Putin and Lukashenko meet in Saint Petersburg for the Supreme State Council of the Russia-Belarus Union State, aiming to further integrate Russia and Belarus.
Belarusian opposition leader Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya calls for Council of Europe accession plan for future democratic Belarus as PACE votes on new resolution about Belarus.
Twenty political analysts, economists, and journalists were targeted under new criminal proceedings in absentia in Belarus.
Belarusian government acknowledges an unprecedented migration outflow as law enforcers continue repressions.
Belarusian courts impose five-year prison terms on two individuals for donating to the Kalinouski Regiment, a Belarusian formation within the ranks of the Ukrainian army.
Putin, Lukashenko meet to deepen Russia-Belarus integration
Russian President Vladimir Putin and Belarusian dictator Alexander Lukashenko met in Saint Petersburg for meetings of the Supreme State Council of the Russia-Belarus supranational Union State, at which they approved further macroeconomic, tax and customs integration programs for 2024-2026.
In his opening remarks at the meeting, Putin claimed that Russia and Belarus have created “conditions for a unified monetary policy.”
According to Putin, the “successful implementation of 28 sectoral union programs” in 2021-2023 laid the foundations for a common economic space between Russia and Belarus, and allowed for “joint work to minimize damage from illegal Western restrictions.”
Lukashenko, in turn, pushed for the lifting of restrictions on transit, removing trade barriers on Belarusian goods on the Russian market, and creating a unified market for oil and gas, describing these as “rough edges” of Russia-Belarus integration.
During the Council of Ministers of the Union State meeting on Nov. 29, 2023, the prime ministers of Russia and Belarus reported that 28 integration programs had been completed at about 90%. The countries agreed to set up a supranational tax committee overseeing the unification of Belarusian VAT and excise tax standards with that of Russia, effectively prohibiting Minsk from having an independent tax policy.
Analysts warn that the move jeopardizes the independent state’s ultimate right to set tax policy.
For the next three-year cycle, the Supreme State Council approved 11 main directions for implementing the Treaty on the Establishment of the Union State, focusing on tax and customs policies, trade cooperation, unification of energy markets, and creating a common information space. The programs have not been disclosed to the public, and their details remain unknown.
Also at the meeting, the countries signed a resolution on establishing a joint media company tasked with covering Union State affairs. According to Russia’s Communications Minister Maksut Shadayev, the new holding will include four operating media outlets: two weekly newspapers, a weekly magazine, and a TV channel.
On the same day, Jan. 29, Belarus signed a memorandum on deepening cooperation in the use of nuclear energy with Rosatom, responsible for building and servicing the Belarusian nuclear power plant in Astraviets, notorious for its extended downtime and safety concerns.
The memorandum provides for building a multipurpose nuclear research reactor in Belarus.
The Union State, a supranational body consisting of Belarus and Russia, was created in 1999 with the aim of eventually achieving a near-full merger of the two countries. After failing to fulfill his ambition of leading the Union State, Lukashenko has been holding its implementation back for 20 years.
In its boldest form, the Union State concept envisioned unified legislation, political integration, and a single currency. Russia has been seeking to secure dominance over Belarus by binding it to Russia’s legal norms, taxation, and customs legislation, while Lukashenko was trying to benefit from the integration by getting Russian domestic prices for fossil fuels and the lifting of trade barriers to Belarusian goods on the Russian market – all without Belarus making concessions.
After long resisting integration and even branding it as a threat to national sovereignty, Lukashenko gave in and signed an integration program in 2021, deepening the country’s dependence on Russia, after the Kremlin supported him amid nationwide street protests against the rigged Belarusian presidential elections in 2020.
Belarus is under heavy international sanctions for its role in aiding Russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine. Russia’s initial assault at the onset of the invasion in 2022 was launched from Belarus. Russia has since used Belarusian territory as a launching pad for attacks on Ukraine and as a place to train Russian troops before they are sent to the front line.
PACE outlines vision of democratic future of Belarus, as Tsikhanouskaya seeks Council of Europe accession roadmap
The Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe or PACE resolved to enhance support for Belarusian democratic forces as Belarusian opposition leader Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya called for a Council of Europe accession plan for a future democratic Belarus.
The PACE issued a resolution on Jan. 25 lambasting the regime of Belarusian dictator Alexander Lukashenko for its widespread and systematic repression, which it said “may amount to crimes against humanity,” and the regime’s complicity in Russia’s war against Ukraine.
PACE said that the threat posed by the Lukashenko regime transcends borders, as the regime had engaged in the weaponization of migrants as a tool for hybrid war against neighboring states, intercepted an international commercial airline flight, and supported Russia’s war of aggression.
Based on a report by Kimmo Kiljunen (Finland, Socialists, Democrats and Greens Group) on developments in Belarus since the rigged presidential elections in 2020, the assembly voted to include a delegation of representatives of the Belarusian democratic forces in the work of PACE’s committees and networks, and appoint a General Rapporteur for a Democratic Belarus. The assembly also urged its member states to support exiled Belarusians.
