Tuesday, November 29, 2022

Belarus Weekly: Russia launches Iranian-made drones from Belarus, moves in more troops

by Maria YeryomaOctober 28, 2022 1:08 pm
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Belarus Weekly: Russia launches Iranian-made drones from Belarus, moves in more troopsSoldiers take an oath of enlistment in Minsk, Belarus, on May 28, 2022. (Getty Images)

Concerns over a potential offensive from Belarus continue as covert mobilization, and the movement of Russian troops to Belarus continues.

Russia launches Iranian-made drones from Belarusian territory, continuing Belarus' role as a co-belligerent in Russia's full-scale war against Ukraine.

Belarusian dictator Alexander Lukashenko's regime makes critical changes to Belarus' electoral code, furthering Lukashenko's clutch on the country.

A new decree announced by Lukashenko also grants the KGB unrestricted access to Belarusians' online data.

Belarusian authorities launch an in absentia investigation against Belarusian opposition leader Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya and her colleagues.

Ukrainian lawmakers suggest recognizing Belarus as territory occupied by Russia, and Belarusian authorities target railroad workers of Ukrainian descent.

Tensions rise between Ukraine, Belarus amid offensive rumors

The threat of an offensive on Ukraine from Belarusian territory is increasing, according to the General Staff of Ukraine's Armed Forces.

The General Staff noted on Oct. 20 that a potential offensive from Belarusian territory might be directed along Belarus' western border with Ukraine so as to target the transfer of weapons and military equipment to Ukraine from Western countries.

There are around 3,200 Russian troops deployed to Belarus as part of joint regional military command between Moscow and Minsk, according to the Ukrainian Defense Ministry's Intelligence Directorate Head Kyrylo Budanov.

However, he noted that the Russian troops transferred to Belarus were without heavy equipment, which indicates that an imminent offensive from Belarusian territory is unlikely.

Pentagon press secretary Patrick Ryder also said on Oct. 20 that the U.S. does not "currently have any indications of a potential imminent military action on that (Belarus) front."

Covert mobilization has continued in Belarus, although Belarusian authorities continue to deny that such efforts are underway.

Ukraine's military stated on Oct. 21 urging Belarus not to directly join Russia's war, saying Ukraine "has never had and will not threaten Belarus."

Russia launches 10 drones against Ukraine from Belarusian territory

Russia launched 10 Iranian-made Shahed-136 drones at Ukraine from Belarus on Oct. 25, targeting Kyiv Oblast.

The General Staff reported that there remains a threat of missile and airstrikes, including with Iranian-made drones, on Ukraine's critical infrastructure from Belarusian territory.

Belarusian monitoring group Belarusian Hajun suggested that Russia may be launching the drones from the Belarusian part of the Chornobyl Nuclear Power Plant's exclusion zone, allowing them to be launched discreetly.

On Oct. 23, Ukraine's National Resistance Center reported the presence of Iranian instructors in Russia to train Kremlin forces to use Iranian-made drones. The instructors were also reportedly spotted in Mikulichy, a village in Belarus' Homiel region located near the Ukrainian border and the Chornobyl exclusion zone.

However, U.S. National Security Council spokesperson John Kirby said on Oct. 20 that there is "no indication that Belarus is involved in either the transfer, training, or operation" of the drones.

Lukashenko's regime prepares amendments to Belarus' electoral code

On Oct. 25, Belarusian dictator Alexander Lukashenko proposed an amendment to Belarus' electoral code, stipulating changes to the country's electoral processes and the role of the All-Belarusian People's Assembly.

One proposed amendment to Belarus' electoral code is the abolishment of voters' threshold requirements for parliamentary elections. Currently, voter turnout at less than 50% cancels given election results.

The proposed legislation would also eliminate overseas polling, restrict the duties of election observers, and prohibit voters from taking photos of their ballots.

Proposed amendments would allow the All-Belarusian People's Assembly to decide on the legitimacy of elections, impeach the country's president, declare martial law, and send Belarusian troops abroad.

While the assembly typically meets once every five years, the new legislation stipulates sessions annually.

The All-Belarusian People's Assembly was created by Lukashenko prior to Belarus' fraudulent 2020 presidential elections and is largely viewed as a means through which he might retain control of the country.

The assembly is composed mainly of officials who have been selected through obscure means by Lukashenko's regime to fabricate legitimacy surrounding the regime's decisions.

KGB to receive full access to online databases

On Oct. 18, Lukashenko signed a decree forcing websites and online services in Belarus to grant KGB full access to users' data.

The decree published on Oct. 21 will become effective in three months.

It demands the owners of websites and online services to install the software for remote access to the databases and to store all data for a year at the businesses' expense.

The measure isn't applied automatically; the KGB and OAC must decide on the list of services to undergo the procedure. Experts suggest that virtually anything, including online banking, taxi, voice assistants, and IoT devices, falls under this regulation.

Among the first targets, lawyers presume search engines, services for Apple iOS and Google Android ecosystems, social media, messengers, and payment systems. The denial to comply would lead to the immediate ban of the website in Belarus.

Belarus launches in absentia investigation against Tsikhanouskaya, her allies

Belarus charged opposition leader Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya, alleging that she violated ten criminal code articles, including crimes against national security, plotting a coup d'etat, and inciting civil unrest.

The members of Tsikhanouskaya's shadow cabinet – Pavel Latushko and Olga Kovalkova – were charged with violating eight articles and five articles accordingly.

If found guilty, opposition leaders may have their assets seized and be deprived of Belarusian citizenship. The measure violates the country's constitution and the UN Universal Declaration of Human Rights, prohibiting stripping citizenship of those who obtained it by birth.

Belarusian regime currently persecutes 12 opposition leaders in absentia. The special proceedings were introduced on July 21 and explicitly targeted the opposition leaders otherwise unreachable for Lukashenko.

Ukrainian MPs propose recognizing Belarus as 'temporarily occupied territory'

Ukrainian lawmakers drafted a resolution to recognize Belarus as a "temporarily occupied territory," which calls for the exclusion of Belarus from international organizations and designate Lukashenko's regime as illegitimate.

Eight Ukrainian lawmakers submitted the bill on Oct. 21. They're also calling to impose equal sanctions against Russia and Belarus to close the opportunity to use Minsk as a back door to bypass sanctions imposed on Moscow.

KGB interrogates Ukraine-born Belarusian railway employees

The Community of Railroad Workers of Belarus reports that Belarusian railway company employees of Ukrainian descent are summoned for questioning by the KGB.

Employees are asked about their relatives in Ukraine, the fraudulent 2020 elections, and the Russian war against Ukraine. Those deemed suspicious were taken for additional questioning.

The independent Community of Railroad Workers of Belarus had been the primary source of information about the movement of Russian troops in Belarus and the shipment of Belarus military equipment to Russia by rail.

In an effort to prevent information from spreading, the railroad management forced employees to sign non-disclosure agreements and comprised lists of employees of Ukrainian descent.

Maria Yeryoma
Maria Yeryoma
contributing author

Maria Yeryoma is a Belarusian media manager and a contributing author at the Kyiv Independent. She recently led the commercial "special projects" at TUT.BY — the biggest independent online media in the country. In May 2021, TUT.BY was raided by Belarus authorities leaving 15 employees in custody and forcing the team to leave the country to continue their work. Maria moved to Kyiv and helped establishing a new media outlet — Zerkalo.

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