- MILITARY DEVELOPMENTS
- POLITICAL DEVELOPMENTS
- HUMAN RIGHTS SITUATION AND INTERNATIONAL RESPONSE
Belarus Review (2023 edition, issue 19)
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).
The Belarusian Hajun project published a monthly report of the military movement on the territory of Belarus. According to estimates by the Belarusian Hajun project, in mid-August there were around 4,000 – 4,500 mercenaries of the PMC Wagner in Belarus. Experts of the Belarusian Hajun project consider that part of them might have left Belarus, although no active movement of the Wagnerite vehicles on roads in Belarus has been observed at least since August 27, and none of it was spotted during the first week of September. Moreover, the number of equipment units at PMC Wagner’s field camp near the village of Tsel in Osipovichy has not changed. The report by the Belarusian Hajun also claims that around 2,100 military personnel of the Russian Armed Forces remain in Belarus as of September 1, but most of the Russian servicemen have been withdrawn from Belarus in the past few weeks, and the military camps “Obuz-Lesovsky”, “Lepelsky” and “Osipovichy” where they stayed have been dismantled. Belarusian Hajun stated in its July report that in the period of July 2 to July 7, the Russian contingent of the regional group was withdrawn from Belarus (no new troops arrived, thereof it is talked about a withdrawal and not rotation). In turn at the beginning of August, the entire aviation group that was part of the regional group of troops was withdrawn from Belarus. In its report, Belarusian Hajun makes an assumption that the large-scale withdrawal of units of the Russian Armed Forces was primarily connected with the absence of the Russian Armed Forces’ acute need for the training ground infrastructure, which the Belarusian Armed Forces have. This is also indicated by the fact that military cargo trains of the Russian Armed Forces were leaving not to the combat zone, but to training grounds located in Russia. On September 7, Deputy Minister of Interior of the Russian Federation Sergei Ryabkov announced that the deployment of the tactical nuclear weapon in Belarus is going according to the plan. He said that there were several stages of creating the relevant infrastructure or equipment for the relevant carriers. At the same time, Ryabkov did not say anything about the arrival of TNW in Belarus and did not provide details about the planned deadlines for the fulfillment of the tasks. On September 8, it was announced that Belarus was going to suspend the Treaty on Conventional Armed Forces in Europe with regard to Poland and the Czech Republic, and the bill on the suspension was submitted to the House of Representatives. The Treaty was signed in 1990 by 16 NATO states and 6 Warsaw Pact countries. Earlier this year, Russia denounced the CFE Treaty. According to the official information, joint military training of the Russian and the Belarusian Armed Forces was yet again prolonged at least until September 17, 2023. Military drills continue since April 29, 2022.
On September 4, Decree No. 278 was adopted, prohibiting the diplomatic missions of the Republic of Belarus from issuing new passports or renewing expired documents for Belarusians abroad. The preamble to the decree states that the document is only aimed at “further improving the order for implementation of administrative procedure and optimization of service of diplomatic missions and consulates of the Republic Belarus” and defines a list of administrative procedures to which Belarusian official missions abroad are entitled to. However, it is obvious that the decree is a repressive measure against citizens in political exile: they cannot return to Belarus to change their documents due to the risk of persecution or imprisonment, and since the decree applies also to notarial certification of the power of attorney for transactions with real estate and personal transport, Belarusians living abroad will be denied the right to dispose of their property. Even though the decree is aimed at putting pressure on political immigrants, it also creates difficulties for Belarusians living abroad. Currently, the registration for the submission of documents to apply for a new passport in Belarusian embassies has already been suspended, although the decree has not yet officially entered into force. Representatives of the Belarusian democratic forces and the international community reacted strongly to the announcement of Lukashenka’s decree banning the possibility for Belarusian citizens to obtain new passports or prolong their existing passports in Belarusian consulates abroad. The Leader of the Democratic Forces Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya assured