CrisisWatch

Tracking Conflict Worldwide

CrisisWatch is our global conflict tracker, an early warning tool designed to help prevent deadly violence. It keeps decision-makers up-to-date with developments in over 70 conflicts and crises every month, identifying trends and alerting them to risks of escalation and opportunities to advance peace. In addition, CrisisWatch monitors over 50 situations (“standby monitoring”) to offer timely information if developments indicate a drift toward violence or instability. Entries dating back to 2003 provide easily searchable conflict histories.

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January 2024

Europe & Central Asia

Belarus

Authorities deepened crackdown, arresting over 200 people in lead-up to February elections; govt proposed new military doctrine. 

Authorities conducted mass raids as crackdown escalated. In lead-up to Feb parliamentary elections, Viasna human rights centre 23 Jan said authorities detained or interrogated scores for alleged “involvement in extremist groups”, including former political prisoners; as of 30 Jan, over 200 people “persecuted” amid ever-worsening crackdown. EU and U.S. 25 Jan decried “wave of repression”. 

Minsk announced monitors for Feb elections. Govt 5 Jan invited Russia-led Collective Security Treaty Organisation and Commonwealth of Independent States – regional intergovernmental organisation comprising former Soviet republics – to observe 25 Feb polls, 8 Jan announced it would not invite Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe due to organisation’s “double standards”. Opposition leader Svetlana Tikhanovskaya 12 Jan reiterated call to boycott elections. 

Minsk put forward updated national security doctrine. Lukashenko 16 Jan convened Security Council to discuss updated military doctrine draft, which for first time provides for use of nuclear weapons (Russia stationed tactical nuclear weapons in Belarus in 2023). Defence Minister Viktor Khrenin 19 Jan said weapons were “an important component” of doctrine’s overall focus on “preventive deterrence of potential adversaries”. Meanwhile, Lukashenko 29 Jan met with Russian President Putin 29 Jan in Russian city St. Petersburg to discuss ways to deepen alliance.

December 2023

Europe & Central Asia

Belarus

U.S. and UK issued new sanctions amid continued domestic repression, and President Lukashenko embarked on diplomatic tour in Asia, Africa and the Arabian Peninsula.

Lukashenko held intelligence summit, repression campaign continued. Lukashenko 14 Dec hosted intelligence chiefs of regional bloc Commonwealth of Independent States, claiming “foreign intelligence” operations on “our territory” were becoming “increasingly aggressive”. Meanwhile, crackdown on dissent continued. Notably, police 8 Dec detained two journalists in south-east city of Svetlahorsk on extremism charges; court in Hrodna city (west) 19 Dec sentenced human rights activist Alyaksandra Kasko to ten years in prison for participating in 2020 election protests.

President embarked on major diplomatic tour. Lukashenko 4 Dec met President Xi in Chinese capital Beijing before 8 Dec visiting United Arab Emirates for talks with Emirati President Mohammed bin Zayed. Lukashenko next day travelled to Equatorial Guinea, signing cooperation agreements with President Obiang, concluded tour with 10 Dec visit to Kenya.

Opposition leader renewed drive for international support. Exiled opposition head Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya 5 Dec testified before U.S. Congress, calling for increased support for opposition and expansion of sanctions against govt; Washington same day issued new sanctions targeting entities generating revenue for regime. UK 6 Dec announced new sanctions related to govt support for Russian invasion of Ukraine. Tsikhanouskaya 10 Dec met with EU FMs and EU High Representative Josep Borrell, who announced €30mn opposition support package.

November 2023

Europe & Central Asia

Belarus

Govt continued opposition clampdown, Minsk hosted Russia-led military alliance summit, and tensions with Poland persisted.

Authorities continued stifling dissent. Human rights group Viasna 1 Nov reported media personality Larisa Gribaleva had been detained, though authorities same day released her. Maladechna court 3 Nov sentenced journalist Alyaksandr Mantsevich to four years’ imprisonment for “discrediting Belarus”. EU High Representative Josep Borrell 12 Nov warned of ever-deteriorating human rights situation in Belarus since disputed 2020 presidential election sparked crackdown, spotlighting over 40,000 arrests, 12,000 criminal cases and nearly 1,500 political prisoners. Meanwhile, President Lukashenko 20 Nov signed decree announcing parliamentary and local polls in Feb 2024, first nationwide elections since 2020. Authorities 28 Nov searched homes of opposition figures, as “preliminary stage” of election preparations.