Addressing the assembly on Jan. 25, Belarusian democratic leader Tsikhanouskaya applauded the Council of Europe’s decision to end official relations with Minsk and instead establish a contact group directly with the representatives of the Belarusian democratic forces and civil society.
Saying that security in the region is being determined both on the battlefields of Ukraine and in Belarus, Tsikhanouskaya urged parliamentarians to develop an accession plan for a future democratic Belarus to the Council of Europe.
“Joining the Council of Europe will be the first step on our path to the European Union,” Tsikhanouskaya said.
“I know it’s bold. I know it’s ambitious. But I don’t see any reason not to start doing this now.”
Belarus launches in absentia investigation against 20 political analysts, journalists
The Investigative Committee of Belarus has initiated in absentia criminal cases against 20 exiled individuals, including political analysts, journalists, and advisors to Tsikhanouskaya, for allegedly conspiring to seize power and for promoting extremism.
Those named as defendants in a list of cases published on Jan. 25 include independent political analysts Ryhor Astapenia, Andrei Kazakevich, and Kateryna Shmatsina, sociologist Philip Bikanau, journalist Yury Drakokhrust, advisors to Tsikhanouskaya’s office Alexander Dabravolskiy and Dzianis Kuchynskiy, and others.
Dubbed “the analysts’ case” by the press, the investigation targets unrelated experts on Belarus under similar charges of “developing and implementing a concept for destructive activities aimed at harming the national security of the Republic of Belarus.”
“There is no particular logic to this list; they just put as many people on this list as possible to intimidate as many people as possible,” Hanna Krasulina, Tsikhanouskaya’s spokesperson who is also named in the case, told Radio Free Europe / Radio Liberty.
Tsikhanouskaya dismissed the cases as simply representing the ruling regime’s “desire to take revenge on those who soberly assess the situation in Belarus.”
The launch of the cases follow nationwide raids targeting family members of political prisoners and former detainees that swept the country last week. According to the latest accounts from the Viasna Human Rights Center, the number of people affected by the raids has reached 200.
Belarus’ government seeks to return Belarusians from abroad amid raging repression
The Belarusian government has approved a new Concept of Migration Policy for 2024-2028, acknowledging an unprecedented migration outflow caused by the brutal crackdown on dissent and Belarus’ complicity in Russia’s war against Ukraine.
The concept, published on Jan. 25, calls for additional measures “to reduce the outflow of citizens from Belarus, and stipulates “the conducting of information campaigns on employment opportunities in Belarus in order to encourage the return of Belarusian citizens.”
The policy concept notes that the inflow of migrants to Belarus no longer offsets the natural population decline of the country.
Lev Lvouskiy, the economist and academic director of the BEROC think tank, dismisses the concept as a document disconnected from reality and from Lukashenko's actual intentions.
Belarusian officials recognize the country faces a labor shortage. In February 2023, a record-low of 4,172,000 Belarusians, a nation of 9.5 million, were recorded as being active in the economy.
The exact number of Belarusians that the country has lost since the 2020 presidential campaign, the subsequent crackdown on dissent, and Belarus’ support of Russia’s aggression against Ukraine remains unknown. According to Belarusian experts, the number could range between 200,000 and half a million. Deputy Interior Minister Mikalai Karpiankou claimed in October 2023 that some 350,000 regime dissenters had fled abroad.
Lukashenko’s officials have attempted to entice citizens back to the country with a combination of incentives and penalties. In September 2023, embassies were barred from issuing passports abroad, requiring citizens to return to Belarus for document renewal, which many feared to do, as they risked incarceration.
In addition, a "Repatriation Commission," composed of propagandists and law enforcers, was established to welcome back "remorseful" Belarusians. Although officials claim to have received 150 appeals, known cases indicate the continued persecution of political opponents after their return.
Belarusian courts hand down two prison terms for donations to Kalinouski Regiment
A court in Minsk has handed down two five-year prison terms to defendants in two separate cases for financially supporting the Kastus Kalinouski Regiment, a Belarusian formation in the ranks of the Ukrainian army, Human Rights watchdog Viasna reported on Jan. 30.
Heorhiy Charavaka, 55, a recognized political prisoner, was alleged of donating $21.29 to the regiment on Jan. 8 via a PayPal account. Another conviction was handed down to Aliaksey Shviatsou, who sent $52.7 on two occasions.
Both Belarusians were found guilty of “financing recruitment and training activities” for individuals to participate in the armed conflict.
Complicit in Russia’s full-scale war against Ukraine, the regime of Belarusian dictator Alexander Lukashenko considers the volunteer Belarusian formations in the Ukrainian army a threat to his regime’s security.
The Kalinouski regiment, the biggest of the Belarusian groups in Ukraine, is designated extremist in Belarus. At least 25 Belarusians have been convicted for financially supporting the regiment, and thirteen others have been arrested for expressing the intention to join the regiment.
The Viasna Human Rights Center reports that 1,630 Belarusians have been detained for demonstrating against the war since the start of Russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine.