrong way, we elect presidents and deputies by the wrong standards. Well, what standards should we use? American? The American electoral process is cheating and fraud”. On February 26, Foreign Ministry spokesman Anatol Hlaz mockingly commented on the statement of State Department spokesman Matthew Miller regarding the single day of voting: “We spent the whole night together with the Central Election Commission of Belarus looking for citizen Miller in the voter lists to determine which of the district commissions should respond to his complaint. We didn’t find him. Then we held in-depth consultations with lawyers to understand what relation the U.S. State Department has to the elections in our country. We also found no connection. After that, we tried to find in international law a definition of the role of the U.S. as an evaluator of the electoral process in independent states. Here, too, we did not find such a right. In this regard, from the legal point of view, we do not see any reason why we should listen to the statements of the U.S. State Department about a single day of voting in Belarus”. On February 27, Deputy Foreign Minister Yury Ambrazevich addressed the session of the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva. In his speech he made several ambiguous statements. For example, he claims that “human rights in their international dimension have long become a cause for strife and conflict instead of unification”, as accusations of violation of “utopian paper standards in the sphere of human rights have long become tools of pressure and discrediting of opponents in the arsenal of Western countries”. At the same time, he declared that Belarus is ready to cooperate in the field of human rights “on an equal and mutually respectful basis with any member of the international community”. On February 28, the Belarusian Foreign Ministry gave a detailed commentary “in connection with a number of statements of the European Union”. The pro-state diplomats warned about the possibility of new criminal cases against the initiators of the sanctions and rejected “unsubstantiated accusations of the EU in some special regime of serving sentences for certain citizens of Belarus, whose fates attract special attention in Western political circles only because of their political leanings”, i.e. political prisoners. The Foreign Ministry called the deployment of nuclear weapons in the country a forced defensive action in response to the build-up of military capabilities in NATO countries: “Taking into account that most EU countries are not only members of the world’s most armed military-political organization of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO), but also disproportionately build up their military capabilities, the EU condemnation of the steps taken by Belarus to exercise its sovereign right to deploy nuclear weapons on its territory, carried out in full compliance with international law, allows us to be confident that the country’s nuclear weapons will be deployed on its territory. The diplomats also believe that the EU supports “Ukrainian neo-Nazis”: “Brussels’ support of neo-Nazis and nationalist policy of the political leadership of Ukraine, NATO expansion and Kyiv’s intention to become a member of this organization causes serious concern of the Belarusian side. The Foreign Ministry spoke about the declared by the European Union support of civil society and democratic forces of Belarus. The statement says that the EU actually focuses on terrorist ways to achieve its goals, as the bloc is openly engaged in support of “exclusively pro-Western, Russophobe and nationalist forces”, “calling for and carrying out proven activities to overthrow the legitimate power and break the constitutional order in Belarus by armed or terrorist methods”. On February 28, Belarusian propagandists actively commented on the calls demanding deportation, which Belarusians in Lithuania started to receive (according to the information of the Lithuanian Department of State Security, they are made by telephone fraudsters). Ryhor Azaronak called Lithuania a “limitrophe”, whose statehood is based on “Nazi hutor ideology”. In his opinion, since “all hopes for a coup d’état in Belarus have collapsed”, the “dying, embittered, bitter country-limitrophe” will soon start “lustration of fugitives” and will turn to the special services of Belarus for help. Dziyana Shybkouskaya: “Frankly speaking, what is happening now in the Baltics is very much reminiscent of the events before World War II in relation to the Jews in the Third Reich. The only thing left for the Baltics is to hold “Kristallnacht”, during which Russians and Belarusians will be victims. At the same time, such a thing in Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia will probably be presented as “supreme justice”. And what about the West? It is not interested in human rights violations in the Baltics. And in this respect, absolutely nothing has changed for the West”. Belarusian propaganda continues to closely follow the situation around the death of Russian opposition politician Alexei Navalny. In the past week, they switched to covering the activities of his widow Yulia Navalnaya, often comparing her to the leader of the Belarusian democratic forces Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya. Aliaksandr Shpakouski: “The appearance of Yulia Navalnaya in the EP is another result of the work of the Western factory to produce political dolls. Primitive technology of “female leadership”, invented by American specialists for the “Russian world” and previously tested on a housewife from Mikashevichi named Tsikhanouskaya. Given the fact that the world has been watching the tragic comedy with the participation of the Belarusian “leader” for almost four years, it will not be difficult to predict the actions of the widow of the deceased Russian blogger”. On March 2, the concert “Song of the Year of Belarus” was held to present music awards. Hanna Sialuk , wife of Dzmitry Lukashenka and daughter-in-law of Aliaksandr Lukashenka, won in the nomination “Best Lyrics Writer” for the second year in a row. In three incomplete years, Anna has created more than 100 songs, among them “Ah, Aliaksandr”, “Bulba-dance” and the anthem of the Prosecutor General’s Office.

Best regards,iSANS team


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