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Belarus Weekly: Armenian PM says no Armenian official will visit Belarus as long as Lukashenko remains in power

by Maria Yeryoma June 21, 2024 2:54 PM 9 min read
(L-R) Cuban President Miguel Diaz-Canel, Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan, Belarusian dictator Alexander Lukashenko and Russian President Vladimir Putin take part in a photo ceremony at the summit of the Eurasian Economic Union (EAEU) in Moscow on May 8, 2024. (Evgenia Novozhenina/POOL/AFP via Getty Images)
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Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan says no Armenian official will visit Belarus as long as Alexander Lukashenko remains in power following a diplomatic scandal over Belarus’ support for Azerbaijan.

The U.S. expands sanctions on over 300 entities in China and Belarus to thwart Russian sanction circumvention.

Twelve human rights groups urge Serbia to halt extradition of Belarusian activist facing torture risk at home.

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Belarus Weekly

Latvia allocates over $10 million to fortify the border with Russia and Belarus amid security concerns.

Belarusian National Olympic Committee bars neutral athlete Anastasia Valkevich from competing in the 2024 Paris Olympics, despite her qualification.

Armenian Prime Minister Pashinyan says he won’t visit Belarus as long as Lukashenko remains in power

Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan said on June 13 that no Armenian official, including himself, will visit Belarus as long as Belarusian dictator Alexander Lukashenko remains in power.

Lukashenko rules Belarus for over 30 years.

The same day, both Minsk and Yerevan recalled their ambassadors for consultations, spiking up the diplomatic crisis between Belarus and Armenia.

The crisis was ignited after Lukashenko expressed support for Azerbaijan in the 2023 Azerbaijani offensive in Nagorno-Karabakh and reportedly supplied weapons to Armenia’s rival. Belarus is officially Armenia’s ally, as part of the Russia-led Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO).

Speaking before parliament on June 12, Pashinyan accused Lukashenko of “plotting against” Armenia with Azerbaijan.

“One of the leaders of the CSTO has stated that he participated in the preparation of the war, encouraged, believed, and wished for Azerbaijan’s victory,” Pashinyan said. “And after that, I’m supposed to discuss something with the head of Belarus within the CSTO format?”

Pashinyan suggested that Armenia might leave the CSTO, though he did not specify a timeline. Armenian Foreign Minister Ararat Mirzoyan later clarified: “The Armenian prime minister did not say that we are leaving the CSTO; the Armenian prime minister said that we will decide when to leave, but we will not go back.”

Strategic battlefield defeat would be end of Russia’s statehood, Putin claims
“Then the question arises: why should we be afraid? Isn’t it better to go to the end?” Vladimir Putin said at a press conference at the end of his state visit to Vietnam.

During an official visit to Azerbaijan in mid-May, Lukashenko described Azerbaijan’s war effort as “liberating” and reportedly told Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev that “it is very important to hold on to this victory.”

On June 13, Politico wrote citing classified documents, that Belarus had delivered advanced weapons to Azerbaijan between 2018 and 2022, likely giving Baku the upper hand in its fight against Yerevan. The supplies reportedly ranged from artillery targeting equipment to new electronic warfare gear, and Belarus also modernized artillery equipment for Azerbaijan.

As a member of the CSTO, Belarus, along with Russia, Armenia, Belarus, Kazakhstan, Tajikistan, and Kyrgyzstan, has pledged to defend a CSTO member state if it experiences aggression. Armenia had called for CSTO assistance during Azerbaijan’s “operation,” which resulted in Azerbaijan taking control of Nagorno-Karabakh in 2023.

In November 2023, Pashinyan skipped a CSTO summit in Minsk and announced in February that Armenia had “frozen” its participation in the Russian-led bloc due to its failure to support Armenia. In May, Armenia suspended its share of CSTO financing.

Politico described Armenia’s position as being “the cusp of a historic turn toward the West.”

After decades of relying on Russia’s protection, Yerevan is “increasingly looking toward Europe and NATO,” the publication said.

US broadens sanctions against Chinese, Belarusian companies, individuals helping Russia’s war economy

The United States has expanded sanctions against over 300 companies and individuals from China, Belarus, and Russia involved in sanction circumvention and assistance to Russia’s war efforts against Ukraine, the U.S. Department of State announced on June 12, during the G7 summit in Italy.

