- MILITARY DEVELOPMENTS
- POLITICAL DEVELOPMENTS
- HUMAN RIGHTS SITUATION AND INTERNATIONAL RESPONSE
Belarus Review (2023 edition, issue 26)
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).
On 24 October, Defense Minister Viktor Khrenin met with Collective Security Treaty Organization’s (CSTO) Secretary General Imangali Tasmagambetov. During the meeting, the parties summarized the interim results of the implementation of the measures envisaged in the plan for the period of Belarus’ chairmanship in the CSTO. Khrenin noted that special attention was focused on the development of the military component of the CSTO. On October 24, conscripts began to be sent for compulsory military service. According to the Defense Ministry, a total of 10,200 people is scheduled to be drafted (200 of them for reserve service). In total, about 60,000 conscripts have been summoned to draft boards. The announced data confirms the conclusion made earlier: To maintain the current level of conscription, the Ministry of Defense is using an extensive approach, in which the number of conscripts required is achieved by reducing the requirements for their health condition. On October 24-25, the 8th Brigade of Radiation, Chemical and Biological Protection located in Starye Dorogi, hosted an operational training camp for the command staff of the Armed Forces of Belarus. Heads of military administration bodies, commanders, and chiefs of staff of military units and other officials took part in the meeting. The purpose of the training camp was to develop unified approaches to the training of officials of military administration bodies and troops, considering the focus of training of the Armed Forces of Belarus and the organization of daily activities while solving the assigned tasks in the new academic year. On October 26, the Belarusian Minister of Defense Viktor Khrenin went on a working visit to China. Negotiations with the Members of the Political Bureau of the Central Committee of the Chinese Communist Party, and Deputy Chairman of the Military Council were on the agenda. Moreover, visits to military training grounds and military units of the Chinese army and attendance at the 10th Xiangshan Security Forum were planned. On October 25-26, the State Security Committee conducted anti-terrorist drills in Mahilou with the aim “to check the readiness of government agencies to respond to acts of terrorism.” Similar drills were conducted for the fourth time since the beginning of 2023. On October 27, it became known that a Belarusian volunteer fighter Pavel Gorbach “Bort” died in the course of action in Ukraine. Currently, there is no information about the circumstances under which the Belarusian fighter, who fought for the independence of Belarus and Ukraine, died. Two Russian Air Force aircraft Su-24 can be seen at the Baranavichy military airfield in a video taken by the television company VoenTV. One of the aircraft is a surveillance plane Su-24MP. This way the presence of Russian surveillance aircraft in Belarus was confirmed. It is worth mentioning that Su-24 aircraft were taken off the armament of the Belarusian Air Force in 2012.
On October 24, it became known that the German Bundestag would hold a debate on the European Perspective for Belarus on November 8, 2023. A live broadcast of the debate is set to begin at 16:30 CET. The debate is initiated by the governing parties SPD, FDP, and the Greens, after the debate voting is set to take place. Moreover, a resolution initiated by the current opposition party, the German Christian Democratic Union (CDU), should also be considered that day. The resolution urges the German government to politically and rhetorically differentiate between the Lukashenka regime and the people of Belarus; despite the regime’s complicity in Putin’s war against Ukraine, to differentiate between Russia and Belarus and to send a clear message and signal that the “creeping de facto annexation by Russia” is not recognized and must be abolished; to prepare a clear response within the EU and the transatlantic community for the situation, if Belarusian regime will step into Russia’s war against Ukraine; to support the democratic transition of Belarus and to draft a plan within the EU to make political and financial support available in case of such a transition; to do everything possible for the release of political prisoners and to document the evidence of crimes committed against them and all the names of perpetrators and their allies; to continue to pledge within the EU and in coordination with close partners for continuation of imposing harsh and targeted sanctions against the Belarusian state security apparatus as it is the center of the state terrorism of the Lukashenka regime. On October 24, the Belarusian Border Security Committee announced that it had found two bodies of a man and woman migrants at the border to Latvia a day before. According to the Committee, from the beginning of 2023, ten people have died at the border with Latvia, after “the other side cynically left beaten people without necessary medical assistance.” The press service of the Border Security Committee announced that it had carried out an investigation in the area where deceased migrants were found. At the same time, Lithuanian border guards informed 14 illegal migrants had been taken into