- MILITARY DEVELOPMENTS
- POLITICAL DEVELOPMENTS
- HUMAN RIGHTS SITUATION AND INTERNATIONAL RESPONSE
On November 13, negotiations between the Belarusian Minister of Defense Viktor Khrenin and his counterpart from the United Arab Emirates took place. During the meeting, an agreement on bilateral military cooperation was signed.
On November 13, Belarusian military delegation attended the international air show “Dubai Airshow 2023“. This is the biggest air show in the Persian Gulf region and the Middle East.
On November 15, the 336th Rocket Artillery Brigade of the Armed Forces of Belarus received a divisional set of the B-300 Polonez-M missile system. The complex can use different types of missiles and may hit targets at a range of up to 300 kilometers.
On November 17, Major General Saad Mohammed Hossein Alkatiri, Military Attaché at the Embassy of Saudi Arabia in Russia and Belarus, paid an official visit to Belarus to complete the accreditation procedure at the Ministry of Defense of the Republic of Belarus. The accreditation was held for the first time since the establishment of diplomatic relations between the countries.
On November 17, it became known about the introduction of a new position in the Armed Forces of Belarus, “an instructor for working with religious personnel”. Clergymen who have religious education, have been ordained and are fit for military service for health reasons can be appointed to the post. The purpose of the post is to utilize the potential of clergy to educate the military personnel. At present, the Orthodox Church actively cooperates with military units of the Armed Forces of Belarus.
On November 14, Lithuanian media outlets informed, with the confirmation by the Ministry of Transport of Lithuania, that Belarus’ state-owned potash fertilizer manufacturer Belaruskali launched investment arbitration proceedings against Lithuania, seeking 1 bn EUR in compensation for losses, excluding interests and legal proceedings fees. The losses have been allegedly incurred by the company because of Vilnius banning the transportation of Belarusian potash fertilizers through Lithuania, starting on February 1, 2022. Lithuanian government deemed the contract between Belaruskali and the Lithuanian rail cargo company invalid, due to the sanctions imposed on the Belarusian potash fertilizer company. The official Minsk also claims that Lithuania breached a number of international obligations by banning the potash fertilizer transit, first and foremost the obligation to provide access to sea ports for a landlocked neighboring country. Lithuanian expert community commented on Belarus’ legal action against Lithuania by stating that it looks rather weird when a country takes legal steps against another country, while its own internal laws are not obeyed. However, according to experts, Belarus has such a right. Whether the arbitration will be beneficial to Belarus is an open question, but it should be noted that Lithuania acted according to its international obligations as the US had imposed sanctions against potash industry of Belarus, including exports and transit. On November 15, the results of an investigation of the Ukrainian media “Novoe Vremia” revealed that many Ukrainian state officials of the Yanukovich era as well as the Belarusian dictator Aliaksandr Lukashenka, who are sanctioned by the West, are not on the sanctions list of the Council of National Security and Defense of Ukraine. Regarding the question of imposing sanctions on Lukashenka, the Council’s officials claim that this question is “political” and that Ukrainian-Belarusian relations are very difficult, both countries have a very long land border, and there is too much at stake. On November 15, the press service of the EU High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security informed that the High Representative together with the European Commission submitted a proposal for the 12th sanctions package against Russia to the European Council. The package also includes 11 Belarusian officials and military personnel, who are recognized as responsible for material support of the Russian aggression against Ukraine. They would be restricted in receiving visas and have their assets frozen. On November 15, Lithuanian government updated the national list of controlled dual-use goods banned from transportation overland through Lithuania. The update comes as a response to an increase in exports of goods from Lithuania to third countries, with some of them ending up in Russia and Belarus. According to the Minister of Economy and Innovation, Lithuania makes every effort to reduce the technical capabilities of Russia and Belarus to conduct hostilities in Ukraine. The resolution specifies that the list will also include machining centers, metal turning, drilling, boring, milling, threading machines, optical and semiconductor media, manganese dioxide, lithium-ion galvanic cells and batteries, vehicles for transporting goods, and barometers. According to the Ministry, these goods are used in the production of high-explosive projectiles for tanks, which are then used in the war in Ukraine. Meanwhile, galvanic cells and batteries are among the main components in the production of military UAVs. In June, the Lithuanian government banned the overland transportation of 57 groups of dual-use goods through Lithuania, mainly products with microelectronic and semiconductor components. Last week, the leader of the Belarusian democratic forces and the Head of the United Transitional Cabinet Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya attended many