Minsk hosted military alliance summit. Russia-led Collective Security Treaty Organization summit 23 Nov took place in capital Minsk, bringing together leaders from Russia, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan; Armenia’s leader did not attend amid deteriorating relations with Russia (see Armenia). During summit, Lukashenko defended hosting Russian tactical nuclear weapons as necessary response to NATO threat.

Minsk accused Warsaw of airspace violation. Foreign ministry 3 Nov summoned Polish Chargé d’affaires over alleged violation of its airspace day before.

October 2023

Europe & Central Asia

Belarus

Clampdown on dissent persisted, Lukashenko applauded Poland for voting out ruling party, and Minsk sought to deepen ties with friendly states.

Repression of opposition continued. Rechytsa district court 9 Oct sentenced opposition activist Polina Sharendo-Panasyuk to additional year behind bars for disobeying prison authorities during two-year imprisonment. Barysau district court 19 Oct handed one-year sentence to another opposition figure, Zmitser Dashkevich, on same charge. EU 25 Oct expressed alarm at “ever-growing instrumentalisation of the national legislation to shrink Belarus’ civic space and silence any critical voices”.

Lukashenko praised Poles for voting out ruling party amid strained ties. Polish Defence Minister Mariusz Blaszczak 3 Oct announced further troop deployment to Belarus border to repel migrants that he claimed were “sent by [President] Alexander Lukashenko’s regime…to destabilise our country”. Lukashenko 6 Oct proclaimed hope for “reset” of relations if opposition wins 15 Oct Polish elections, 27 Oct congratulated Poland for voting out ruling Law and Justice Party.

Minsk engaged in flurry of diplomatic activity. Minsk hosted number of foreign representatives throughout month. Notably, top legislator Vladimir Andreichenko 16 Oct received Venezuelan FM to discuss collaboration against Western “blackmail, coercion and sanctions”. Lukashenko 17 Oct met with Iranian VP Mohamad Mokhber, 26 Oct met with Hungarian FM Peter Szijjarto. Meanwhile, Lukashenko 29 Oct warned that Ukraine and Russia are locked in stalemate and called for talks to end fighting.

September 2023

Europe & Central Asia

Belarus

48 children removed from occupied Ukrainian territories arrived in Belarus, EU labelled Minsk “an accomplice” of Russian war crimes, and tensions with western neighbours remained elevated.

Dozens of children from occupied Ukrainian regions arrived in Belarus. State news agency Belta 19 Sept reported arrival of 48 children from Ukrainian regions of Donetsk, Luhansk and Zaporizhzhia (which Russia partly occupies and claims to have annexed) in Belarus. Head of charity organising removals said move sought to help “children from dilapidated cities and towns in the new territories of Russia”. Speaking on sidelines of UN General Assembly, Ukraine’s first lady Olena Zelenska 20 Sept called on international partners to help ensure return of Ukrainian children forcibly taken by Russia.

Russia and Belarus continued to deepen ties. Russian President Vladimir Putin 15 Sept hosted President Lukashenko in Black Sea resort of Sochi, days after Putin held summit with North Korea’s leader Kim Jong Un; during talks, Lukashenko said Moscow and Pyonguang should consider “three-way cooperation” but did not elaborate. Talks follow European Parliament resolution 13 Sept condemning Minsk’s role in Ukraine war and calling govt “an accomplice in the crimes committed by Russia”. Meanwhile, Russia-led Collective Security Treaty Organisation 1-6 Sept held military exercises in Belarus, with troops from Russia, Belarus, Kyrgyzstan, Kazakhstan and Tajikistan participating.

Tensions with Poland and Latvia persisted. State Border Committee 1 Sept claimed Polish helicopter had violated Belarusian airspace, 28 Sept blamed Poland for another airspace violation; Warsaw denied allegations. Belarus 11 Sept accused Poland of using tear gas and physical force to push back migrants trying to cross border. Meanwhile, Latvia 19 Sept announced closure of one of two border crossing points with Belarus, citing “increasing number of illegal travellers”.

August 2023

Europe & Central Asia

Belarus

Tensions with western neighbours rose, while govt continued to stifle dissent.

Tensions with neighbouring NATO member states intensified. Following July arrival of mercenaries from Russia paramilitary Wagner Group, tensions between Minsk and its western neighbours escalated further. Notably, Poland 1 Aug accused Belarus of airspace incursion, which latter 3 Aug denied. Belarus 7 Aug began military drills in Grodno region near Polish and Lithuanian borders. Poland 9 Aug deployed 2,000 soldiers to border, citing mercenaries’ presence and rise in illegal border crossings, Latvia 15 Aug announced deployment of “additional forces” to its border and Lithuania 18 Aug closed two border crossings to Belarus. Polish Interior Minister Mariusz Kaminski 28 Aug said Poland, Latvia and Lithuania would close their borders with Belarus if “critical incident” involving Wagner mercenaries took place; Kaminski added that this would include border with Russian exclave Kaliningrad, which lies between Poland and Lithuania. Meanwhile, Polish President Andrzej Duda 22 Aug confirmed Russia had begun transferring short-range nuclear weapons to Belarus, which he said would change regional security architecture.