The latest sanctions against Russia aim to curb state revenues and prevent access to key technologies needed for Russia’s war effort. The measures target Russia’s natural resource sector, export capacity, financial institutions, and sanctions circumvention networks. They also address the supply of dual-use goods via China and Belarus.

The State Department sanctioned Plant SVT, a production enterprise that shipped overhauled military vehicles to Russia, and its director, Valyantsin Miklashevich, for providing equipment maintenance services and exporting parts to the Russian military.

Restrictions were placed on Tehnolit, Baztube, and BelarusRezinoTekhnika (BRT), as well as its leadership for exporting vehicle parts and providing financial, material, or technological support to Russia’s 81st Armored Fighting Vehicles Repair Plant.

EU passes 14th sanctions package in first major move against Russian gas
“This package provides new targeted measures and maximizes the impact of existing sanctions by closing loopholes,” the Belgian Presidency of the EU Council said on social media.

The U.S. Treasury Department also imposed secondary restrictions on Kvand IS enterprise, responsible for developing barrage drones with munitions and jointly developing surveillance UAVs with the government of Belarus.

The restrictions also target Russia’s occupation authorities and oligarchs’ sanction evasion networks.

Despite heavy sanctions, Russia has maintained its ability to conduct business with the West by circumventing restrictions through third-party countries and companies. Belarus, although also heavily sanctioned, faces significantly fewer restrictions and serves as a gateway for Russia’s sanction circumvention.

FIDH calls on Serbia to halt extradition of Belarusian activist

The International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH) has urged Serbia to adhere to its human rights obligations and stop the extradition of Belarusian filmmaker and activist Andrei Hniot to Belarus, where it said he faces significant threats to his life and health.

On June 13, Belgrade’s Higher Court upheld a lower court decision to extradite Hniot, a co-founder of the “Free Association of Athletes SOS BY,” an organization designated as an “extremist formation” in Belarus. The group played a crucial role in persuading the International Olympic Committee to terminate financing of the Belarusian National Olympic Committee, which was then headed by Belarusian dictator Alexander Lukashenko himself.

People are seen at an exhibtion of prisoners of conscience from Belarus in Warsaw, Poland, on 19 May, 2024. Belarus has nearly 1,500 prisoners of conscience or politicial prisoners according to the Viasna Centre for Human Rights. (Jaap Arriens/NurPhoto via Getty Images)

In a statement issued on June 14, FIDH, Viasna human rights group, and ten other human rights organizations issued a statement saying that Hniot faces up to seven years in prison on tax evasion charges and a potential ten-year sentence for participating in an “extremist formation.”

“Currently, the extradition of almost every Belarusian national who fled the country as a result of the brutal crackdown of the Belarusian authorities following the peaceful protests against the falsified 2020 presidential elections puts them at an immediate risk of politically motivated persecution,” the statement reads.

As a party to the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR), the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), and the United Nations Convention Against Torture (UNCAT), Serbia has to withhold from extraditing individuals to countries where they face the torture or cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment.

Hniot has appealed the decision, telling RFE/RL’s Balkan Service on June 14 that he is fighting extradition to “save (his) life.”

The activist was detained in October 2023 in Serbia based on an Interpol warrant initiated on tax evasion charges by Belarusian authorities. Although Interpol temporarily blocked access to Hniot’s data in its database in February, the activist spent seven months in custody before being placed under house arrest.

Hniot maintains that the charges relate to his business activities between 2012 and 2018, while the law that laid grounds for such charges was introduced only in 2019 and has no retroactive effect. His defense insists the accusations are politically motivated.

Nearly 1,400 Belarusians are currently held behind bars in Belarus on politically motivated grounds. Viasna registers hundreds of cases of politically motivated persecution in Belarus monthly.

Latvia allocates over $10 million to strengthen border with Russia, Belarus

The Latvian government approved the allocation of 10 million euros ($10.7 million) from contingency funds to strengthen its eastern border with Belarus and Russia, the country’s Defense Ministry reported on June 18.

The strengthening of the eastern border “is part of the creation of the Baltic Defense Line, which will include the creation of support points for the National Armed Forces units along the entire Russian-Belarusian border,” Latvia’s Defense Ministry said.

The fortifications will include anti-tank ditches on existing roads, reinforced with concrete blocks and so-called “dragon’s teeth.” Use will also be made of the terrain for natural obstacles. The Latvian army started digging the first anti-tank ditches in May.