events and held meetings with Western leaders. At the invitation of the Portuguese Prime Minister, Tsikhanouskaya attended the Web Summit in Lisbon and delivered a speech where she called for the support of Belarusian independent media, bloggers, and journalists, spoke about the human rights situation in Belarus, the fate of political prisoners, and the need for immediate and decisive actions against dictators. She also touched upon the role of technology in the Belarusian resistance and mentioned the Voice platform, crowd-funding platforms, the Belarusian Hajun project, and the New Belarus application. During the official two-day visit in Lisbon, the Belarusian leader met with the Portuguese Prime Minister Antonio Costa to discuss the issue of legalization of Belarusians in Portugal, including the recognition of expired passports and the issuance of an alien passports, explained the project of a new Belarusian passport, and called on Portugal to support the initiative both on national and international levels. Together with Belarusian entrepreneurs, she met with the Portuguese Secretary of State Bernardo Ivo Cruz and called on the Portuguese government to simplify legal procedures for entrepreneurs from Belarus. Belarusian entrepreneurs stated during the meeting that they face problems with opening bank accounts and mentioned the tax burden for IT companies. Among other things, legal issues were discussed, including simplification of legalization of Belarusians, abolishing the requirement for apostille of documents, extending eligibility for foreigners’ passports, and issuing documents to Belarusian children born in Portugal. As a result, Portugal’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs will appoint a contact person to continue communication on resolving these issues. Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya also gave interviews to the international media outlet Politico, Belarusian independent media outlets Zerkalo and Radio Unet, Swedish Yle, German Sueddeutsche Zeitung, and Latvian Kontekst. On November 17, the Representative for Foreign Affairs of the United Transitional Cabinet of Belarus Valery Kavaleuski attended the Civil Society Forum of the Eastern Partnership. In his speech and during meetings on the side-lines of the event, Kavaleuski underlined the priorities of Belarusian democratic forces for relations with the EU: the need for practical actions on the European integration of Belarus; an urgent need for EU actions to counter the Russian threat to the independence of Belarus; migration issues; the project of the new national passport of Belarus; development of institutional relations with European agencies and national governments of EU countries, as well as with the EaP countries; increasing support for the civil society of Belarus to achieve the goal of liberating Belarus from the dictatorship and dependence on Russia.
HUMAN RIGHTS SITUATION AND INTERNATIONAL RESPONSE
A court in Homel ordered compulsory treatment in a psychiatric clinic to Valery Yarotsky, who was accused of slander against Aliaksandr Lukashenka. The decision was delivered on July 19, but the details of the case have become known only now. According to the case file, Yarotsky sent to the State Security Committee, the Ministry of Internal Affairs, the Prosecutor’s Office and the Central Commission for Elections and Referendums “printed and handwritten texts containing deliberately false and degrading information” about Lukashenka, including “charges of committing grave crimes and atrocity crimes.” The court recognized Yarotsky as a patient with a mental disorder. It is forbidden for him to leave the country. He was also included in the “list of persons involved in extremist activities.” Valery Yarotsky has repeatedly been an election observer from the Belarusian Helsinki Committee. He is a known chess player and won the Homel Chess Championship in 2019.
The Investigative Committee has completed a preliminary investigation of the criminal case against representatives of BYPOL, an organization of former Belarusian law enforcement officers established in 2020 to counter the Belarusian authorities, as well as its units, the “Situational Analytical Center” and the “Peramoga Mobilization Plan”. There are six defendants in the case — Aliaksandr Azarau, Uladzimir Zhygar, Matsvey Kupreychyk, Ihar Loban, Andrei Astapovich and Aleh Talerchik. They are charged with state treason; public calls for state treason and committing other actions aimed at harming the national security of the Republic of Belarus; organization of an act of terrorism; organization of the deliberate disrepair of communication routes; other actions aimed at seizing state power; creation and leadership of an extremist formation, including repeatedly; assistance to extremist activities; illegal actions in relation to information about private life and personal data; incitement to social hostility and discord; slander against Aliaksandr Lukashenka; insults of Aliaksandr Lukashenka and representatives of the authorities; slander. The Investigative Committee believes that BYPOL was created under the patronage of Western intelligence services and is engaged in inciting social hostility and discord, calls for mass riots, organizing terrorist acts and other actions aimed at seizing state power. The criminal case has been transferred to the Prosecutor General for referral to the court. The defendants will be tried in absentia since they are abroad. Judging by the charges, Aliaksandr Azarau faces death penalty. The investigation took only two months.