Western countries imposed more punitive measures on Belarus. EU 3 Aug and U.S. 9 Aug sanctioned dozens of Belarusian individuals and entities for human rights abuses and “involvement” in Russia’s aggression against Ukraine. Lithuania 4 Aug declared 910 Belarusian citizens living in country were “threat” to national security, revoking residence permits and rejecting residency requests.

Authorities continued to suppress opposition. Supreme Court mid-Aug ordered dissolution of two opposition parties, Belarusian Popular Front Party and United Civil Party. Authorities 23 Aug reportedly declared Vyasna Human Rights Centre “extremist”. Homel regional court 31 Aug sentenced journalist Larysa Shchyrakova to three years and six months in prison for “discrediting” country and facilitating extremism.

July 2023

Europe & Central Asia

Belarus

Wagner mercenaries travelled to Belarus following failed insurrection in Russia and conducted military exercises with army; crackdown on dissent continued.

Minsk conducted military exercises with Wagner mercenaries. Following Russian paramilitary Wagner Group’s short-lived mutiny in June and Russian President Vladimir Putin’s subsequent announcement that mercenaries could move to Belarus, State Border Guard Service of Ukraine 22 July claimed approximately 5,000 Wagner fighters were now in Belarus. Video published 19 July showed Wagner head Yevgeny Prigozhin addressing combatants, in which he announced Wagner would stay in Belarus only temporarily and promised to make Belarusian army “the second army of the world”. Defence ministry 20 July reported army was conducting exercises with Wagner at Brestski training range near Polish border. Polish interior minister 27 July said Poland, Latvia and Lithuania were prepared to close border with Belarus should they face “the threat of provocations” from Wagner; Polish PM Mateusz Morawiecki 29 July expressed concern about movement of Wagner troops toward border.

Clampdown on dissent continued. President Lukashenka 1 July signed law allowing authorities to ban foreign media from Belarus in event of “unfriendly actions” by states. Minsk court 5 July sentenced Eduard Babaryka, son of former presidential hopeful Viktar Babaryka, to eight years in prison for “organising mass riots” and “inciting hatred.” Minsk court 19 July started trial of journalist Zmitser Bayarovich and his wife, Valeria, for protesting 2020 election results. Court 26 July sentenced journalist Pavel Mazheika to six years in prison for “extremist activity”.

In another important development. Russian news agency 25 July reported Belarus applied to join BRICS bloc of emerging economies, which includes Russia, Brazil, China, India and South Africa, in May.

June 2023

Europe & Central Asia

Belarus

Authorities continued to stifle dissent, Russian nuclear weapons started arriving, and prospect of Wagner presence in Belarus following mutiny prompted concern among its western neighbours.

Repression of independent media and opposition continued. Vyasna Human Rights Centre 2 June reported court had sentenced union activist Alyaksandr Kandratsyuk to over three years in prison for insulting President Lukashenka, discrediting country and inciting hatred. Court 6 June sentenced activist Yana Pinchuk to 12 years in prison on multiple charges, including creating extremist group. Police 12 June arrested eight journalists in south-eastern Svetlahorsk city on extremism charges. Court in Minsk 21 June sentenced 15 people to between two and 21 years in prison; sentenced three others in absentia. Other trials continued amid clampdown.

First deployment of Russian nuclear weapons arrived in Belarus. Following Russia’s March announcement to store tactical nuclear weapons in Belarus, Lukashenka 13 June declared country had already received some, which Russian President Vladimir Putin 16 June confirmed, adding that deployment would be completed by end of summer.

Prospect of Wagner exiles in Belarus raised fears among western neighbours. Moscow 24 June announced Lukashenka had brokered talks to end short-lived mutiny in Russia launched by paramilitary Wagner Group leader Yevgeny Prigozhin (see Russia), who Lukashenka 27 June confirmed was in Belarus. Putin 26 June said Wagner mercenaries can either go to Belarus or sign contract with Ministry of Defence, raising fears among Belarus’ western neighbours of possible Wagner “infiltration” into their countries. Reports 26 June claimed base, which would accommodate up to 8,000 Wagner troops, was already under construction in Mogilev region. Polish officials 28 June announced plans to strengthen eastern border, deputy Polish FM 29 June said Poland “expects” EU to help fund these measures.

