- MILITARY DEVELOPMENTS
- POLITICAL DEVELOPMENTS
- HUMAN RIGHTS SITUATION AND INTERNATIONAL RESPONSE
Belarus Review (2023 edition, issue 13)
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 organized movement of PMC «Wagner» mercenaries to Belarus continued. During the week, at least three convoys of equipment arrived in Belarus (in total at least 162 vehicles and ca. 500-590 personnel). In the columns of mercenaries, which were identified last week, armored vehicles «Shchuka» («Chekan») were noted. The mentioned technique is a distinctive vehicle of PMC «Wagner». Earlier, a number of propaganda resources reported that the mercenaries of PMC «Wagner» should leave the field camps on the territory of the unrecognized People’s Republic of Luhansk until August 1, 2023. In this regard, the arrival of organized columns with mercenaries’ equipment in Belarus should be expected. In total, from 3,800 to 4,000 mercenaries and from 830 to 870 units of automotive equipment arrived in Belarus in thirteen columns. The main base of mercenary deployment in Belarus is still the field camp in the village of Tsel in the Osipovichi district. This is confirmed, among other things, by satellite images. There is no information about other locations where mercenaries are stationed. PMC «Wagner» mercenaries continue to conduct pieces of training with the Belarusian military. It was reported that the mercenaries engaged in training the servicemen of the internal troops, 51st Artillery Brigade, as well as mechanized units. In turn, the Ministry of Defense stated that the mercenaries also conduct training with the units of engineering troops, radiation, chemical and biological defense, as well as communications. The mercenaries train the Belarusian military in tactical medicine, artillery fire control, the use of unmanned aerial systems, electronic warfare, FPV drones, etc. Yevgeny Prigozhin might have been in Belarus again as the business jet related to the businesses of Prigozhin and PMC “Wagner” came to Belarus on the morning of July 29 (No. of registry RA-02878). On July 29, Polish Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki announced that “over 100 mercenaries of PMC «Wagner», deployed in Belarus, moved towards the Suwalki Gap”. And on July 28, similar information was published by the National Resistance Center (a unit of the Special Operations Forces Command of the Ukrainian Armed Forces). It should be noted that in Hrodna region, in close proximity to the borders with Lithuania and Poland, there is a training ground “Gozhsky”. It cannot be ruled out that the mercenaries were sent to the training ground to conduct combat training with the Belarusian military. On 26 July, the Chief of the General Staff of the Armed Forces of Belarus, Gulevich, visited the 116th Air Assault Base, which is stationed in the city of Lida (Hrodna Region). It was reported that during the visit he checked the progress of work to improve the base infrastructure (facilities for storing aviation weapons, as well as security and safety systems). Judging by the published photos, Gulevich inspected one of the Granit-type storage facilities. Some sources note that in Soviet times such facilities were used to store tactical nuclear weapons. Earlier it was reported that Su-25 attack aircraft, in service with the 116th Air Assault Base, had been re-equipped to be able to use tactical nuclear weapons.The Federation of American Scientists (FAS) has discovered a new hangar for Iskander operational-tactical missile systems in Osipovichi. The hangar is located on the territory of the combat vehicle park of the Yuzhny military camp, where the 465th missile brigade, which received the Iskander missile system, is stationed. The construction of the new hangar may be due to the start of the operation of a fundamentally new model of military equipment.
