The Kyiv Independent is continuing to provide readers with a weekly roundup to help explain current events in Belarus. To receive the Belarus Weekly newsletter subscribe via this LINK.
Maxar Technologies publishes satellite imagery identifying newly deployed Russian weapons and aircraft in the aftermath of explosions at the Belarusian Ziabrauka airfield, where Russian forces are stationed.
As a result, Belarusian watchdog Belarusian Hajun observes that Russia is preparing numerous airstrikes against Ukraine from Belarusian territory. Russian forces also struck Zhytomyr Oblast from Belarus last week.
Ukraine’s General Staff reports that around 13,000 Belarusians have signed some form of agreement to join Russia’s full-scale war against Ukraine.
Meanwhile, Belarusian authorities launch around 11,000 politically motivated court cases since 2020.
Political opponent Siarhei Tskihanouski transfers to solitary confinement as Belarusian authorities tighten restrictions on civil society.
Belarusian passport holders become the third-largest group to receive their first residence permits in the EU in 2021.
Explosions were reported at Russian-controlled airfield in Belarus
On Aug. 11, Belarusian watchdog Belarusian Hajun reported several explosions at the Ziabrauka airfield, located in Belarus’ Homel Oblast bordering Ukraine.
Belarusian Hajun said there were “at least eight flashes.”
Belarus’ Defense Ministry said that one of their pieces of equipment caught fire during new engine testing at 11 p.m. on Aug. 10.
Belarusian Hajun and OSINT analyst Oliver Alexander independently identified the scorch marks on the runway, visible through the satellite images provided by Maxar Technologies, as the type that would be left after the explosion of a T-72 tank. Eight flashes were most likely caused by the detonation of the tank's ammunition which destroyed approximately ten shells.
Speaking about the incident for the Belsat TV channel, Yuriy Ignat, the spokesperson for Ukraine’s Air Force Command, referred to Belarusian partisans, saying "help Ukraine very much.”
Russia’s Defense Ministry has yet to comment on the issue.
Earlier on Aug. 9, Belarus announced renewed joint military drills with Russia that were scheduled to take place in Belarus from Aug. 9-11 and in Russia from Aug. 22-25.
Russia prepares massive airstrike from Belarusian territory, monitoring group reports
In the aftermath of the explosions, Maxar Technologies published satellite imagery suggesting an increase in weapons and equipment at the military airfield.
According to Belarusian Hajun, there are currently 10-14 S-400 Triumf air defense systems and two Pantsir missile systems stationed. Russia has been using surface-to-air missile systems to launch rockets against indiscriminate ground targets in Ukraine, resulting in many civilian casualties.
Stacks of at least 15-60 S-300/400 missiles are also observed at the airfield, proving the earlier assumption that the Russian IL-76 aircraft seen flying in Belarus five times throughout August was bringing in more rockets.
The group suggests that Russia is likely preparing for another massive attack. Ukrainian military analyst Oleh Zhdanov suggests that the strike might happen on Ukrainian Independence Day, celebrated on Aug. 24, or a day prior.
Russian bombers strike Zhytomyr Oblast from Belarusian territory
According to Ukraine’s Air Force Command, on Aug. 16, a Russian Su-34 aircraft fired two X-59 guided rockets at a military airfield in Zhytomyr Oblast. While several vehicles were damaged, no casualties were reported. The air raid from Belarus was disguised as training flights.
Belarus continues to state that joint “military drills” with Russia are ongoing near the Ukrainian border.
Ukraine’s General Staff: 13,000 Belarusians agree to participate in war against Ukraine
During a briefing on August 11, Oleksii Hromov, a deputy head of the General Staff’s main operations directorate, stated that up to 13,000 current and former Belarus soldiers and riot police have signed a letter of consent to participate in Russia’s war against Ukraine.
Hromov did not specify the source of the information or any further details.
Belarusian special operations forces and riot police had both been participating in the brutal crackdown on the protesters in the aftermath of the 2020 Belarusian presidential election, which was deemed neither free nor fair.
Lukashenko has been relying heavily on those units to remain in power.
Neither Belarus’ Defense Ministry nor the Ministry of Internal Affairs has commented on the allegations. The number mentioned by Hromov raises questions, as Belarus’ Special Operations Forces and riot police have a total of under 10,000 personnel.