On November 15, the International Day of the Imprisoned Writer, the Belarusian PEN, and Radio Svaboda announced the winners and laureates of the Frantsishak Aliakhnovich Literary Prize for the best works written by imprisoned authors. According to the organizers of the ceremony, this year the nominees or their relatives were offered anonymity for the sake of security. For this reason, the names of some winners and laureates are hidden under pseudonyms, and the names of their works are not announced. The winners of the current prize for the best work written by an imprisoned author are Chair of Human Rights Center “Viasna” Ales Bialiatski – Memories of the Maksim Bahdanovich Museum; Aleh Hruzdilovich – the book “My prison walls”; Mark Kalosok – a book (the title is not public); Volha Klaskouskaya – Prison Diaries; Chronicler – Notes (the title is not public); Nikola Tesla – a book (the title is not public). Laureates of the prize are Uladzimir Hundar – a poem; Andrei Kuznechyk – poems; Mr. Lapychau – poems; Illia Mironau – poem “Do you think this does not happen?”, notes; Pavel Seviarynets – poems; Anatol Khinevich – poem “Look in the Mirror at Your Own Face”; Siarhei Tsikhanouski – poems. Commenting on the selection of the jury, the chair of the Belarusian PEN Tatsiana Niadbai said: “This year, when announcing the winners and laureates, we celebrate not only the literary skills, but also the unwavering spirit of authors writing in captivity. Each page of their works is not just words, but a reflection of their struggle for freedom of thought and expression. By presenting this award, we not only celebrate their talent, but also support their unyielding desire for freedom.” In 2013, the Belarusian PEN and Radio Svaboda established an award for works written in prison and dedicated it to the Belarusian playwright and director Frantsishak Aliakhnovich (1883-1944), whose book “In the GPU dungeons” was one of the first to tell the world about the Soviet GULAG.
On November 16, human rights activists recognized Andrei Tolchyn, a former freelance journalist from Homel, one of the founders of the Homel Vedomosti newspaper, who had collaborated with several independent media until 2020, as a political prisoner. He was detained on September 27, his apartment was searched, computer equipment and digital media were seized. He is accused of calling for actions aimed at harming national security. “His arrest and a criminal case against him are a continuation of the purposeful policy of the authorities to restrict the dissemination of uncensored information and a continuation of the attack on freedom of speech”, human rights organizations stated.
Almaz International Public Association – a public organization that aided in social and medical spheres as well as labor rehabilitation of adolescents, people with disabilities and the elderly, was liquidated In Vitebsk. The decision was delivered by the Vitebsk Regional Court on October 24. The lawsuit was initiated by the Ministry of Justice.
On November 17, the Belarusian PEN Club published a chronicle of human rights violations in the field of culture for the period of November 1-14, 2023. According to the results of the monitoring, there are at least 32 people authors in captivity, and at least 146 cultural figures in captivity in total.
On November 17, the Ministry of Internal Affairs of Belarus updated its list of persons involved in extremist activities by adding 22 people. Now the list includes 3,520 names. The name of Artiom Liabedzka, the son of politician Anatol Liabedzka, appeared on the list, as well as the names of journalist Pavel Mazheyka, lawyer Yulia Yurgilevich, and Zmitser Mastavoy, who is accused of organizing a video broadcast from the Machulishchi airfield.
On November 17, Catholic priest Henrikh Akalatovich, the rector of the local church, was detained in Valozhyn (Minsk region) on charges of “state treason” and faces from seven to fifteen years of imprisonment. Henrikh Akalatovich is almost seventy years old, suffered a heart attack and recently underwent stomach cancer surgery. He needs medical supervision and constant medication. In 2013, another Catholic priest, Uladzislau Lazar, was charged under the same article. He spent six months in the State Security Committee pre-trial detention center.