custody in the Ignalina region. The migrants reported harsh behavior of the Belarusian border patrols and suffering beatings from them, five migrants needed immediate medical treatment. On October 25, the Representative of Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya for Constitutional Reform and Parliamentary Solidarity Anatol Liabedzka informed that the visit of the representatives of the Belarusian democratic forces to Latvia and the meeting with representatives of the Parliamentary friendship group with Democratic Belarus some weeks ago gave actual results. The Latvian Saeima’s Specialized Commission on National Economy decided not to blacklist vehicles with Belarusian registration. It was previously considered to prohibit vehicles with Russian and Belarusian license plates from being in Latvia without re-registration. On October 27, the Lithuanian Ministry of Interior hosted a meeting of the Ministers of the Interior of the three Baltic States, Poland, Finland, Norway, and Ukraine. The meeting was the continuation of an initiative by the Polish MoI to host meetings of the EU countries neighboring Belarus that started on August 28, 2023. This time the format was extended with the presence of MoIs from Norway, Finland, and Ukraine. The main topic of the meeting was the ongoing migration crisis orchestrated by the Lukashenka regime. Moreover, Lithuania’s Minister of the Interior Agnė Bilotaitė announced planned drills to test algorithms in case of the complete border closure with Belarus. Last week, the leader of the democratic forces of Belarus Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya, and members of the United Transitional Cabinet held several important meetings with representatives of parliaments and governments of the democratic countries and attended events abroad. Over the past weekend, Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya and her Representative for Foreign Affairs Valery Kavaleuski attended the Summit of the German CDU Party Youth “Junge Union” called “German Day 2023” (Deutschlandtag 2023), where she met with the President of the European Commission Ursula von der Leyen and other German political leaders. On Monday, October 23, Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya and Valery Kavaleuski met with the Lithuanian Prime Minister Ingrida Šimonytė to discuss the issue of legalization of Belarusians in Lithuania and welcomed the decision to prolong the residence permits issued on humanitarian grounds to three years, keeping passengers’ traffic between Lithuania and Belarus to keep the border open for Belarusians who flee from the Lukashenka regime. On Tuesday, October 24, Tsikhanouskaya attended the workshop “Belarus and Belarusians, 2020+: assessing prospects and challenges for the country’s democratic future” and delivered a keynote speech, where she appreciated the solidarity Lithuania has shown since 2020, touched upon the Lukashenka and Putin initiated a propaganda campaign to sow mistrust between Lithuanians and Belarusians, assured that Belarus will further strive to go the European integration path and will eventually become an EU member, despite the fact that currently it looks like a very distant goal. On October 25, Tsikhanouskaya spoke at the opening of the Aleksanteri Conference at the University of Helsinki.
HUMAN RIGHTS SITUATION AND INTERNATIONAL RESPONSE
On October 22, Maryna Adamovich, the wife of political prisoner Mikalai Statkevich wrote on her Facebook page that from May 10, 2023, punitive “measures of influence” have been applied to Mikalai Statkevich nine times. She posted a photo of an excerpt from a letter from the colony administration where her husband is being held. The document reports that during this period, disciplinary measures have been applied to him for disobedience, as well as for other violations. The opposition politician has been placed in a punishment cell five times, deprived of visits and the right to receive parcels or transfers, and received a penalty in the form of a reprimand. Mikalai Statkevich was sentenced to 14 years of imprisonment in a special regime colony. He has been behind bars for 3 years and 4 months. For 254 days, he has been held incommunicado – his family has not received any news from him, and his lawyer is deprived of access to his defendant.
On October 23, the father of political prisoner Mikita Zalatarou, Mikhail Lapunou, was arrested for the sixth time in a row. The court in Gomel convicted him for the sixth time under Part 2 of Article 19.11 of the Administrative Code (“distribution of information products included in the republican list of extremist materials”). The results of this court session are still unknown, but it is obvious that he was once again punished with an arrest, as he was not released from the detention center after serving the fifth 15-day arrest. Mikhail has been behind bars for 75 days and is recognized as a political prisoner. Mikhail’s son, Mikita Zalatarou, was one of the youngest detainees after the 2020 protests. 16-year-old at that time, with epilepsy condition, he was charged under three articles of the Criminal Code and sentenced to 5 years in an educational colony. Later, another criminal case was opened against him – for allegedly attacking a pre-trial detention center employee and threatening his family.