On Jan. 19, the three Baltic states – Latvia, Lithuania, and Estonia – agreed to build a Baltic defense zone on their borders with Russia and Belarus, prompted by growing security concerns in Europe over Russia’s aggression against Ukraine.

“Russia’s war in Ukraine has shown that, in addition to equipment, ammunition, and manpower, we also need physical defenses on the border from the first meter,” Estonian Defense Minister Hanno Pevkur said in January.

Estonia was the first to reveal its plans to build about 600 fortified bunkers along its border. Lithuanian Defense Minister Laurynas Kasčiūnas has said that Lithuania plans to establish permanent fortifications on its eastern border by the end of the summer or early fall of 2024.

In response to the weaponized migration crisis, Poland announced its own defense project, “Shield East,” a $2.5 billion program to fortify the country’s nearly 700-kilometer-long eastern border with Belarus and Russia with anti-drone surveillance and ground fortifications.

Latvia and Belarus share a 172.9-kilometer border, with just one operating checkpoint. In 2023, Latvia built 110 kilometers of fence along its border with Belarus after Lukashenko’s regime orchestrated an artificial migration crisis on the EU’s eastern borders.

Lukashenko-led Belarusian National Olympic Committee bars Belarusian neutral athlete from participating in Olympics

Belarusian windsurfer Anastasia Valkevich qualified for the 2024 Paris Olympics as an Individual Neutral Athlete (AIN) but is likely to miss the event due to a lack of clearance from the Belarusian National Olympic Committee, Polish media Onet reported on June 13.

The Belarusian Olympic committee is headed by Lukashenko’s oldest son, Viktor.

Valkevich left Belarus for Ukraine in 2018 and fled to Poland following Russia’s invasion in 2022. She has competed under the Polish flag but has not yet obtained citizenship.

During the French Olympic Week sailing competition, Valkevich qualified for the Paris Olympics as a neutral athlete and raised approximately $5,600 to finance her preparations. However, she was rejected by the Belarusian National Olympic Committee.

“It was a complete absurdity for me. An incomprehensible decision. After all, before the (French) start, I signed a letter (confirming) that I was not supported by Belarus and was competing in a neutral status,” Valkevich told Onet. Belarusian officials did not approve her candidacy, and the qualification spot was transferred to an athlete from Cyprus.

Valkevich has formally appealed to the Court of Arbitration for Sport in Lausanne. The IOC press office told Onet it would not comment on the issue while it is under consideration by the court.

“It’s the IOC’s decision,” said Tomasz Chamera, president of the Polish Sailing Association and vice president of World Sailing, the Global Federation for Sailing Sports.

“Although sailors from Belarus and Russia were able to win qualification as neutral athletes, ultimately, Olympic entries require authorization from their national Olympic committees. It doesn’t exactly sound rational, but those are the IOC’s procedures.”

The IOC suspended the Russian National Olympic Committee in 2023 over Russia’s violation of Ukraine’s territorial integrity. The leadership of the Belarusian National Olympic Committee, Lukashenko and his oldest son Viktor, were excluded from Olympic events, and funding was cut following the regime’s crackdown on athletes opposing Lukashenko’s reelection in 2020. However, these measures did not exclude the Belarusian National Committee from approving Belarusian athletes for the Olympics.

Initially, the IOC banned Russian and Belarusian athletes from participating in the Olympics over Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. It later established the Individual Neutral Athlete Eligibility Review Panel (AINERP) to decide on the admission of Russian and Belarusian athletes individually. The athletes must not have ties with their countries’ security services and must not have expressed public support for Russia’s war.

As of June 15, AINERP has cleared 11 Belarusian and 14 Russian athletes to compete as AINs in cycling, gymnastics, weightlifting, and wrestling. AINs are only allowed to compete in individual events.

Belarus' Olympic Committee criticized the IOC for a lack of transparency, claiming that "for unexplained reascriticizedons, those athletes who successfully passed the tests, participated in qualifying competitions and managed to win licenses were not allowed to participate." The National Committee has not commented on Valkevich's case.

Ukraine’s leadership has been continuously campaigning for the IOC to uphold the ban against Russian and Belarusian athletes, emphasizing the instrumental role of the Russian and Belarusian sports communities in the propaganda and state policies of both countries.

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