On July 28, after information appeared that the mercenaries of PMC «Wagner» are moving closer to the borders of Lithuania and Poland, Lithuanian Deputy Foreign Minister Arnoldas Abramavicius announced that Lithuania is considering the possibility to close the border with Belarus. Earlier Lithuania warned the Western allies that Wagner mercenaries might disguise themselves as asylum seekers trying to cross Belarus’ borders with the EU member states or stage provocations involving refugees. The Chairman of the Estonian Parliament’s National Defense Committee Kalev Stoicescu believes that PMC «Wagner» mercenaries’ presence at the borders with Poland and Lithuania poses no threat to Estonia. According to Estonian experts, neither 100 nor 1000 Wagnerites could pose a real threat or do anything at the borders of the EU countries, a real possible threat is if they would disguise themselves as migrants or use the existing migrant crisis for provocations or unrest. At the same time, Lithuania’s Foreign Ministry handed over a diplomatic note to Minsk following the launch of the second unit of the Astravyets nuclear power plant. Lithuania calls on Belarus not to operate the second unit until the identified safety problems have been resolved and international nuclear safety and environmental standards and requirements are observed. On July 26, the Committee of Permanent Representatives in the EU reached an agreement on new sanctions against Belarus: the sanctions will target dual-use military equipment and aviation parts. Moreover, the individual sanctions against Russia were prolonged for another six months targeting about 1.8 thousand individuals and companies. On July 25, the US Department of State reacted to Alexander Lukashenka’s words, that he said during his visit to Putin in St. Petersburg, where he stated about Wagner mercenaries’ intention to “go to Poland” and assured once again that the “US will defend every inch of NATO’s territory”.
HUMAN RIGHTS SITUATION AND INTERNATIONAL RESPONSE
On July 24, the Minsk City Court sentenced political prisoner, physicist Juryj Adamav. He was found guilty of “financing extremist activities” for making 24 donations in the amount of $1,590 to Bysol and ByHelp charitable foundations, which provide support to political prisoners and persecuted activists. He was sentenced to three years of imprisonment. Juryj Adamav studied physics at BSU and received a Ph.D. at the University of Warwick (England) in the field of condensed matter physics. Then he conducted two postdoctoral studies at universities in the USA in the same field. He is also a member of the Belarusian community for free software and co-founder of the popular science samizdat publication Pamylka. On July 25, political prisoner Aleh Yafremenka was again sentenced by the Goratsky District Court for “malicious disobedience to the requirements of the correctional institution administration” of the colony administration. He was sentenced to one more year in prison, in addition to his previous two sentences of four and a half years for “violence against a police officer” (December 2020) and one year for “malicious disobedience to the requirements of the correctional institution administration” (August 2022). On July 25, the Grodno Regional Court sentenced journalist Pavel Mozheyka and lawyer Yulia Yurgilevich for “assistance to extremist activities committed repeatedly by a group of persons by prior agreement” to 6 years of imprisonment each, Mozheyka – to the enhanced regime, Yurgilevich – to the general regime. According to the case materials, Yulia Yurgilevich allegedly told Pavel Mozheyka that she had been deprived of her lawyer’s license, as well as about the consideration of a criminal case against Ales Pushkin, whom she defended. According to investigators, Mozheyka passed on this information to the Belsat TV channel, recognized in Belarus as an “extremist formation”. Before his detention, Pavel Mozheyka worked as a journalist and headed the Grodno “City Life Center”. Yulia Yurgilevich is a lawyer who defended many political prisoners. She was deprived of her license in February 2022. On July 27, it became known that journalist Dzianis Ivashyn, previously sentenced to 13 years and 1 month of the enhanced regime, was secretly tried in a colony and transferred to a maximum security prison in Zhodin. According to the letter his mother received from the head of the colony he had been previously held in, the new court verdict tightened his regime. Neither his relatives nor his lawyer knew about the trial. Originally, Ivashyn was found guilty in March 2022 of “interference in the activity of the law enforcement staff” and “high treason”. He was a correspondent of the newspaper “Novy Chas” and a member of the Ukrainian initiative “InformNapalm”. Most likely, Ivashyn’s arrest in September 2021 was prompted by his investigative reporting in “Novy Chas” about former officers of the special unit of the Ukrainian police “Berkut” who fled to Belarus in 2014 after the “revolution of dignity” in Ukraine and started working in the Belarusian law enforcement bodies. The “Berkut” unit was disbanded in March 2014 by the new Ukrainian authorities for its role in the violent dispersal of protestors in Kyiv. There is evidence of former “Berkut” officers’ participation in the violence against protestors in Belarus in 2020. Political prisoner Zmitsier Dashkevich was placed in a punishment cell because he refused to go to the cell where rapists are kept. Last year, Dashkevich was sentenced to 1.5 years in a penal colony for “organizing and preparing actions that grossly violate public order or active participation in them”. On July 11, he was supposed to be released, but a new criminal case was opened against him under the article on malicious disobedience to the orders of the colony administration. On July 27, a closed trial of the well-known journalist and cultural activist Larysa Shyrakova began in Gomel. She is accused of “discrediting the Republic of Belarus” and “promoting extremist activities.” Investigators believe that she posted materials on the Internet “with deliberately false information discrediting the Republic of Belarus” and collected and transmitted information to the human rights center “Viasna” and the TV channel “Belsat”, which are considered an extremist in Belarus. Shyrakova has been in custody since December 2022. Her minor son was transferred to a shelter, and his father, who came from Russia for this purpose, took him from there. Larysa Shyrakova faces up to 7 years in prison. On July 27, a 34-year-old political prisoner from Minsk, Yauhen Verkhavodkin, was sentenced to seven years in a high-security colony. He was accused of administering the Telegram channel “Chizhovka Chyzhouka (Seven Siskins Infofield). He was found guilty of “creating an extremist formation or participating in it” and “calling for sanctions.” Yauhen was detained shortly after the Telegram channel was recognized as an “extremist formation” on December 2, 2022. On July 29, independent Belarusian media came together in a 12-hour online solidarity marathon “We Care!” to raise funds for political prisoners and their families. Bloggers, politicians, prominent cultural and sports figures, and civic activists joined a live broadcast aired on numerous independent YouTube channels for the whole day. The collection of donations continued for two days and brought an impressive amount of 574,406 euros. Thousands of people made donations, most of which were in the range of 5-50 euros. All donations have been collected into a single account, from which the raised funds will be distributed within a week among 13 foundations, initiatives, and human rights organizations that assist political prisoners and their relatives. On July 26, Ukraine’s Permanent Representative to the UN Sergey Kislitsa said at a meeting of the UN Security Council that the Russian occupation administrations are sending Ukrainian children to “rest and recovery” in the occupied Crimea, Russia, and Belarus. According to Kislitsa, since the beginning of the invasion, more than 3 thousand children have been transferred from the temporarily occupied Donetsk and Luhansk regions under the guise of “recovery” to Belarus. On “vacation”, they are subjected to anti-Ukrainian indoctrination and propaganda aimed at fostering hatred of Ukraine, its language, culture, and history, the Ukrainian delegation said in the statement. The Ukrainian authorities believe that it is planned to take out at least 30 thousand children from the temporarily occupied territories of Ukraine. On July 25, iSANS published a new policy paper “Special Tribunal for Belarus: Legal and policy implications”. The policy paper argues for the creation of a Special Tribunal for Belarus with jurisdiction to prosecute crimes against humanity, committed in Belarus by the Lukashenka regime since 2020 as an international response to the systemic and widespread crimes against humanity in the heart of Europe. The paper explores possible legal options available for the creation of this international judicial institution and discusses the pros and cons of various options, proposes basic modalities of the Tribunal’s functioning and financing, and the role of the Belarusian democratic forces in its establishment. On July 26, Vilnius-based Law and Democracy Center “Justice Hub” released a report “Crimes Against Humanity in Belarus: Legal Analysis and Accountability Options”. Based on the international criminal law standards, experts of the Center prepared a detailed legal analysis of serious human rights violations committed by the Lukashenka regime between May 2020 and May 2023. The total number of victims of repression in Belarus from May 2020 to May 2023 exceeded 136 thousand people, according to the report. Following in-depth legal analysis based on contextual and physical elements for crimes against humanity, the authors concluded that crimes against humanity were committed by the Lukashenka regime, including imprisonment, torture, murder, rape, and other grave forms of sexual violence, enforced disappearance, persecution, and deportation. The report provides a comprehensive legal analysis of the options for ensuring accountability through the International Criminal Court, domestic courts (in Belarus and foreign states), and a Special tribunal for crimes against humanity in Belarus.