During the war, more than 2,440 Ukrainian children aged six to 17 have been illegally deported to Belarus through Russia, a report of the Humanities Research Laboratory (HRL) at the Yale School of Public Health in the USA stated. In Belarus, “cultural, historical, social and patriotic doctrines or ideas serving the political interests of the regimes of Belarus and Russia” were imposed on children, the report says. In addition, according to researchers, at least six groups of children from Ukraine received military training in Belarus, including those held on the basis of the Belarusian internal troops. The authors of the report do not know how many children remain on the Belarusian territory now. Those involved in the removal of children claim that all the children have returned to Ukraine. However, the researchers could not find convincing evidence for this. Aliaksandr Lukashenka approved and financed the transportation of children from Ukraine to Belarus, the authors claim. Among the key individuals and organizations that contributed to the illegal deportation of children, researchers from Yale name the foundation of the Belarusian Paralympian Alexei Talai, the Belaruskali enterprise, and Olga Volkova, the director of the Donetsk public organization for disabled children and their parents “Dolphins”.
The fundraising in support of TOR BAND musicians, announced on November 2 by the BYSOL foundation, has been completed. A total of 14,373 Euro has been collected. The money will be used to pay off fines, make transfers to the colony and provide support to the musicians’ families’. On October 31, the Homel Regional Court sentenced the musicians of the Belarusian band TOR BAND to imprisonment on charges of insulting Aliaksandr Lukashenka, inciting social hostility, creating an extremist formation, and discrediting Belarus. The TOR BAND became popular in Belarus during the wave of protests in 2020. Their songs “Long Live Belarus”, “We are not a small people” and “Go Away!” became a symbol of protests. In January 2023, the group was recognized as an “extremist formation”.
On November 1, one of the main pro-government outlets, the newspaper “SB. Belarus Segodnya”, published a propaganda article titled “When the carriage turns into a pumpkin” which contains accusations against Belarusian democratic forces and the president-elect Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya. The article claims that the Belarusian opposition seeks to disrupt the elections to the National Assembly (“parliament”) and local executive bodies scheduled for February 25, 2024. Also, the article mentions the iSANS CEO Vlad Kobets, and our organization is labelled as “a rotten agency that played one of the vilest roles in the events of 2020”.
On November 13, the Press Secretary of the Russian President Dmitry Peskov, speaking at a briefing for journalists, commented on Poland’s decision to deploy a new tank battalion on the border with Belarus. “This is another step towards escalation. In this case, our Belarusian friends know how to deal with it and will do everything necessary in this situation to ensure security,” said Peskov. The day before, Poland announced the deployment of a new tank battalion near the border.
On the same day, Belarusian Foreign Minister Sergei Aleinik said in an interview with the state TV channel ONT that Minsk is open to a dialogue with the Polish authorities. At the same time, he accused Poland of hostile steps, to which Belarus is “forced to respond”: “We were not the initiators of the deterioration of relations with Poland. We were forced to respond to numerous systemic unfriendly steps by the Polish authorities towards Belarus. We have always advocated and continue to advocate for a dialogue, but this dialogue must be exclusively mutually respectful and carried out without any preconditions,” Aleinik said.
On November 14, a monument to the Russian Grand Duke Aleksandr Nevsky was unveiled near the Russian Embassy in Minsk. The duke has nothing to do with Belarus or Minsk, therefore the construction of the monument seems to be purely ideological in nature, emphasizes the unity of Russia and Belarus, and imposes the Russian imperial narrative on Belarus. The opening ceremony was attended by the Russian Ambassador to Belarus Boris Gryzlov.
At the opening ceremony of the monument, the Archpriest of the Belarus Orthodox Church, propagandist and a TV presenter, Fyodor Povny, was speaking about the “unity of the history of the two countries”: “The inhabitants of White Rus’ called themselves Russians. And Aleksandr Nevsky became a common symbol of victory in WWII for the Soviet people.”