May 2023

Europe & Central Asia

Belarus

International actors denounced govt crackdown, president dismissed rumours of poor health, and Minsk signed agreement with Moscow to deploy nuclear warheads in Belarus.

Foreign actors expressed solidarity with political prisoners held in Belarus. On eve of International Day of Solidarity with Political Prisoners in Belarus, U.S. 20 May condemned govt for “unjustly holding over 1,500 political prisoners”, called for their “immediate” release. EU High Representative Josep Borrell 21 May said authorities had made 40,000 politically motivated arrests since Aug 2020 amid “regime’s intensified repression”; other govts and civil society organisations also decried crackdown, which continued unabated.

Rumours of Lukashenko’s ill health circulated. During President Lukashenko’s 9 May trip to Russia, rumours began circulating about his poor health. Exiled opposition leader Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya 15 May urged public and international community “to be prepared for every scenario”. Lukashenko 23 May appeared in public, dismissing talk he was seriously ill, but rumours he had been hospitalised 27 May flared once more.

Minsk and Moscow moved ahead with plan to deploy nuclear weapons in Belarus. Russian and Belarusian defence ministers 25 May met in capital Minsk, signed documents defining procedure for keeping Russian non-strategic nuclear weapons in storage facility on Belarusian territory; Moscow said it retained control of nuclear weapons and decision to use them.

April 2023

Europe & Central Asia

Belarus

Crackdown on opposition continued, and army conducted military exercises.

Exiled opposition leader called for access to political prisoners amid crackdown. Court in capital Minsk 7 April sentenced opposition politician and 2020 presidential candidate Valer Tsapkala to 17 years in prison in absentia. Another presidential candidate, Viktar Babaryka, sentenced to 14 years’ imprisonment in 2021, was reportedly hospitalised late April; EU 27 April expressed concern, pointing to “traces of beatings”, while exiled opposition leader Sviatlana Tsikhanousvkaya demanded diplomats be given access to political prisoners “to assess the conditions in which they are kept”.

Belarus held military exercises and asked Russia for security guarantees. Defence ministry 5 April announced three-day “tactical exercise” at Polish and Ukrainian borders, 19-22 April conducted further exercises to strengthen air defence, 22 April announced forces had completed training on Russian tactical nuclear missile systems. President Lukashenko 10 April asked Russia for security guarantees amid heightened tensions with West. Meanwhile, Canada 11 April expanded sanctions to include National Bank and eight other banks in Belarus due to its support for “Russia’s illegal invasion” of Ukraine.

March 2023

Europe & Central Asia

Belarus

Crackdown on opposition continued, Russia announced plans to store nuclear weapons in Belarus, and President Lukashenko called for ceasefire in Ukraine.

Court handed down heavy prison sentences to opposition figures. Court in Minsk 6 March sentenced in absentia opposition leader Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya and four associates to between 12 and 18 years in prison for treason and conspiracy to seize power; European Parliament 15 March condemned “show trials”. President Lukashenko 7 March announced authorities had arrested “terrorist” and over 20 accomplices involved in 26 Feb drone attack on Russian military aircraft near capital Minsk, and accused Ukraine and U.S. Central Intelligence Agency of training detainee.

Russia announced plans to deploy tactical nuclear weapons in Belarus. Russian President Putin 25 March announced he will station tactical nuclear weapons in Belarus, likening move to U.S. deploying nuclear arsenal in Europe and stating it would not violate “international obligations on the non-proliferation of nuclear weapons” as Belarus would not control the weapons; Lukashenko 31 March said Moscow’s plans would help “safeguard” country, which he claimed was under threat from West. In same speech, he also called for ceasefire in Ukraine and urged Russia and Ukraine to start negotiations “without preconditions”.

February 2023

Europe & Central Asia

Belarus

Govt stepped up aggressive rhetoric toward Ukraine, Belarusian partisans attacked Russian military aircraft near capital Minsk, and relations with Poland grew increasingly strained.

Anti-war partisans claimed responsibility for attack on Russian aircraft. President Lukashenko 16 Feb said Belarus is “ready to fight” with Russian troops in Ukraine “if even one soldier enters Belarus territory from Ukraine to kill [his] people”. Lukashenko 20 Feb announced creation of civilian paramilitary defence force “in case of aggression”. Defence ministry 21 Feb warned that “a significant grouping” of Ukrainian troops had massed near border. Senior Ukrainian official same day said Minsk had stepped up “aggressive” rhetoric but that Kyiv saw no imminent threat from its neighbour. Meanwhile, partisans 26 Feb claimed responsibility for drone attack on Russian military aircraft at Machulishchy airfield near capital Minsk; senior official 28 Feb dismissed claim as “fake… given the absence of an official reaction”.

