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Belarus Weekly: Russia increases presence in Belarusian airspace as Lukashenko cedes control of one of its air bases to Moscow

by Maria Yeryoma July 15, 2022 2:29 PM 5 min read
A member of the Belarusian diaspora in Ukraine holds a placard depicting Belarusian autocrat Alexander Lukashenko during a rally outside the Foreign Ministry in Kyiv, on May 28, 2021. The protesters demanded that Ukraine cut diplomatic relations with Belarus. In 2022, Lukashenko’s regime became a co-belligerent in Russia’s war against Ukraine, however, Kyiv has yet to officially cut diplomatic ties with Belarus. (Getty Images)
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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.

Reports indicate increased Russian presence in Belarusian airspace as Belarus cedes control of one of its air bases to Russia.

Belarus’ authorities propose changing the laws on citizenship, adding a clause that would strip Belarusians that fled the country of their passports. The law would also ban people deemed a “threat to national security” from leaving the country.

A 20-year-old student becomes the youngest Belarusian to be convicted of “terrorism” by the local KGB for sharing an anti-war post. Belarus is also now forbidding foreign investors from selling their shares in Belarusian companies.

Meanwhile, Ukraine denies claims made by dictator Alexander Lukashenko that Belarus is helping move grain stuck in Ukraine due to Russia’s blockade of Kyiv’s Black Sea ports.

Belarus establishes additional no-fly zone, receives more rockets

Belarus established a no-fly zone from July 11 to 14, which reportedly encompasses Minsk and the southern half of the Minsk region, as well as parts of the Brest, Mahilow, and Homiel regions.

The establishment of a no-fly zone coincided with the arrival of several Russian military aircraft in Belarus, reports Belarusian monitoring group Belaruski Hayun.

A Russian Beriev A-50 and several other fighter aircraft reportedly entered Belarusian territory from Russia on July 10. According to the monitoring group, the Russian aircraft were likely identifying potential targets in Ukraine.

“We have observed that Russian cargo aircraft have been actively flying to Belarus over the past few days,” Anton Motolko, the founder of Belaruski Hayun, said in an interview with Ukraine’s Channel 24.

“Before April-May, 2022, it indicated that they (Russia) were bringing new rockets to launch… Unfortunately, I am afraid that there may be rocket launches over the next few days,” he said.

General Staff: Belarus cedes control of air base to Russia’s military

Zyabrovka Air Base, which is located in Belarus’ Homiel region bordering Ukraine, has been transferred to Russian control, Deputy Chief of Ukraine’s General Staff Oleksiy Gromov reported on July 7.

Gromov said that the air base has been equipped with Russian S-400 and Iskander missile systems and that preparations are underway for additional missile systems to be transferred from Russia.

Satellite imagery taken on June 20 by Rochan Consulting reportedly show several Russian missile systems stationed at the air base.

Belarus’ Defense Ministry has yet to respond to the allegations.

Belarus forbids foreign investors from selling shares in Belarusian companies

Belarus’ Council of Ministers introduced a resolution on July 5 preventing foreign investors from selling their shares in 190 Belarusian companies without government authorization.

The ban will reportedly apply to investors from countries that Belarus accuses of “unfriendly acts.” As of July 6, affected shares will be frozen until further action is authorized by Belarus’ Finance Ministry.

These companies include the country’s largest retailers, e-commerce companies, and manufacturers, including EPAM Systems, Wargaming, Eurotorg, and Dana Astra. Most of the affected companies are reportedly owned by Belarusian nationals with foreign investors, from Cyprus, Lithuania, the U.K., and Poland.

Kateryna Bornukova, a senior economist at Belarusian think tank BEROC, noted that the measures disproportionately affect Belarusian business owners and are serving to damage the country’s investment climate.

“This is a violation of the basic property rights, which consists not only of the right to own but also the right to sell what you own,” says Bornukova.

Other experts note that, while the measure is designed to prevent capital outflow, the measure will not work as intended.

Ukraine denies Lukashenko’s claim that Ukrainian grain is transported through Belarus

In a statement on Belarus’ Independence Day on July 3, Lukashenko claimed that Belarus was “exporting grain to the poor” by helping transit Ukrainian grain through Belarus.

Lukashenko also claimed that there are only 4-5 million tons of grain stuck in Ukraine, as opposed to the 20-25 million tons reported by international bodies.

Ukraine’s Infrastructure Ministry denied Lukashenko’s claims, saying that “Ukraine does not transport any products to Belarus or through its territory.”

Belarus has attempted to broker a deal with Western bodies to transport grain currently stuck at Ukrainian ports in exchange for the lifting of sanctions on Belarus.

Ukraine expels Belarusian volunteer helping Bucha recover

Belarusian national Karyna Patsiomkina, who had been volunteering in Ukraine and helping clean up Bucha following its liberation from Russian forces, is to be expelled from Ukraine.

Patsiomkina left Belarus for Ukraine in fear of persecution in 2021 and resided in Bucha prior to the start of Russia’s full-scale war. During the war, she was presented with honorary recognition from the city council for her efforts.

Following the expiration of her legal stay in Ukraine, Patsiomkina’s application for a renewed permit was reportedly declined. However, rather than issuing her the standard fine, she was informed of her imminent expulsion from Ukraine.

While Ukraine has not officially prohibited Belarusian nationals from residing in the country, several instances have been recorded in which Ukrainian authorities have denied the issuance or renewal of residence permits to Belarusians.

Belarusian parliament considers amendment depriving exiled political opposition of citizenship

Members of Belarus’ parliament have proposed an amendment to the country’s citizenship law, which would allow for Belarusian nationals, including exiled political opponents, to have their citizenship revoked if convicted of alleged “extremism.”

Belarus’ interpretation of “extremism” is quite broad – 140 individuals, as well as most independent media outlets, have already been labeled “terrorists” or “terrorist organizations.”

The proposed amendment has stirred controversy within Belarus’ parliament. Belarusian MP Ihar Marzaliuk has slammed the amendment for being too lenient, as he says individuals whose citizenships have been revoked cannot be convicted of treason.

Belarus’ citizenship law was amended in August 2020 following the nationwide protests, whereby individuals born in a foreign country and granted Belarusian citizenship later in life could have their status revoked.

Belarusian dictator Alexander Lukashenko speaks during a parliamentary session in Minsk, Belarus, on May 26, 2021. (Getty Images)

Belarus to prohibit individuals deemed ‘threat to national security' from leaving country

Belarus’ parliament has also proposed an amendment to the law governing the entry and exit of individuals from the country, prohibiting those deemed a “threat to national security” from leaving Belarus.

If the amendment is approved, the country’s KGB will be able to impose a six-month ban on leaving the country on those “whose departure counters national security interests.”

As a result, law enforcement and military personnel would be obliged to ask permission prior to leaving the country.

The ban would also extend to those awaiting trial for a minor political offense, such as protests or public criticism of the country’s government. In June alone, Belarusian courts ruled on 109 such cases, according to data collected by Belarusian human rights watchdog Viasna.

Belarus jails student for anti-war post

On July 1, Danuta Pyarednya became the youngest Belarusian national convicted of “terrorism.”

Pyarednya, a 20-year-old honors student from Kirovsk in Belarus’ Mahilow region, was sentenced to 6.5 years in a penal colony for actions that allegedly endangered the country’s national interests.

The reason cited in her conviction was the sharing of a post that criticized the role of Belarusian dictator Alexander Lukashenko and his Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin in the war against Ukraine. The post reportedly called for protests.

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