Belarus Weekly: Minsk helps Moscow restore its combat aircraft, circumvent Western sanctions
As Ukraine marks its 31st Independence Day amid Russian rockets flying in from Belarus, dictator Alexander Lukashenko wishes Ukrainians “a peaceful sky.”
Belarus continues to expand its military facilities and serve as a co-belligerent in Russia’s full-scale war against Ukraine, helping Moscow restore its combat aircraft to circumvent Western sanctions.
More Belarusian volunteers join Ukraine’s military to fight Russia despite Belarusian authorities’ wrath.
An 18-year-old Belarusian student and a journalist receive prison sentences for criticizing the regime as Belarus’ parliament tightens the noose on the country’s international commitments protecting human rights.
Lukashenko calls for an overarching charitable foundation, which he says will replace the countless civil society organizations violently shut down by authorities in the past two years.
Meanwhile, Russian citizens continue to circumvent sanctions as they flock to Belarus to obtain bank cards and goods no longer available in Russia.
Lukashenko congratulates Ukraine on Independence Day
On Aug. 24, Belarusian dictator Lukashenko wished Ukrainians a “peaceful sky, tolerance, courage, strength, and the successful restoration of their country.”
Lukashenko’s regime is a co-belligerent in Russia’s full-scale war against Ukraine, having facilitated the transit of Russian troops and the launching of weapons from Belarusian territory.
Lukashenko also claimed that he wishes to maintain “sincere good-neighborly relations” between Belarus and Ukraine.
He said these words against the backdrop of Russian airstrikes on Ukraine from Belarusian territory in July and reports that Russia is planning massive missile attacks on Ukraine from Belarus in the near future.
On Aug. 19, Lukashenko claimed that no one would “bomb Ukraine from Belarusian territory.” He lied.
Putin told Scholz that Ukraine and Belarus should not exist
German chancellor Olaf Scholz told journalists that in a private conversation before the war Russian President Vladimir Putin told him Belarus and Ukraine should not be sovereign states.
Analysts suggest that the Lukashenko regime understands the danger of such claims but has no space to distance from Russia as Lukashenko had gotten himself into full economic and political dependence on Russian resources and force.
Dmitry Stratievsky, the political scientist and director of the Berlin-based Center for East European Studies, said in an interview with Bild that if Russia is defeated in Ukraine or fails to achieve at least one of its goals, Belarus might fall victim to Putin's need to present a success story domestically.
Belarus expands military air base
Satellite imagery by Planet Labs from April 2022 appears to show construction at the Luninets military airfield in Belarus’ Brest region.
Luninets was previously an infrequently used air base and, after the start of Russia’s full-scale war against Ukraine, it was only used as an additional site for military drills.
The area has seemingly been cleared to expand a fuel and lubricants depot. The construction of a large hangar or barracks has also begun.
Belarus helps Russia restore combat aircraft
According to Ukraine’s Defense Ministry’s Intelligence Directorate, Russia and Belarus’ defense ministries signed contracts to facilitate the repair of Russian military aircraft equipment.
The directorate suggests the contract mainly pertains to Russian MiG-29 aircraft.
The Institute for the Study of War, a U.S. think tank, suggests that the agreement may be an attempt to bypass Western sanctions by “leveraging Belarusian connections with less severe sanctions.”
Ukraine’s Armed Forces dismiss Belarusian commander fighting against Russia
On Aug. 19, one of the commanders of the Kastus Kalinouski regiment, the largest Belarusian formation fighting as part of Ukraine’s military, was dismissed by Ukraine’s Armed Forces.
According to the official statement provided by the regiment, a number of Belarusian soldiers did not agree with the decision and left the regiment.
The Kastus Kalinouski regiment has been fighting alongside Ukraine since March taking part in the fights in Kyiv Oblast and later in the country’s eastern Donbas region.
Belarusian volunteers form aerial reconnaissance group, join Ukrainian army
Belarusian volunteers have reportedly assembled an aerial reconnaissance team to join the ranks of Ukraine’s military on Aug. 21.