Ties with Poland deteriorated, leaked Russian documents revealed alleged plans to take over Belarus. Court in capital Minsk 8 Feb sentenced Polish-Belarusian journalist Andrzej Poczobut to eight years in prison for “inciting hatred”, among other charges. Poland same day condemned “politically motivated” trial, 10 Feb closed key Bobrowniki border crossing with Belarus; Minsk 20 Feb announced expulsion of three Polish diplomats in response. Meanwhile, various media outlets 21 Feb published document allegedly leaked from Russia’s presidential administration that dates back to 2021, detailing Kremlin plans to assert full control over Belarus’ politics, economy and military potential by 2030.

Repression of dissent continued. Court 10 Feb sentenced two activists to 22 years in prison for sabotaging railway lines used by Russia for transporting military equipment and troops for war in Ukraine. Court in Homel 17 Feb sentenced ten members of Workers’ Movement to between 11 and 15 years in prison for “high treason” and extremism.

January 2023

Europe & Central Asia

Belarus

Military cooperation with Russia continued, authorities began trial in absentia of opposition figures, and govt sought ways to strengthen cooperation with Tajikistan.

Military activities with Russia continued amid fears of more Belarusian support in Ukraine. President Lukashenko 6 Jan visited training ground in south-western Brest region bordering Ukraine where Russian troops are stationed. Defence ministry same day announced arrival of more Russian military equipment and aircrafts. Authorities 16 Jan-1 Feb held joint tactical flight exercises with Russia; govt 15 Jan said drills were “purely defensive” amid growing fears Belarus plans to deepen involvement in Ukraine. Former security official 29 Jan warned army could face mass desertion if Belarus invades Ukraine. Meanwhile, European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen 10 Jan announced new sanctions against Belarus for “role in this Russian war”.

Authorities proceeded with trial in absentia of leading opposition figures. Amid govt’s continued crackdown on dissent, trial in absentia of opposition leader Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya and four associates, indicted among other charges for treason and conspiring to seize power, 17 Jan began in capital Minsk. European Union High Representative Josep Borell same day condemned “fabricated charges” and Belarus’s “brutal persecution” of opposition leaders, while U.S. imposed visa restrictions on 25 officials for continued repression and “politically motivated trials”.

In other important developments. News agency Belta 4 Jan reported that Defence Minister Viktor Khrenin met with Tajik counterpart Sherali Mirzo in Belarus; two reportedly discussed “security matters in the responsibility area of the Collective Security Treaty Organization” and ways to advance bilateral cooperation.

December 2022

Europe & Central Asia

Belarus

Increased military activities and Russian President Putin’s visit to capital Minsk raised concerns in Ukraine; crackdown on opposition persisted.

Putin visited Minsk amid stepped-up military activity, fuelling concern in Kyiv. State news agency BelTA 7 Dec reported govt plans to move troops and military equipment 7-8 Dec as part of “counterterrorism” exercise, 13 Dec reported “sudden check of combat readiness” had begun. Meanwhile, Russian President Putin 19 Dec met with President Lukashenko in Minsk as Russian news agency Interfax, citing Russia’s defence ministry, same day reported that around 9,000 Russian soldiers, stationed in Belarus since Oct, will conduct “tactical exercises”; announcement fuelled fears that Belarus plans to deepen its involvement in Ukraine. Exiled opposition leader Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya same day warned that chance of govt sending troops to Ukraine “might increase in coming weeks” while authorities 21 Dec temporarily restricted access to parts of south-eastern Gomel region bordering Russia and Ukraine. Lukashenko 22 Dec said exercises were defensive.

Ukrainian missile entered Belarusian airspace. Minsk 29 Dec said it downed Ukrainian S-300 air defence missile close to Ukraine border; foreign ministry summoned Ukrainian ambassador, demanding Ukraine “conduct a thorough investigation”. Ukraine’s military same day acknowledged missile was Ukrainian, saying it was “the result of air defence”.

Repression of dissent continued. Court in Minsk 2 Dec sentenced journalist Dzmitry Luksha to four years in prison and two associates to over two years and 18 months in prison for activities that “disrupt social order”; 13 Dec sentenced four activists to between five and ten years in prison for “facilitating extremist activities”, among other charges. Court in Gomel 27 Dec sentenced three activists to over 20 years in prison each for sabotaging railway line used by Russia for transporting military equipment and weapons for Ukraine war in Feb 2022.