On July 24, Grigory Azaryonak, while speaking live on one of the state TV channels, openly wished torment and death to Ursula von der Leyen, the President of the European Commission, and Josep Borrell, the EU High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy. Azaryonok’s comments on the live talk show were his reaction to the European Parliament’s resolution about Belarus’ complicity in transferring Ukrainian children from Russia’s occupied territories. Azaryonak described in a coarse manner the tortures that Ursula von der Leyen and Josep Borrel would have to suffer and how they would beg for help, called them both “Inhuman monsters” and stated that they “will die in terrible agony”. On July 25, the state news agency BelTA published a report on Wagner’s joint training with the Internal Troops of the Ministry of Internal Affairs of Belarus. Prior, the Wagner mercenaries were engaged in training the territorial troops and special operations forces. BelTA also announced the meeting of the Belarusian Minister of Internal Affairs Ivan Kubrakov and the commander of the internal troops of the MoI with representatives of the Wagner group. As a continuation of propaganda’s praises and expression of gratitude to PMC «Wagner», Alexander Shpakovsky, propagandist and pro-government TV presenter stated that Belarusian “officers assess the combat training skills of the Wagner members very high. In fact, we are talking about the organic integration of the Wagner group into the defense system of Belarus.” On July 26, a propaganda report was published on the state TV channel with Ksenia Lebedeva about PMC Wagner mercenaries’ visit to the Belarusian ‘military-patriotic club Rys’ (Lynx). In the video, children, members of the Rys’ club, dressed in camouflage and green berets are talking with mercenaries whose faces are hidden. The children’s military club Rys operates under the umbrella of the military unit 3214 of the Internal Troops of the Belarusian MoI. In total, there are 17 military-patriotic clubs at the Internal Troops of the MoI. On July 26, Grigory Azaryonok, commenting on the visit of Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu to North Korea, stated that North Korea is a “very interesting country, in many ways an example of the sovereign development and survival for us.” On July 27, on air of Rossiya-1 TV channel Alexander Shpakovsky hinted that the members of the Wagner group could arrange a provocation at the military airfield of the Polish city of Rzeszow, through which NATO equipment is supplied to Ukraine. He stated that the Wagnerites want to visit the EU and that he does not rule out “that these partisans, people of good will, can arrange an explosion in this Rzeszow, at the airfield”. He assured that in such case Belarusian Border Guards won’t intervene as they have no legal grounds for that. On July 29, at the Russia-Africa summit in St. Petersburg, Vladimir Putin announced the opening of the offices of Russian state propaganda media, including TASS, Rossiya Segodnya, and RT in the states of the African Union. Commenting on this event, the representative of the Belarusian pro-government Union of Journalists stated that “there will no longer be any monopoly of Western media in Africa”. Moreover, he announced that there are discussions of “creating a common information space and delivering objective information about what is happening in Eurasia without Western intermediaries and that Belarus has built good media cooperation with Syria, the Central African Republic, South Africa, Zimbabwe, Nigeria, Angola, and Egypt”. At the same time, propagandist Aliaksei Dzermant named the effort of creating common media space in Africa as important, because “Russia and Belarus will interact together in Africa”. He also highlighted that “The joint Belarusian-Russian presence in Africa in the military-political, economic, food terms will become a factor influencing the security and stability of not only the Black Continent but also Europe.” Another propagandist Shpakovsky, supported his colleague’s thoughts in a statement: “That’s right. And for this, it is necessary to sweep the colonists out of Africa with a filthy broom. For these tasks, the Union State has an effective military structure, which is now being strengthened by the Belarusians. “United Africa” is the West’s nightmare.” On July 28, Belarusian state TV congratulated its viewers on the anniversary of the day when the city of Brest was freed from “NATO troops”. The statement said: “At that time, they (“NATO troops”) were called “Hitler’s army”. Best regards,iSANS team