that her Office is working on possible solutions that would allow not to leave Belarusians without valid personal documents, is planning to hold consultations with the European Commission, and discuss the issue with the European Parliament during the UNGA. The legal adviser of Tsikhanouskaya Kristina Rikhter said in her interview with Svaboda that the Lukashenka regime refused to represent the interests of Belarusians living abroad, directly violated Article 3 of the Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations, and effectively canceled some provisions of The Hague Convention on Legalization of Foreign Official Document. On September 5, Tsikhanouskaya’s Adviser Franak Viacorka commented on the issue of the discontinuation of the issuance of passports by Belarusian consulates in an interview with the “Voice of America” and said that Belarusian democratic community knew that Lukashenka would seek revenge for the protests of 2020 and that the community was preparing for it. According to Viacorka, this is why the democratic forces came up with the project of the new alternative Belarusian passport, which will ensure Belarusians’ legal status abroad. The Director of the Migration Department at the Ministry of Interior of Lithuania said, reacting to Lukashenka’s decree, that Lithuania is aware of the new restrictions imposed by the Belarusian ruler against Belarusian citizens living abroad, and does not plan to change procedures for issuing alien’s passports to Belarusians. As in the past, it will be necessary to provide a reason why a person is not able to obtain a passport from his home country. German officials stated that international law prohibits denying the citizens of their own country living abroad to receive consular services. German government harshly criticized Lukashenka’s decree, stating that it practically bans citizens from receiving consular services abroad and refrains from protecting the country’s citizens in foreign countries. However, the German government still does not know what to do with those whose passport expires and they cannot travel to Belarus to obtain a new passport, fearing persecution or arrest. The United States and the European Union have condemned a decree signed by Aliaksandr Lukashenka prohibiting the renewal of passports for Belarusians living abroad. The U.S. State Department spokesman Matthew Miller said in a statement on September 7 that the decision to stop providing passport services in Belarusian consulates harms thousands of Belarusians living abroad and is “the latest in a long line of cynical rejections by the regime of its basic obligations to its people.” The EU spokesman Peter Stano said earlier the same day that the decree demonstrated, how the Lukashenka regime “completely disregards the fundamental rights of Belarusians.” Stano said the decree was another step by the illegitimate regime against Belarusians who were forced to leave the country to escape repression and persecution. He underlined that “the European Union strongly condemns this decision, and we will continue to support Belarusians in their aspirations for democracy”. The British banking group HSBC (Hongkong and Shanghai Banking Corporation) will halt remittance services to and from Russia and Belarus for its corporate clients starting in October as a response of financial institutions to Western sanctions over the war in Ukraine.
HUMAN RIGHTS SITUATION AND INTERNATIONAL RESPONSE
As it became known last week, on August 22, a resident of Novopolotsk, Ala Grudnitskaya, was fined BYN 3,700 (USD 1,462) for a photo of a white dog in a red jumpsuit. The court found her guilty of “unauthorized picketing”. According to investigators, Grudnitskaya published a photo of the dog on Odnoklassniki social network with the caption “Long live Belarus!!!!! No to violence!!!” The white-red-white flag and the coat of arms “Pagonya” are state symbols of the Belarusian People’s Republic and widely used by protesters against the regime. Lukashenka’s regime constantly attempts to ban the symbols, persecute people for displaying them, and even use white and red colors; currently a reason for arrest or fine. On September 7, court hearings on a criminal case against 15-year-old Artsyom Vaytsiachovich, the brother of the Telegram Channel “Live. The Community of Railway Workers of Belarus” administrator, began in the court of the Moskovsky district of Minsk. He is tried under Part 2 of Article 208 of the Criminal Code (“Extortion”). It is known that Artyom’s brother received demands to stop his activities as a condition for Artsyom’s release. On September 7, the Supreme Court rejected the complaint of the Belarusian Social Democratic Party (Gramada) against the Ministry of Justice for