November 2022

Europe & Central Asia

Belarus

Crackdown on political opposition continued apace; Western powers threatened Minsk over its support for Russia’s war in Ukraine.

Authorities handed down prison sentences to opposition leaders. Court 3 Nov sentenced leader of opposition United Civic Party to 30 months in prison and two associates to 18 and 12 months in prison for actions that disrupted civil order. Similarly, trade union leader Alyaksandr Mishuk 15 Nov received 30-month prison term for “actions against national security”. Trial against ten members of Workers’ Movement, indicted for high treason, 9 Nov began in Homel city. Meanwhile, authorities 29 Nov transferred leading opposition figure Maryya Kalesnikava, sentenced Sept 2021 to 11 years in prison, to hospital where she was placed in intensive care.

G7 warned Belarus against deepening support for Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. G7 4 Nov urged Belarus to “stop enabling Russia’s war of aggression” and warned that “more direct” Belarusian involvement would see G7 impose “overwhelming additional costs on the regime”. President Lukashenko 23 Nov dismissed rumours of military involvement in Ukraine during Russia-led Collective Security Treaty Organization summit in Armenia, saying “it is not Belarus’ role”. Meanwhile, Canada’s govt 22 Nov imposed new sanctions on 22 Belarusian officials and 16 companies for “facilitating and enabling” Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

October 2022

Europe & Central Asia

Belarus

Authorities deployed joint regional force with Moscow after Minsk accused Ukraine of planning attack, while authorities continued crackdown on dissent.

Govt ramped up military cooperation with Russia amid war in Ukraine. President Lukashenko 10 Oct alleged Ukraine was planning strikes on Belarus and announced joint deployment of forces with Russia. G7 (Canada, France, Italy, Japan, UK, Germany and U.S.) 11 Oct called joint force proof of “regime’s complicity with Russia”. Russia 15 Oct began sending equipment and troops, while defence ministry 16 Oct said they expected to host just under 9,000 Russian troops. Authorities 17 Oct announced live-fire exercises and missile launches as part of “training activities” in east and centre of country. Meanwhile, FM Vladimir Makei 14 Oct told Russian Izvestia newspaper that govt was introducing “counterterrorist regime” in response to expected provocations from Ukraine, giving security forces broad powers to detain people or restrict free movement.

Crackdown on dissent continued apace. Following sentencing of four independent media representatives in Minsk District Court, EU 7 Oct criticised govt’s “brutal crackdown”, “long prison sentences” and “appalling conditions” in detention. Meanwhile, in trial dubbed “Autukhovich case”, court 17 Oct sentenced main defendant Mikalay Autukhovich to 25 years in prison for allegedly plotting terrorist attack and conspiring to seize power; remaining eleven defendants received sentences of up to 20 years.

September 2022

Europe & Central Asia

Belarus

President Lukashenko denied rumours of mobilisation to support Russia’s war efforts, crackdown on opposition continued.

Army conducted military exercises, Lukashenko dismissed mobilisation rumours. Defence ministry 8 Sept announced military drills near border with Poland, which lasted until 14 Sept. Following Russia’s partial military mobilisation over war in Ukraine (see Russia) and subsequent rumours of similar measures in Belarus, Lukashenko 23 Sept clarified that “there will be no mobilisation”.

Crackdown on opposition continued. Court in Minsk 5 Sept sentenced five people – including U.S. citizen Yuras Zyankovich – to between 2.5 and 11 years in prison for attempting to seize power through assassination of Lukashenko; Zyankovich was also found guilty of creating extremist group. Court 16 Sept sentenced Syarhey Kanavalau to 15 years in prison for damaging railways that supply weapons and troops for Russia’s war in Ukraine.

August 2022

Europe & Central Asia

Belarus

Crackdown on dissent continued apace, air force conducted exercises with Russia, and govt agreed to strengthen economic ties with Iran. Govt continued crackdown on independent media. Notably, court 3 Aug sentenced journalist Iryna Slaunikava, who works for Polish broadcaster Belsat TV, to five years in prison for “leading an extremist group” and “disrupting social order”. Poland next day summoned Belarus’s chargé d’affaires over case. Russia 9 Aug extradited activist Yana Pinchuk to Belarus despite repeated warnings that she risked torture upon return; govt has accused Pinchuk of inciting hatred and endangering national security. On two-year anniversary of disputed presidential election that prompted mass protests, opposition leader Svyatlana Tsikhanouskaya 9 Aug named “interim government”; according to Tsikhanouskaya, govt will be responsible for “transit of power from dictatorship to democracy”. Meanwhile, EU 8 Aug called for Belarus to respect “democracy and the rule of law”, while U.S. 9 Aug imposed visa restrictions on “100 regime officials”. Air force 9-11 Aug, 22-25 Aug held military exercise in Belarus and Russia respectively. China 17 Aug announced joint military drills “in near future” with Belarus, Russia, India, and others, insisting drills have “nothing to do” with international tensions. President Lukashenko 17 Aug approved draft agreement for military-technical cooperation on research, development and production of weaponry until 2025 with Russia. Belarus and Iran 27 Aug signed Memorandum of Understanding to strengthen economic relations, with one official saying “Iran and Belarus can put neutralisation of sanctions on their joint agenda”.

