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Belarus Weekly: Minsk holds military drills simulating crossing border with Ukraine

by Maria Yeryoma September 9, 2022 1:29 PM 6 min read
A T-72 B3 battle tank with the Belarussian flag rides during military drills on Aug. 27, 2022, in Alabino, outside of Moscow, Russia. (Getty Images)
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Ukraine imposes sanctions against Belarusian companies and officials seizing their assets in the country.

The Ukrainian General Staff reports that Belarus holds military drills in which it simulates crossing the Belarusian border with Ukraine.

Belarus’ dictator Alexander Lukashenko claimed that Belarusians who left the country and were convicted on charges of "extremism" aren’t worthy of the county’s citizenship and therefore should be stripped of their passports. He also suggested restricting the rights of those who have residence permits in other countries.

Meanwhile, Lukashenko says a future amnesty may include political prisoners. Experts believe that Lukashenko is once again trying to exchange the decrease in sanctions for the release of political prisoners.

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Belarus Weekly

Several human rights activists receive at least 10 years in prison.

Meanwhile, people flee Belarus, with the country losing 50,000 employees since January.

Journalist Daria Chultsova, who worked for Belsat, was released from prison on Sept. 3 after serving a two years prison sentence for live streaming a protest in 2020. Her colleague received an additional eight years behind bars.

Belarus to hold military drills simulating invading Ukraine

Belarus will hold military drills in which simulations will focus on crossing the Belarusian border with Ukraine, according to Deputy Chief of Ukraine’s General Staff Oleksii Hromov.

Hromov said the drills, which will take place from Sept. 8 to 14, will also focus on taking parts of Ukraine that Belarus deems so-called “lost territories,” potentially including parts of Ukraine’s Volyn, Rivne, and Zhytomyr oblasts that border Belarus.

However, he said the chance of a Belarusian offensive into Ukraine remains low.

The head of the Belarusian Defense Ministry’s International Military Cooperation Department, Valeryi Ravenka, dismissed the allegations, saying Hromov’s statements are false.

While Belarus’ Defense Ministry has not released any information, Brest Mayor Aliaksandr Rahachuk warned the city’s residents that military drills will take place in the region during the same time period.

Belarusian watchdog Belarusian Hajun has also reported an increase in military activity in the region. Weapons, including S-300 surface-to-air missile systems, Grad rocket artillery, and infantry fighting vehicles, were reportedly transferred to Belarus’ Brest region in early September.

Does Belarus' military have the capacity to attack Ukraine?

Lukashenko says he will grant amnesty to prisoners on National Unity Day

Belarusian dictator Alexander Lukashenko announced on Sept. 6 that he intends to grant amnesty to prisoners who “really deserve it” on Sept. 17, Belarus’ National Unity Day.

Lukashenko claims that those arrested during protests in the aftermath of the fraudulent 2020 Belarusian presidential election will also be considered for amnesty.

However, he noted that Belarusian authorities “can not let everyone go left, right, and center” and thus “extremists,” a term used by Lukashenko’s regime to refer to those detained on politically motivated charges, will not be considered.

In the period between August 2020 to July 2022, Belarusian authorities have opened over 11,000 criminal cases on the basis of “extremism.” Human rights activists note that 1,321 people have been detained on politically motivated charges in Belarus.

Belarus’ Prosecutor General’s Office says at least 8,000 people may be granted amnesty. While the list of offenses for which amnesty may be considered has not yet been determined, the Office says those caring for large families, single mothers, and people with disabilities will be top of the list.

Belarusian opposition leader Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya noted that, while this is a positive development, it is critical not to forget the role Lukashenko’s regime has had in imprisoning countless people on politically motivated charges. She also suggested that the move may be an attempt by Belarusian authorities to mitigate sanctions.

A protester holds a poster with the words “Pray For Belarus” in Gdansk, on Sept. 4, 2022. (Getty Images)

Ukraine sanctions Belarusian officials, companies

On Sept. 2, the Ukrainian government sanctioned 99 individuals and 178 companies from Russia and Belarus for their role in Russia’s full-scale war against Ukraine.

Among those sanctioned are entities with ties to the countries’ military, national bank officials, and individuals and companies that helped Russia circumvent sanctions.

While the list is not publicly available, Ukraine’s Ministry for Reintegration of Occupied Temporarily said the list of individuals and corporations coincides with those sanctioned by the U.S.

