- MILITARY DEVELOPMENTS
- POLITICAL DEVELOPMENTS
- HUMAN RIGHTS SITUATION AND INTERNATIONAL RESPONSE
Belarus Review (2023 edition, issue 27)
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).
Last week, the visit of the Belarusian military delegation to China continued. The Belarusian Minister of Defense Viktor Khrenin attended the 10th Xiangshan Forum for Security. In his address, he repeated the standard anti-Western narrative of the Russian and Belarusian propaganda. According to Khrenin, “Today we see a tendency for states to increase military budgets, purchase offensive weapons for their armies, increase the number of troops, and conduct endless exercises near their opponents’ borders”. On the margins of the Xiangshan Forum, a bilateral meeting between Viktor Khrenin and the Senior Military Advisor to the Leader of the Islamic Revolution Major General Yahya Rafim Safavi took place. The parties discussed bilateral military cooperation. On October 31, an aircraft related to the PMC Wagner arrived from St. Petersburg at the military airfield Homel. The aircraft spent six hours and fifty minutes at the airport. The cause of the arrival of this aircraft is unknown. On November 1, a delegation of the Armed Forces of Zimbabwe, headed by the Chief of Staff Jasper Marangwanda, visited the Military Academy of Belarus. On November 2, a meeting chaired by the Chief of the Department for International Military Cooperation of the Ministry of Defense of Belarus Valery Revenko was held, to discuss the development of the Belarusian-Zimbabwean military ties. From November 1 to 3, 2023, under the direction of the State Secretariat of the Security Council, an audit of the State system for responding to acts of terrorism was held. As part of the inspection, counter-terrorism exercises were conducted. A new special purpose unit (SPU) “Tornado” is being formed on the basis of the 2nd Special Police Brigade (military unit 3310). The unit will be the ninth Special Forces detachment created within the structure of the internal troops in 2022-23. On November 2, Aliaksandr Lukashenka held a meeting to discuss a proposal to re-establish the military prosecutor’s office, which had been liquidated in 2014. In July 2023, Prosecutor General Andrei Shved proposed re-establishing the Main Military Prosecutor’s Office. As a result of the meeting, a decision was made not to re-establish military prosecution. The Prosecutor General’s Office was tasked with developing a basis for the military prosecutor’s office so that it could be reopened quickly when needed. On November 3, the Council of Ministers resolution No. 750 of November 1, 2023, “On the Procedure for Forming and Providing the People’s Militia” was published. The document regulates the procedure for forming (disbanding) the People’s Militia, recruiting and keeping records of volunteers, enrolling volunteers in the People’s Militia, ensuring their activities, and other issues. Battalion tactical exercises were held at the Brestsky training range with units of the 38th Airborne Assault Brigade. The servicemen carried out tasks to search for and block units of a hypothetical enemy and to repair equipment. Firing tasks were practiced with an extensive use of Mi-8MTV-5 helicopters, unmanned aerial vehicles, and artillery. On November 5, it became known that the Chief Commander of the Ukrainian Armed Forces Valery Zaluzhny posthumously awarded a Belarusian volunteer fighter Dmitry Rubasheuski with the “Cross of Courage”. Rubasheuski died in combat in the Luhansk region in April 2022.