July 2022

Europe & Central Asia

Belarus

Govt and Western powers imposed tit-for-tat sanctions, and crackdown on opposition continued. UK 4 July introduced new sanctions worth £60mn, saying govt “continues to actively facilitate” Russia’s war in Ukraine. Responding to “hostile” actions, govt 29 July recalled ambassador to UK but insisted that communication channels will remain open. In response to Western sanctions, govt 5 July said it would freeze foreign shareholdings in 190 Belarusian companies from “unfriendly” countries. Opposition leader Svetlana Tsikhanouskaya 22 July dismissed recent reports that President Lukashenko wants military to play more active role in Ukraine, citing significant opposition to war, even within military. Meanwhile, crackdown on dissent continued. Court 13 July sentenced journalist Katerina Bakhvalova (pen name Katerina Andreyeva) to eight years in prison on charges of “state treason”; she was already serving two-year sentence for “violating public order”. Russian court in St Petersburg 21 July upheld decision to extradite activist Yana Pinchuk, whom Belarus accused of inciting national hatred and endangering national security; Pinchuk same day said she risks torture upon return. Minsk court 29 July began trial against political activists, including leader of opposition party Belarusian Popular Front, Ryhor Kastusyou; Human rights organisation Amnesty International same day called trial “desperate attempt to crush dissent”. In UN Aviation Agency’s report published 19 July, agency condemned Ryanair aircraft incident, when govt diverted flight and arrested opposition activist and his girlfriend, as “unlawful interference”; EU 22 July welcomed report and condemned “ongoing repression” while govt 27 July “resolutely disagreed” with findings.

June 2022

Europe & Central Asia

Belarus

Authorities continued crackdown on dissent. Repression of independent media and opposition persisted amid flurry of arrests and jail sentences. Notably, Supreme Court 1 June rejected appeal by bloggers and opposition activists, including Siarhei Tsikhanouski — imprisoned husband of exiled opposition leader Svyatlana Tsikhanouskaya — who was sentenced in Dec 2021 for allegedly organising mass disorder, inciting social hatred and disrupting social order; court in capital Minsk 14 June designated news outlet Tut.by Media “extremist” and banned it; Minsk court 23 June sentenced philosopher Uladzimer Matskevich to five years in prison for disrupting “social order”, creating extremist group and insulting President Lukashenko. Outgoing U.S. special envoy for Belarus 9 June said “release of all political prisoners will ease sanctions”.

May 2022

Europe & Central Asia

Belarus

Tensions persisted on Ukraine border amid military build-up, while govt signed into law death penalty for “terrorism”, which sparked concern over potential use against critics and opposition. Amid heightened geopolitical tensions around ongoing war in Ukraine (see Ukraine), govt 4 May announced start of military exercises with “significant numbers of military vehicles” at border with Ukraine; govt 22 May reportedly extended training until at least 28 May. Army chief 10 May announced deployment of special forces and military equipment to southern border, alleging presence of “20,000” Ukrainian forces at border. Ukrainian military 23 May said Belarus forces were “intensifying reconnaissance, additional units are being deployed in the border areas of the Homel region”. Earlier, President Lukashenko 5 May defended Russia’s invasion but said he felt war was dragging on longer than planned. Meanwhile, govt continued repression of political dissent. Lukashenko 18 May signed law making attempted acts of terrorism punishable with death penalty; law follows numerous media reports about activists allegedly sabotaging rail links to disrupt Russia’s war effort in Ukraine; U.S. same day expressed concern that govt could use “politically motivated charges of ‘extremism’ and ‘terrorism’ against many of the more than 1,100 political prisoners” and “tens of thousands more” who have been detained under such charges. Authorities 18 May began trial of political activist Mikalay Autukhovich in western city of Hrodna on charges of high treason, attempted power seizure and other crimes; 11 others faced similar charges. Western states and their allies during month imposed various sanctions and visa restrictions on over 2,600 citizens of Russia and Belarus. EU Parliament 19 May demanded that EU sanctions on Russia “must be strictly mirrored for Belarus”, condemned “crackdown” and accused govt of “assisting with Russia’s illegal war on Ukraine”.