Ukraine seizes Belarusian-owned asphalt plants, railcars

Ukrainian law enforcement seized over 390 railcars owned by Belarusian companies on Sept. 2. The seized assets are worth over Hr 400 million ($10.8 million).

On Sept. 5, the Kyiv Prosecutor’s Office seized three asphalt plants partially owned by Belarusian companies located in Kyiv, Zhytomyr, and Mykolaiv oblasts worth over Hr 120 million ($3.2 million).

Belarusian authorities sentence human rights activists to jail, illegally detain diplomat

A Belarusian court sentenced Marfa Rabkova, a volunteer service coordinator for human rights watchdog Viasna, to 15 years in prison on Sept. 6. Rabkova’s colleague Andrei Chepiuk, a volunteer for Viasna in Minsk, was sentenced to six years in prison.

Rabkova and Chepiuk’s sentences are part of a 10-person trial, in which their co-defendants were given prison sentences ranging from five to 17 years. They were detained in 2020 for tracking human rights violations that occurred following the fraudulent 2020 Belarusian presidential election.

Rabkova was convicted of “involvement in a criminal organization,” among other charges, and Chepiuk was convicted of “participating in mass riots” and “involvement in a criminal organization.”

Following their trial, several attendees were detained without explanation. Among those detained were the defendants' friends and relatives and EU Chargé d’affaires in Belarus Evelina Shultz.

While Shultz was released after a couple of hours, the Vienna Convention stipulates that states may not detain or arrest diplomats.

Belarusians in exile might lose their citizenship, have rights restricted

Lukashenko claimed on Sept. 6 that Belarusians who left the country and oppose the regime are not worthy of Belarusian citizenship. And those who have residence permits in other countries, according to the Belarusian dictator, should be limited in their rights.

The corresponding bills were discussed at the government meeting.

The bill that was first mentioned in early July is now gaining ground, having the full support of the country’s regime.

Lukashenko had ordered to restrict the rights of those who have received a "Polish card" and residence permits outside Belarus. "Polish card" is a non-citizenship document issued by Poland to foreigners with Polish ancestry that provides the bearer with local social services and the right to work. 140,000 Belarusians currently have the document.

Belarusians kicked out of Ukraine en masse

Defendants in ‘coup d’état’ case receive up to 11 years in jail

A Belarusian court sentenced three men for allegedly plotting to overthrow and assassinate Lukashenko.

Youras Ziankovich, a Belarusian lawyer, received an 11-year sentence, and Aliaksandr Fiaduta, a political scientist, and Ryhor Kastusiou, head of the Belarusian Popular Front (BNF) opposition party and former aid to Lukashenko, received 10-year sentences each.

Volha Halubovich and Dzianis Krauchuk were also implicated in the trial and sentenced to two and a half years in prison each.

Zoom recordings purporting to show several people discussing the plot were aired on April 17 on Belarusian state-controlled TV channel ONT.

Some experts believe the case is a tool through which Lukashenko’s regime might further persecute opposition.

Journalist released after serving two-year sentence

Former Belstat journalist Daria Chultsova was released from prison on Sept. 3 after serving a two years prison sentence for live streaming a protest in 2020.

Together with Katsiaryna Andreyeva, Chultsova was detained on Nov. 15, 2020, while live streaming a protest. They were both charged with “violating public order” and allegedly “causing damage” worth $4,436. Andreyeva and Chultsova are recognized as political prisoners by human rights groups.

In 2022, Andreyeva was sentenced to eight more years in prison on charges of alleged "treason.”

As of September, 28 Belarusian journalists remain in custody, according to the Belarusian Association of Journalists. Reporters Without Borders recognizes Belarus as one of the most dangerous countries in Europe for journalists.

Number of people employed in Belarusian economy hits historic low

According to Belstat, the country’s statistics agency, Belarus has lost around 50,000 employees since January, thus hitting a historic low of under 4.2 million employees in a country of around 9.5 million.

Two factors contributing to this drop in Belarus’ workforce are the country’s demographics, such as its aging population, and the ongoing migration of qualified workers from Belarus due to ongoing repressions enacted by Lukashenko’s regime.

According to different statistics, tens or even hundreds of thousands of Belarusians have left the country since the start of mass repressions in 2020.

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