On October 30, the Belarusian Chargé d’Affaires ad interim Yaroslav Khmyl was summoned to Lithuania’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs over a statement by the First Deputy State Secretary of the Security Council of Belarus Pavel Muraveyko, published in the Vechernyj Minsk newspaper on October 24, where he claimed that Belarus could break a corridor for transit of goods through Lithuania by the force of arms. The Lithuanian MFA demanded an immediate official explanation from Belarus and reminded that Lithuania will take all means to ensure the security, sovereignty, and territorial integrity of Lithuania. “Such statements could be interpreted as an open threat to attack Lithuania and are completely unacceptable,” the statement from the Foreign Ministry of Lithuania said. On October 31, it became known that the parliamentary Committee for National Security and Defense of the Lithuanian Seimas recommended declining the law initiative of the Minister of the Interior Agne Bilotaite to prolong the validity period of the humanitarian residence permits for Belarusian citizens from one year to three years. The members of the committee stated that in the context of the dynamic increase of Belarusian citizens in Lithuania and the ongoing parallel discussions in the society as well as parliamentary debates on restrictions for Belarusian citizens in Lithuania, the proposal of the Minister of the Interior might be considered “hasty” and create a negative precedent for the future. Therefore, the Committee believes that the proposal should be treated in a broader context, considering the new Belarusian passport, manifestations of Litvinism, and other matters. On November 1, the Leader of the Belarusian democratic forces and Head of the United Transitional Cabinet of Belarus Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya reported on the progress of the New Belarusian passport project. She stated that every day she receives appeals from Belarusian citizens who face problems with their current passports or the legalization of their stay abroad. Tsikhanouskaya said that the work on the issuing of the first sample passports is in progress and the procurement of materials needed for their printing has been launched. In parallel, work for establishing an issuing authority is being done. The authority shall ensure all stages of the process – from receipt of application to data storage and protection, verification, and issuance of passport. The leader of the democratic forces noted that the passport does not remove the need for the legalization of staying abroad. On November 2, the Latvian Parliament Saeima voted for a ban on vehicles with Russian license plates. According to the new law which will enter into force on February 14, 2024, vehicles with Russian license plates are banned from participating in the road traffic if they are not re-registered in Latvia before that day. If after this period it is found that a Russian car, unregistered in Latvia, was used in traffic, it will be arrested and confiscated. The confiscated cars will be transferred to Ukraine. Vehicles with Russian license plates will be allowed to be driven in Latvia only for a 24-hour transit through the country, and only one time. This restriction would also have affected vehicles with Belarusian license plates, however, the Latvian Parliament removed this provision from the bill after the visit of the Belarusian democratic forces to Latvia and their meeting with members of the parliamentary friendship group with democratic Belarus and direct communication of the Office of Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya with Latvian Prime Minister Evika Siliņa. On November 3, the Main Department of the Investigation Committee of Belarus announced the opening of a criminal case against Latvian officials according to article 128 of the Criminal Code, “Acts against human security”. The Committee accuses Latvian border patrols of violence and brutal treatment of migrants, who attempted to enter the EU through the Baltic Countries. According to Lukashenka’s institution, the behavior of Latvians violates international regulations, in particular, the Convention on the Status of Refugees, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. The investigation was launched after the earlier announcement by the Belarusian Border Security Committee of the discovery of bodies of dead migrants at the border with Latvia. On November 3, Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya announced her and her team’s visit to Berlin on November 6-8. During the visit, an Alliance “For a Democratic Belarus”, uniting dozens of parliamentary groups from various countries, will be launched. Meetings with the President of the German Bundestag, the Committee on Foreign Affairs, the Libereco NGO promoting human rights and supporting political prisoners, and members of the Belarusian diaspora are on the agenda of the visit. The World Justice Project published its Rule of Law ranking of countries. For the sixth year in a row, the rule of law declined in many countries. In the overall country ranking, Belarus ranked 104th out of 142. In the ranking “Constraints of Government Powers”, Belarus ranked 139 next to Cambodia and Egypt, in the “Absence of Corruption” – 60th between Hungary and Trinidad and Tobago, in the category “Open Government” – 135 between Togo and Ethiopia, in category “Fundamental Rights” – 128, next to Uganda, which ranked one position below Belarus, in the category of “Regulatory Enforcement” Belarus ranked 105th between Vietnam and the Islamic Republic of Iran. Surprisingly, in the category “Order and Security”, Belarus ranked 41st.