On November 14, a presentation of a textbook “Genocide of the Belarusian People during WWII” took place in one of the schools in Minsk. The revisionist campaign with the narrative that the Nazi Germany committed the crimes of genocide against the Belarusian people during the WWII began in 2021, to justify the anti-Western foreign policy of the Lukashenka regime as well as its persecution of its opponents inside Belarus. In April 2021, the Prosecutor General of Belarus Andrei Shved opened a criminal case “on genocide”. In the same year, Shved published a book “Genocide of the Belarusian People”. Among other points, in this book, he compares the participants of peaceful protests in Belarus with the Nazis.
On November 16, Shved took part in the opening ceremony of the first school class to educate students for the work in the prosecutor’s offices in one of the schools in the city of Dzerzhinsk. At the opening ceremony, he stated that classes ’Young Prosecutor’ will be created also in other schools of the country: “We plan to open specialized classes in each region. We also hope that the students of these classes will connect their destinies with jurisprudence and serve for the good of our homeland.”
On November 15, the Investigative Committee of Belarus published an article regarding the “BYPOL case.” BYPOL (Association of Security Forces of Belarus) is an NGO of former servicemen in exile. BYPOL officers are called in the article “traitors”, “a bunch of fugitive losers”, “fugitive terrorists”. Regarding Poland, the article says that its authorities “have created an enclave of the criminal world in Europe.”
On November 15, the first meeting of the “Russian-Belarusian Expert Advisory Council on History” took place in Minsk. The Council is an ideological project of the “Union State” of Russia and Belarus, which is aimed, among other things, at “countering the falsification of history and related challenges and threats.”
On November 16, Ksenia Lebedeva, a propagandist for the ATN TV channel, in an interview with the Belarusian state TV channel STV regarding the evacuation of Belarusian citizens from the Gaza Strip, stated: “Belarusians never leave their own people alone, and if we say broader, Russians never leave their own people alone. And no matter what situation they are in, we, our president first, will always save and come to rescue them.”
In the same interview, Lebedeva said that Belarus is helping Ukrainian citizens because Ukrainian embassies and consulates in the EU countries refuse to help them. “They [consulates] don’t even want to confirm their citizenship. This is scary. Ukrainians get help in our embassies and consulates, and after that they say with admiration that they were treated as people there. They considered Belarus hostile to Ukraine, but this is all propaganda. Belarus is really a peacemaker country led by our Bat’ka” [a nickname for Aliaksandr Lukashenka].
On November 16, the House of Representatives of the National Assembly of Belarus (the lower house of the “parliament”) published a statement regarding the resolution of the German Bundestag “For a democratic Belarus in the European family”, adopted on November 8. The statement says that the document signed by members of the German Parliament “indicates a complete misunderstanding of the internal political processes in Belarus.” “Official Berlin stubbornly refuses to recognize that the Republic of Belarus is a sovereign state and the Belarusian people themselves determine the future of their country,” the statement says. The adoption of the resolution was called “interference in the internal affairs of another state.”
On November 17, speaking to the employees of the “Kristall” plant in the city of Homel, the so-called “president” Aliaksandr Lukashenka said that all Belarusian citizens could return to Belarus from abroad, if they “hadn’t gone out to the streets” [meaning they did not participate in the peaceful protests in 2020]. “Some people from the Homel region fled abroad, they are asking to go home. You are welcome: here is the Commission [meaning the so-called “Commission for Return” – an ideological project aimed at returning Belarusians who left the country after the protests for fear of political repression], and prove that you didn’t kill anybody, didn’t steal, didn’t go out to the streets; in this case, we will let you back. But sorry, if you intimidated our people and are still doing it, you better stay away, don’t come here.”
On November 17, the Head of the Council of the Republic of Belarus (the upper chamber of the “parliament”) Natalya Kochanova, speaking at a meeting of the Interparliamentary Assembly of the CIS (the Commonwealth of Independent States) member states in Bishkek, stated that the Russian language is a national heritage of Belarus. “The great Russian language is a powerful unifying principle for millions of people, an important factor in Eurasian integration and the common heritage of all peoples of the CIS.” The year of 2023 was declared by the Assembly as “the Year of the Russian language as the language of interethnic communication”.
iSANS teamBest regards,