The Qualification Commission for the Bar of the Ministry of Justice decided to terminate the license of bar member, attorney Aliaksandr Danilevich, “in connection with the decision taken by the Minsk City Bar Association to exclude the lawyer in connection with the entry into force of the court verdict on finding him guilty of committing an intentional crime.” In April 2023, Aliaksandr Danilevich was sentenced to ten years in prison. He was accused of aiding and abetting calls for sanctions and facilitating extremist activities. This is how the prosecution interprets the legal consultations that Danilevich gave to the founders of the Belarusian Sports Solidarity Fund, Aliaksandra Gerasimenia, and Aliaksandr Opeikin, as well as the editing of appeals by representatives of the strike committee.
New countries are willing to join the Group of Friends of Democratic Belarus in the OSCE, established in early October this year. This was announced by Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya’s adviser Franak Viachorka. “After the announcement of the creation of the group, several new countries have expressed a desire to join it. This is the coalition of friends of Belarus. Now we are going to develop a joint action strategy for Belarus,” he wrote. In the illustration posted by Viachorka, flags of Estonia, Denmark, France, Sweden, Poland, Lithuania, Germany, Canada, Great Britain, and the USA can be seen.
The head of the European Commission, Ursula von der Leyen, expressed solidarity with the Belarusian opposition. “We bow before the courage of these women and men,” she said about the Belarusian political prisoners on October 22 at the forum “Germany Day 2023”, which was held by the Youth of the German CDU Party “Junge Union”.
The Polish Prosecutor’s Office has issued a European arrest warrant for the head of Akrestsinа detention center and his deputy, as well as for several other Belarusian security officials who are suspected of committing crimes on the territory of Belarus in 2020. They are on the international wanted list. Their surnames and positions at the time of the crimes are as follows: Yevgeny Shapetko – Major, head of Akrestsinа Offender Isolation Center; Gleb Drill – Major, Deputy Head of Akrestsinа Offender Isolation Center; Dmitry Strebkou – Head of the correctional institution “Prison No. 8 of Zhodino”; Evgeny Savich – police ensign, the Special Purpose Police Detachment of the Main Department of Internal Affairs of the Minsk City Executive Committee; Yulia Sakalova – Senior Police Lieutenant, Office of Citizenship and Migration of the Main Department of Internal Affairs of the Minsk City Executive Committee; Karina Valuyskaya – police ensign, patrol and sentry service of the Frunzensky police department of Minsk. They are suspected of committing crimes under Part 3 of Article 189 of the Polish Criminal Code “Committing a crime related to the deprivation of liberty of a person committed with extreme cruelty.” Information about the suspects was published by the Polish state TV channel based on data from the Polish Prosecutor’s Office. The team of the People’s Anti-Crisis Management (NAM) cooperating with lawyers and human rights defenders on this case asks Belarusians affected by the actions of the security forces to contact them through NAM’s website or chatbot in Telegram @nau_by_bot. They will be helped to draft applications to the Polish Prosecutor’s Office, regardless of their country of residence.
On October 22, the press speaker of Aliaksandr Lukashenka, Natalya Eismont, said that journalists working in the president’s pool “are close to his views.” In an interview with the state channel ATN, she said: “Our president’s pool is so small because he (Lukashenka) knows and feels every person who works with him very well. This is the basis for the interaction between the President and his journalist pool. These are the people who are close to him in position, in views.”
On October 24, Lukashenka confirmed the statement by Natalya Eismont on the pool of president’s journalists. At a meeting with youth activists in Minsk, he said that the employees of the Belarusian state media who are members of his president pool are engaged not in journalism, but in “propaganda and agitation.” He said: “I persuade my journalists not to step down from this work. Yes, we are doing propaganda and agitation, this is obvious. We advocate for what’s best, and how to create the best things. Ideology and staff are most important.” Lukashenka also stated that the media should factually serve him to deliver his narratives to the audience: “We can’t do anything without them (the media) now. And they really help me to convey to you the policy that I am trying to pursue.”