refusing re-registration. The complaint claimed that the new version of the law “On political parties” contradicts the Constitution. The party asked the Supreme Court to demand “all documents related to the drafting of the law” from the Ministry of Justice, to interview people who, as experts, participated in the development of the principles of legal regulation for political parties, and to request the Constitutional Court to verify the constitutionality of amendments to the law. The court rejected the petition and stressed that it had no doubts about the constitutionality of the law. A pre-trial hearing on the liquidation of the BSDPG will be held in the Supreme Court on September 11. An exhibition dedicated to Ales Bialiatski will be held in Berlin starting on September 7-21. The project will explore the life of Ales Bialiatski, the founder and head of the Viasna Human Rights Center and the laureate of the Nobel Peace Prize 2022. That year Ales Bialiatski was sentenced to 10 years’ imprisonment on politically motivated grounds. The event will be held in Belarusian, with English translation. The Vitebsk Regional Court will consider the case against Vyacheslav Lazarav and Tatsyana Pytsko. The couple is accused of collaborating with the Belsat TV channel. Vyacheslav Lazarav is accused of facilitating extremist activities, and his wife – of creating an extremist formation or participating in it. The spouses face a prison sentence of up to six years. The trial is held behind closed doors. The couple has three children. The youngest of them, a one-year-old daughter, is placed under state care in the Vitebsk Regional Children’s Hospital since her mother’s detention. The Human Rights Center “Viasna” published its latest monthly report on arbitrary arrests, trials, torture, and other types of ill-treatment against political opponents of the regime and dissidents in Belarus. During August, the human rights community recognized 69 people as political prisoners and over the first week of September there were 15 more. As of September 6th, there are 1,511 political prisoners in Belarus recognized by “Viasna”. About 1,000 political prisoners have been released after fully serving their sentence, and were given a sentence not related to imprisonment or pardoned. The total number of people prosecuted for political reasons since May 2020, including those serving sentences and those already released, is at least 4,898. 11 minors were imprisoned on political charges. The authors of the report note the increased pressure on political prisoners, as well as the deterioration of the imprisonment conditions and repeated sentences.
On September 4, Belarusian Defense Minister Viktor Khrenin said that Poland’s refusal to send experts to observe military exercises of the Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO) meant its refusal to build good neighborly relations: “Unfortunately, they refused. This once again demonstrates that they do not want to establish normal, good, good neighborly relations with us”. The Foreign Ministry of Poland explained the refusal to observe by saying that they “did not take the proposal of the Belarusian side seriously”. According to the Polish MFA, the invitation to Belarus was primarily of a propaganda nature. In the same speech, Viktor Khrenin made a mitigating statement regarding the incident with the Polish military helicopter, which had allegedly violated the airspace of Belarus and flew into its territory on September 1. Khrenin said that he does not consider the border violation by the Polish helicopter to be a provocation against Belarus. He attributes the incident to a pilot’s error: “We continue to interact (with Poland) within the framework of flight safety. We saw this helicopter; we knew what the purpose of the flight was– patrolling the state border <…>. We do not regard this as a provocation, opposite to our aggressive neighbors.” On the same day, Deputy Minister of Defense, and Head of the Department for International Military Cooperation, Valery Revenko, said that Poland continues to build up strike weapons on the border with Belarus. Poland “deliberately violates the Treaty on Conventional Armed Forces in Europe, does not provide information about its military forces and ignores proposals to resume dialogue in the field of arms control, while accusing the Belarusian side of destabilizing the situation in the region”, stated Revenko. On September 5, a member of the House of Representatives of the National Assembly of Belarus Sergei Klishevich announced on the state TV channel STV that new history textbooks for universities will have a page dedicated to “the betrayal of the Belarusian people.” He did not specify what kind of betrayal was meant, but he