Exiled Belarusian military officer and ally of political opposition leader Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya, Valery Sakhashchyk, says that, if Belarus soldiers were to be presented with the option of going to prison or going to war, most soldiers would agree to fight against Ukraine.
Currently, according to different estimates, up to 700-750 Belarusians fought for Russia against Ukraine prior to the launch of the full-scale invasion in February.
Belarus reports 11,000 politically motivated criminal cases since 2020
Belarus’ Investigative Committee reported launching over 11,000 criminal cases for "extremist activities,” a clause usually meaning politically motivated prosecutions of opposition members and those who took the streets to protest the 2020 presidential election results.
At the same time, the Committee also announced its decision to take "exhaustive measures" for criminal prosecution in absentia of those who are alleged of "extremist activities,” but left the country.
Since 2020, thousands of Belarusians were subjected to arbitrary arrests and torture. The country currently has over 1200 political prisoners. Responding to the complaints of torture and inhumane treatment filed by 680 Belarusian citizens, the Investigative Committee denied the claims and stated that the use of force was justified.
Belarusian authorities transfer Siarhei Tsikhanouski to solitary confinement
According to human rights watchdog Viasna, Belarusian authorities have decided to intensify former political opposition leader Siarhei Tsikhanouski’s sentence, transferring him from a penal colony to solitary confinement.
Tsikhanouski is Belarusian political opposition leader Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya’s husband and the first of Lukashenko’s political opponents to have announced his intention to run for the presidency in 2020. He was detained in May 2020 and sentenced to 18 years in a penal colony.
Those sentenced to solitary confinement are reportedly restricted to a single cell, are only permitted 1 to 1.5 hours outside, and are not allowed to move around the detention facility.
According to Viasna, there has been an observed rise in such cases: there are currently 28 political prisoners that have been sentenced to solitary confinement.
Belarus to build port in northwestern Russia to facilitate exports
On Aug. 11, Belarusian Prime Minister Raman Haouchenka said Lukashenko has discussed the creation of a port in northwestern Russia to facilitate the export of Belarusian goods.
The new port will reportedly replace the Port of Klaipeda in Lithuania, the use of which by Belarus is blocked by Western sanctions. The Port of Klaipeda was once the main access point to maritime shipping routes for Belarus.
According to Haouchenka, the new port is expected to be completed by the end of the year. He says that Belarus is trying to work around sanctions by transiting goods via the Persian Gulf, various Russian ports, and by rail.
Lukashenko also called for retaliatory measures against Lithuania, which he claims seized property from Belarusian state-owned potash company Belaruskali.
Lukashenko says he wants to increase dialogue with EU
At a meeting to discuss Belarus’ economy amid ongoing sanctions on Aug. 9, Belarusian dictator Alexander Lukashenko claimed that he wants to “intensify cooperation” with the European Union.
“Sanctions will go away sooner or later. And this wild relationship that we have with the West will also fade away,” Lukashenko said. “These markets cannot be lost.”
“Dialogue should be conducted with all countries.”
Lukashenko’s call for increased dialogue with the West comes amid Belarus’ role in facilitating Russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine and Belarusian state-controlled media propagating anti-Western propaganda.
According to Belstat, Belarus’ national statistics portal, Belarus’ economy shrank by 4.2% in the first half of the year and the inflation rate reached 18%.
Belarusians become third-largest group to receive first residence permits in EU
According to Eurostat, Belarusians became the third-largest to receive first residence permits in EU countries.
In 2021, 149,000 Belarusians received their first residence permits in the EU – this is twice as many as in 2019, the year before the Covid-19 pandemic and the fraudulent 2020 Belarusian presidential election.
Eurostat notes that 47% and 45% of Belarusians received permits for employment and “other” (e.g. seeking refuge from political persecution, etc.) reasons, respectively.
Belarusians receive summons from police to check phones for ‘extremist material’
Residents of Svetlahorsk, a small town in Belarus’ Homel region, have reportedly started to receive requests to visit their local police station under false pretenses so that their phones may be checked for “extremist material.”
According to local reports, residents are told to come to the station for anything from noise complaints to serving as a witness to an accident.
Once at the station, law enforcement reportedly searched residents’ phones, and, should they find material that they deem “extremist,” they may be fined or arrested.
Because the list of material labeled “extremist” in Belarus is constantly growing, people may not even be aware that the content on their phones is not permitted.