The team consists of a maintenance group and two reconnaissance wings, each equipped with drones capable of identifying and destroying Russian targets.
Belarusian Defense Minister Viktar Khrenin denounced the volunteer formations, calling them a “military threat” and accusing them of drawing Belarus into Russia’s war.
Belarus to withdraw from UN treaty allowing civilians to file human rights complaints
Belarusian authorities decided to withdraw from the 1966 International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, which permits citizens of a given country to submit a claim to the UN Human Rights Committee when their rights are violated.
Belarus’ parliament initiated the draft on Aug. 17.
Belarus ratified the protocol in 1992 and, while there is no mechanism for enforcement, it is a key instrument for citizens in countries that may not protect human rights. Being party to the covenant also symbolizes a given state’s value, or lack thereof, for human rights.
As of 2019, a total of 332 complaints have been registered against Belarus, 136 of which have been found to violate the agreement thus far. Most of the appeals are reportedly linked to violations of “freedom of expression” and “freedom of peaceful assembly,” as well as most cases related to the death penalty.
Belarusian journalist may face 15 years in prison for alleged ‘treason’
The closed trial of Dzianis Ivashyn began in Hrodna, Belarus, on Aug. 15. The Belarusian investigative journalist is accused of “treason” and “interfering in the activities of law enforcement officers.”
According to the Deputy Chairman of the Belarusian Association of Journalists Barys Haretski, the charges were likely incited by Ivashyn’s latest investigation, which claimed that ex-Berkut (former Ukrainian special police force) members were involved in dispersing protests during the 2020 Belarusian presidential election.
Initially detained in March 2021, Belarus’ KGB alleges that Ivashyn collaborated with Ukrainian intelligence. His charges may land him 15 years in prison.
According to Reporters Without Borders, Belarus is one of Europe’s most dangerous countries for journalists. As of now, 33 Belarusian journalists and three media workers have been detained.
Student demands fair vote count in recent referendum, sentenced to jail
On Aug. 19, a court in Brest, Belarus, sentenced 18-year-old Raman Karpuk to three years in prison for calling for a fair vote counting during a referendum.
The referendum, which took place on Feb. 27, centered around constitutional amendments that would ensure protection for Lukashenko in the event that he steps down and cements power within a new overarching governing body.
All amendments proposed by Lukashenko’s regime were adopted. The results of the referendum have not been internationally recognized.
The first-year undergraduate student reportedly sent 99 letters to members of the Belarus’ election committee, asking them to count votes fairly and report violations that took place at the referendum.
The court deemed Karpuk guilty of “obstructing the exercise of electoral rights.”
Seven Belarusians have been convicted for having sent letters to Belarusian authorities asking them to condemn the violations surrounding the vote.
Lukashenko orders creation of government-run ‘charitable fund’ to replace those shut down by the state
On Aug. 22, Lukashenko ordered the creation of an overarching charitable foundation, which is to be overseen by him, to replace the non-governmental organizations shut down over the past two years.
In his address, the reason cited for the closure of these organizations was their alleged participation in organizing a “coup.”
In the past year alone, nearly 300 civil organizations have reportedly been shut down in Belarus. Many activists and civil society members have since fled Belarus to avoid further persecution.
Russians flock to Belarus to buy bank cards, sanctioned items
Russian nationals are increasingly crossing the border into Belarus to buy bank cards and sanctioned goods no longer accessible in Russia.
In early March, Visa and Mastercard payments ceased to work in Russia.
In 2022, the issuance of bank cards to Russian citizens in Belarus has reportedly increased by 11.52% from the same period in 2021. It has also increased in Kyrgyzstan (39.7%), Uzbekistan, (26.2%), Armenia (16.2%), Tajikistan (28%), and Kazakhstan (7.86%).
There have also been reports of “tours” from Russia dedicated to obtaining bank cards in Belarus, as well as to buying products from brands that have withdrawn from the Russian market. The Association of Tour Operators in Russia claims that 10-15% of tours from Russia to Belarus are for shopping
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