spoke about the white-red-white flag of the Belarusian democratic forces in an insulting manner. Propaganda outlets supported Lukashenka’s decision to abolish the opportunity for Belarusian citizens to receive and renew passports and other documents at Belarusian consulates abroad. On September 6, one of the most notorious propagandists, STV host Grigory Azarenok joyfully commented on the new ban with a nasty smile: “That’s it! Batka (“President”) signed the decree. No chance to prolong your passport at embassies and consulates abroad. Well, that’s all, you are the homeless people. You have long become the political vagabonds. You have long been the moral and ethical vagabonds, impersonal vagabonds, broke vagabonds, hopeless vagabonds. Vagabonds without future and now also paperless”. Another statement on this matter was made by Oleg Gaidukevich, politician, and head of the pro-government Liberal Democratic Party of Belarus on the online stream “Azarenok. Directly”: “Immediately take your expired passports, get the papers at the consulate, and return to Belarus! And there is no need to be afraid. It’s better to have a prison sentence here, even if someone has done something, than death, than slavery… I appeal to those who left: You will soon be extradited to Ukraine. You said that liberation from the regime (in Belarus) lies with Ukraine. There you will be collected at recruiting centers, given machine guns, and sent to the Ukrainian front.” On September 6, Polish pro-Russian and pro-Belarusian “political scientist” Tomasz Gryguc on the air of the program “Azarenok. Directly” of the Belarusian TV channel STV said: “We envy you that you have such a president, brave, serious, responsible.” Gryguc also spoke out against Polish military assistance to Ukraine: “We are Poles – this is not the government. We are not the Law and Justice party. They spent huge amounts of money (on arming Ukraine). Billions of dollars are borrowed. That is, our children and grandchildren will pay for it. This government calls itself “a servant of Ukraine.” Earlier, Gryguc justified Putin’s war against Ukraine and said that he was surprised why Russia “hasn’t fired nuclear missiles at Kyiv yet”: “I think this (a nuclear strike on Ukraine) would be good for many countries and many people. A nuclear annihilation over the Dnieper would sober up many. Many players would be concerned about such a mystery – a massive nuclear missile strike at Ukraine. Unfortunately, one can only dream about this”. On September 7, the Chairman of the state media holding Belteleradiocompany, Ivan Eismont, said that joint Russian-Belarusian entertainment projects would appear on Belarusian TV, as well as more Russian experts. Apparently, this is a move towards greater fusion of Russian and Belarusian propaganda. Eismont noted that the largest Russian Internet platforms are interested in entertainment projects in Belarus. Also, according to him, the practice of inviting Russian experts to Belarusian television will continue: “This is a new breath and thoughts.” He said that there is already a whole list of Russian specialists whom Minsk will invite to expand the expert community. On September 8, the Extraordinary Congress of the Belarusian Red Cross Society (BORC) decided to keep the Secretary General of the organization Dmitry Shevtsov in his post. This decision was made against the recommendation of the Compliance and Mediation Committee of the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies, which had suggested removing Shevtsov from office after he visited Russian-occupied Ukrainian territories in May 2023 and appeared on propaganda television wearing a Z chevron (a sign of support for the Russian aggression against Ukraine). On September 10, STV television channel propagandist Nadezhda Sass reported that Hungarian authorities detained her at the Budapest airport and deported her from the country. Sass came to Hungary to record an “exposing” film about the “shadow empire” of George Soros. “The Hungarian special services, clearly not without the help of their overseas curators, did everything possible to disrupt the preparation of this program, conducting a search and all sorts of checks on me right at the Budapest airport, eventually closing my entry into Hungary and deporting me. I would like to note that I spent the night before deportation accompanied by the Hungarian police in a temporary detention center at the airport.,” she said. Sass is a Ukrainian pro-Russian and pro-Belarusian journalist. In February 2022, together with her husband Oleg Voloshin, a former deputy of the Opposition Platform – For Life political party in Ukraine, she left Ukraine for Belarus, where she now works as an STV observer. Best regards,iSANS team