At the same meeting, the Belarusian dictator said that if the opposition had won the elections in 2020, a nuclear war would have started. “They (the opposition) only needed to take power for one day and they would have immediately invited NATO troops here, in this case, it would have been a direct clash with Russia. A nuclear war.” On October 24, First Deputy Secretary of the Security Council of Belarus Pavel Muraveiko said that Belarus has every reason to «carve a vital corridor” through Lithuania by arms in order to gain access to the transit of goods. He said it while speaking at an ideological seminar organized by the Minsk City Executive Committee. The theses of his speech were published by the city newspaper Vecherniy Minsk. “Lithuania actually banned us from moving our goods across the border. According to all norms of international law, such a step refers to economic aggression. From the point of view of banal logic, we have every reason to carve a vitally important corridor for us by force of arms. And in other conditions, no one in the world would have condemned us, I would say. But not now, when the country is under unprecedented pressure from the West,” Muraveiko said.
On October 26, the international conference “Eurasian Security: Reality and Prospects in a Transforming World” organized by the Belarussian MFA, was held in Minsk. Speaking at the opening ceremony, Belarusian Foreign Minister Sergei Aleinik called the “NATO-centric world security model” “the cause for global threats.” He stated: “There is no security in Europe now due to the activities of the Alliance. Eurasia will become the future center of world’s security.” Speaking at the same conference, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov again blamed the West for the Russian aggression against Ukraine: “NATO, led by Washington, has provoked a serious security crisis in Europe, and the United States is creating increased strategic risks by deploying nuclear weapons in Europe. In response, Russia is forced to resort to compensatory measures.”
On October 26, Lukashenka met with Hungarian Foreign Minister Péter Szijjártó, where he called himself a “supporter” of the EU: “We are not vindictive people and, despite the current turbulence in the EU and the EU sanctions against us, you should know that the President of Belarus is an ardent supporter of preserving the EU. Not because I love the EU very much, but because the EU, together with the USA, China, Russia, and to some extent India, are strong pillars of the existence of our planet.”
On October 27, propagandist of Lukashenka’s journalist pool Igor Tur said in an interview with BELTA that Belarus is interested in Ukraine losing the war with Russia. “It is beneficial for the national interests of Belarus that the entire territory of Ukraine comes under Russian control”, he said. Tur also stated that Lukashenka has been “for 10 years, or even more, doing everything possible to ensure that there is no conflict (in Ukraine) and that Ukrainians do not die.” The propagandist did not mention that the Russian offensive against Ukraine started from the territory of Belarus in February 2022.
On October 27, speaking to journalists in the Minsk region of Belarus, Lukashenka insultingly accused the U.S. of starting the Israel-Palestine conflict. “It’s the Americanos who are spinning this whole mess there now,” he said. The so-called “president” of Belarus also advocated the creation of a Palestinian state.
At the same meeting, Lukashenka stated that he was ready to discuss with the West ways to normalize relations, but only without “pressure” on him. “I shake hands with everyone who comes with peace and does not hold a stone in that same hand. We are ready to work in this direction. But stepping on our chest with your knee, putting pressure, and demanding something like “Let these political prisoners go, your system is not proper!” God bless you! You showed us your system in your elections and referendums!”.
Also, he condemned Ukraine one more time for its resistance to war with Russia. When critically illustrating Ukraine’s resistance, Lukashenka used information about the problems and failures of the Russian army, turning them around and presenting them as if they apply to the Ukrainian Military Forces.
Also, while speaking on geopolitics, Lukashenka made a misogynistic comment towards female journalists around him: “The situation is very dangerous. Israel has nuclear weapons… Iran is also not a gift. And if it flares up, it won’t seem like too much. And then there are India and Pakistan, China — Taiwan, and so the whole planet can burst into flames. Therefore, it is a very dangerous situation. That’s why we need, girls (addressing female journalists), to build houses, you should get married and give birth, take care of your piece of land.”
iSANS teamBest regards,