HUMAN RIGHTS SITUATION AND INTERNATIONAL RESPONSE
The Social Policy Department of the United Transitional Cabinet of Belarus has launched the information and consulting platform “One Window”, where every Belarusian will be able to receive free assistance from organizations providing legal, medical, psychological, and financial assistance or working to address social issues. As of now, there are 245 organizations in the platform’s database, including NGOs, local initiatives abroad, as well as state organizations in Belarus. Applicants can get help through the platform’s website, by making a phone call or using a chatbot, as well as through social networks or by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org. In the Minsk Pre-trial Detention Center No. 1 on Valadarskaha Street, the rules for receiving medical transfers have been tightened. Now relatives can transfer them only if there is an application from the detainee to the administration in this regard. The new rules are effective from October 30, 2023. According to them, to receive a transfer of medications or vitamins, a detainee must first apply to the medical unit in writing. Then the decision on the feasibility of the transfer is made by the doctor of the Pre-trial Detention Center who can allow the transfer or refuse it. If permission is granted, the prisoner sends his/her application together with the authorization and a list of necessary medications to relatives by mail. The organization of former security officers BELPOL has launched its new website belpol.pro with the support of the BySol charitable foundation. According to BELPOL, the site has extensive features, which allow an increase in the amount of information provided to the public. BELPOL noted that for security reasons, the site is accessible only via VPN from the territory of Belarus and Russia. On October 31, the Homel Regional Court sentenced the musicians of the Belarusian band TOR BAND to 7.5-9 years imprisonment on charges of insulting Aliaksandr Lukashenka, inciting social hostility, creating an extremist formation, and discrediting Belarus. Dzmitryi Halavach was sentenced to nine years in a high-security colony, Yauhen Burlo – to eight years in a colony, and Andrei Yaremchyk – to seven and a half years in a colony. The details of the investigation and of the criminal case are unknown – the lawyers had to sign a non-disclosure agreement. During the announcement of the verdict, Yauhen Burlo was on crutches, he could hardly move. With the permission of the judge, he did not get up at the time of the announcement of the verdict. It is known that he needs spinal surgery, his health is deteriorating, and currently, he is being checked for cancer. 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 against Aliaksandr Lukashenka. In January 2023, the group was recognized as an “extremist formation”. Prior to the opening of the criminal case, the members of the group were arrested three times for 15 days, after which they were charged with “spreading extremist materials.” On November 2, the Washington Post published an editorial about the TOR BAND and the persecution of the musicians, “They got locked up in Belarus, just for singing this song.” On November 1, the Homel Investigative Committee opened a new criminal case against former political prisoner Leanid Sudalenka. He is accused of “otherwise facilitating extremist activities.” Leanid Sudalenka headed the Homel branch of the “Viasna” Human Rights Center. In November 2021, he was sentenced to three years in prison on charges of “financing and organizing actions that grossly violate public order.” On July 21, 2023, he was released, having fully served his sentence, and in August he went abroad, where he currently continues his human rights activities. Clearly, the new criminal case against Sudalenka is a retaliation for his continued human rights work. In October, his individual complaint was registered by the UN Human Rights Committee. On November 3, a verdict in the case of the editor-in-chief of the independent newspaper “Regionalnaya Gazeta” Aliaksandr Mantsevich was handed down. He was accused of spreading deliberately false information that discredits Belarus and its authorities. The court sentenced 65-year-old Mantsevich, to four years of imprisonment and a fine of BYN94 thousand. In his final statement in court, Aliaksandr said: “I love my people and my Belarus. Being behind bars, I could not erect a monument to my father in the cemetery for the anniversary… It’s a pity that as a grandfather, I will not be able to teach my grandson new Belarusian words. And my daughter can’t explain to her son where his grandfather is. But he won’t be ashamed of his grandfather. I am not a dreamer, but I am sure that one day there will be a street named after the Regional Newspaper, which strengthened the authority of the Belarusian nation, lived by the concerns of readers, and wrote the truth… It’s a pity for a newspaper that could have existed for many years… I do not admit guilt.” Dmitry Shevtsov, Secretary General of the Belarusian Red Cross Society, will continue to exercise his powers despite the demand of the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC ) to remove him from his duties due to the misuse of the IFRC emblem and the breach of the IFRC integrity policy following his visit to Russia’s occupied Donbas wearing the “Z” sign, which is an emblem supporting the Russian aggression. On October 3, the IFRC Governing Board sanctioned Dmitry Shevtsov by preventing him from holding any governance positions in the IFRC and called on the Belarus Red Cross to dismiss him following his statements, including on nuclear weapons and on the relocation of Ukrainian children to Belarus, and his visit to Luhansk and Donetsk. If the Belarus Red Cross does not take the necessary actions to remove the current Secretary General, its membership rights will be suspended automatically on November 30, 2023. Meanwhile, on November 1, Russian Commissioner for Children’s Rights, Maria Lvova-Belova, whose arrest warrant was issued by the International Criminal Court in connection with the illegal deportation and relocation of Ukrainian children, arrived in Belarus. At a meeting with her, the Russian Ambassador to Belarus, Boris Gryzlov, stated that Belarus and Russia will continue to relocate Ukrainian children. The Social Policy Department of the United Transitional Cabinet of Belarus informs about the distribution of funds collected during the solidarity marathon “We Care”. 197,100 Euros have already been transferred to political prisoners and their families. 248,400 Euros out of 545,740.22 Euros (the total amount remaining after the payment of the commission) have already been transferred to organizations and funds helping political prisoners. The following organizations have received transfers: Human rights initiative to help political prisoners Dissidentby – 14,000 Euro; charitable foundation “Country for life” – 18,000 Euro; charitable organization LITTOUWIN Lions CLUB – 15,000 Euro; “Razam” Fund for Assistance to Belarusians in Lithuania – 20,000 Euro; Belarusian Council of Culture – 9,500 Euro; BY_help initiative – 46,900 Euro; Anarchist Black Cross – Belarus – 20,000 Euro; Belarusian Solidarity Fund BYSOL – 100,000 Euro; media project of assistance to Belarusian women political prisoners “Politvyazynka” – 5,000 Euro. On the eve of Christmas, Belarusian initiatives launched a “Christmas mail” for children of political prisoners. “The children of our heroes can make a drawing or write in a letter about the gift they would like to find under the Christmas tree. To participate in the action, you must fill out the form at the link. And each of you can become the wizard who fulfills wishes and gives the child what he dreams of. You can join the action from any part of the world by following the link,” the initiators explain. These are the foundation “Country for Life” together with the initiative to help political prisoners in Belarus Dissidentby, the charity organization Littowin LIONS CLUB, the platform for the support of political prisoners Politzek.me, People’s Embassies of Belarus, and the Association of Belarusians in America. On November 2, European diplomats wrote a letter to Belarusian journalists-political prisoners on the occasion of the International Day of Ending Impunity for Crimes against Journalists, established by the UN General Assembly. The text of the letter, which, as it notes, will not remain confidential in any case due to correspondence perlustration in prisons, was posted on social networks. In it, the diplomats emphasize that in its resolution of 2013, the General Assembly condemned any use of force against media workers – including in the form of arbitrary deprivation of liberty – and called on States, among other things, to promote the creation of a safe environment for them in which media workers can carry out their work independently and without undue interference. Numerous repressions against journalists and media workers in Belarus constitute a violation of the state’s international obligations as a member of the United Nations and the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe. Letters signed by diplomats from Austria, Bulgaria, Great Britain, Germany, Italy, the Netherlands, Poland, Romania, Finland, France, the Czech Republic, Sweden, Switzerland, and Estonia, were sent to each of the 33 media workers unjustly imprisoned in Belarus. The governments of the countries whose diplomats have put their signatures in the letter are united in demanding that the political prisoners of Belarus finally be released. The founders and leaders of the Belarus Free Theater Natalia Kaliada and Nikolai Khalezin were awarded the Order of the British Empire for services to the theater. Natalia Kaliada received the order at a ceremony at the Buckingham Palace in London on November 2. Nikolai will receive the order on January 24. People who are ordained to the Order of the British Empire are awarded for outstanding services, personal bravery, and their service to Great Britain and the world.
On October 30, Stanisław Żaryn, Secretary of State and Government Plenipotentiary for the Security of Information Space of Poland, stated that Belarusian propaganda had intensified aggressive information activities targeting Poland. This was especially evident after the parliamentary elections in Poland on October 15. According to him, “propaganda activities are used to maintain the operation to destabilize the Polish border with the help of artificially stimulated migration pressure”, said Żaryn. The Polish official noted that the intensification of propaganda can be considered “a form of pressure on the future government.”
On October 30, the Day of Remembrance of Victims of Political Repression, several Western diplomats accredited in Minsk laid flowers at the Kurapaty memorial, a place of mass shootings and graves of victims of Stalin’s repressions (late 1930s – early 1940s). Same as last year, when the diplomats from the EU member states, the UK, and Switzerland arrived at the memorial, they were met and chased by the Lukashenka propaganda media workers. The “journalists” asked diplomats: “What are you doing here?”, “Who is buried here?”, “Name one of the victims of Stalin’s terror,” filming this process on TV cameras. Diplomats did not reply or say that they do not talk with propagandists. One of the state media outlets made a report where it called the laying of flowers by diplomats as “yet another provocation of the West.” Propagandist Lyudmila Gladkaya commented that “evil spirits crawled out to the Kurapaty [cemetery] on that day.”
On October 30, it became known that during a “patriotic event”, children in a kindergarten in Minsk were forced to swim in a pool with Belarusian flags tied to them. On this day, an ideological action “Letter about Belarus” was held in some cities, where children welcomed and praised employees of regional Prosecutor’s Offices. In the Minsk kindergarten #571, the organizers of the action, according to media reports, tied state flags to children, and they swam with them in the pool.
On November 1, the Secretary of State of the “Union State” of Russia and Belarus, Dmitry Mezentsev, stated that the creation of a “union media holding” was being delayed again. According to Mezentsev, the founding of a media holding is hampered by “conceptual differences” between the Russian and Belarusian sides. This is not the first time that the creation of a joint propaganda media holding has been postponed. In July 2023, the Russian Ministry of Digital Information announced that the media holding will appear no earlier than 2024.
On November 1, the Russian Presidential Commissioner for the Rights of the Child Maria Lvova-Belova visited Minsk. At a public meeting with her attendance, Russian Ambassador to Belarus Boris Gryzlov said that Belarus and Russia will continue to deport children from Donbas. “If we speak the language of facts, no country or organization in the world has done as much for the safety and well-being of Ukrainian children as Russia and Belarus,” said Gryzlov. In March 2023, the International Criminal Court issued an arrest warrant for Maria Lvova-Belova and Vladimir Putin on suspicion of deportation of Ukrainian children to Russia.
On November 3, Belarusian dictator Aliaksandr Lukashenka, while speaking to journalists during a trip to Ostrovets, stated in a vulgar manner that he would not release political prisoners, even despite the Western demands. “We talk to them (Western countries) through closed channels, they approach me with some conditions, ‘Release this and that (prisoner of conscience), let this one go!’” “He broke the law, continues Lukashenka, how can I let him go? For this, there must be certain conditions. They step on my chest with their knee and start putting pressure! Screw you!” Lukashenka said.
At the same meeting, Lukashenka said that he did not expect any improvements in the policy of Poland towards Belarus after the parliamentary elections held on October 15. He called the Law and Justice party “pro-American”, and the leader of the opposition party Civic Platform, Donald Tusk, a “pro-European politician”. “But this does not mean that tomorrow the policy towards Belarus will change there.” “We are a sovereign independent state. We will pursue the policy that is in the interests of our people. If they are ready for this, tomorrow we are ready to shake hands with them anywhere and are ready to cooperate with them,” Lukashenka said. He also said that he expects relations with Poland and Lithuania to be restored.
The Lukashenka propaganda keeps trying to discredit the Belarusian democratic forces and organize provocations against them. On November 3, a falsified document appeared in several pro-government Telegram channels aimed at discrediting a respected Warsaw-based NGO, the Center of Belarusian Solidarity (CBS) and at the same time aimed at accusing the Polish authorities of corruption. The CBS is a non-profit organization that provides legal, educational, and psychological services to Belarusians and Ukrainians and is not engaged in commercial, for-profit activities. The photo in the fake news shows a falsified invoice for a considerable amount from CBS to the Polish construction company Budimex for “consulting services.” Budimex is authorized by the Polish government to erect a fence on the Polish-Belarusian border. Propaganda publications made a conspiracy conclusion that Budimex received a government contract for the construction of the fence allegedly in exchange for financing the Belarusian democratic initiative. A lot of inconsistencies and errors indicate that this document was grossly fabricated. The CBS president (and the executive director of iSANS) Vlad Kobets said in an interview with the independent media outlet Reformation that the fake is being spread “with the aim to link, in the minds of Belarusians, the migration crisis in Poland, the border fence construction, and the problems with relocation (from Belarus to Poland) with the Belarusian democratic forces.” “The authors of the provocation attacked Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya and the Belarusian Solidarity Centre in order to cause disappointment among Belarusians living in Poland, their rejection of the democratic forces, and so that parents do not bring their children to our center,” commented Vlad Kobets.
iSANS teamBest regards,