April 2022

Europe & Central Asia

Belarus

Authorities continued crackdown on dissent, while U.S. and EU imposed further sanctions to condemn govt’s role in Ukraine war. Authorities stifled dissent during April. Notably, Supreme Court 8 April declared Nexta news outlet and corresponding Telegram channels as “extremist organization”. Authorities 20 April arrested journalist Aksana Kolb without presenting charges; NGO Committee to Protect Journalists same day claimed “Kolb’s detention shows that the situation for journalists in Belarus remains extremely worrying”. Meanwhile, lower house of parliament 27 April approved bill to make attempted acts of terrorism punishable with death penalty; bills follows numerous media reports about activists allegedly sabotaging rail links to disrupt Russia’s war effort in Ukraine. Internationally, U.S. 8 April expanded sanctions on Belarus and Russia over Ukraine war, including removal from most-favoured-nation trade status; 14 April imposed restrictions on seven Belarussian owned or operated aircrafts, effectively grounding them; 20 April imposed visa restrictions on 17 individuals, including Belarus nationals, “responsible for undermining democracy” through “intimidation, harassment and repression”. EU 8 April adopted fifth sanctions package due to Ukraine war, expelling non-essential Russian and Belarusian road transport and banning sale of banknotes and transferable securities to Russia and Belarus. Polish authorities 6 April announced arrest of two Belarusians on “charges of espionage”; suspects face up to ten years of prison.

March 2022

Europe & Central Asia

Belarus

Govt faced international pressure for its role in supporting Russia’s war in Ukraine, while authorities continued crackdown on dissent at home. U.S. Special Envoy for Belarus Julie Fisher 1 March alleged govt’s 27 Feb referendum – which introduced constitutional changes to permit President Lukashenko to remain in power until 2035 and abolish country’s “nuclear-free zone” status – “unmistakably” linked to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, pointing at possibility of Moscow stationing nuclear weapons in country. EU 2 March imposed sanctions on high-level military officials and trade for Minsk’s “role in the Russian military aggression of Ukraine”. Meanwhile, UN Human Rights Office 9 March published report alleging “widespread and systemic” breach of fundamental human rights of “tens of thousands” in continued crackdown since Aug 2020; in following debate at UN Rights Council, U.S. 17 March accused Belarus of “enabling” Ukraine war. Authorities continued crackdown on independent media. Notably, court 4 March sentenced Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty’s (RFE/RL) Belarus correspondent Aleh Hruzdzilovich to 18 months in prison; RFE/RL same day condemned sentencing of “innocent journalist”. Authorities 24 March detained Zmitser Dashkevich, former leader of Belarusian opposition movement Malady Front (Youth Front), over “activities that violate social order”.

February 2022

Europe & Central Asia

Belarus

Western powers imposed sanctions in response for Minsk’s role in Russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine; crackdown on dissent continued. Belarus and Russia 10 Feb launched joint military training exercises; French FM Jean-Yves Le Drian same day dubbed “extremely massive” drills as “a gesture of great violence”. Russia 15 Feb announced return of some troops; UK and U.S. 16 Feb argued contrary was true, as Western media mid-Feb circulated satellite images allegedly showing heavy weaponry in “military buildup” in Belarus. Following meeting between French President Macron and Russian President Putin, Macron 8 Feb indicated agreement with Russia on non-prolongation of exercises in Belarus. Defence Minister Viktar Khrenin 20 Feb announced indefinite prolongation of exercises, citing “increase in military activity near the external borders”. As Russia 24 Feb invaded Ukraine, partly via Belarus territory, U.S. same day sanctioned 24 Belarusians, targeting “military and financial capabilities”; EU next day announced sanctions on those Belarusians “who facilitated the Russian military aggression”; G7 27 Feb agreed on “massive and coordinated sanctions, including on Belarus”. Opposition leader Svyatlana Tsikhanouskaya 26 Feb declared herself “national leader”, accusing President Lukashenko of “treason” by participating in Russia-Ukraine war. International media 28 Feb cited U.S. Defence Dept official accusing Belarus of preparing to join Russian forces in military operation in Ukraine. Authorities 27 Feb declared 65.2% voted in favour of constitutional referendum, strengthening powers of presidency and scrapping country’s non-nuclear status. Meanwhile, authorities continued crackdown on dissent. Notably, Minsk court 16 Feb sentenced opposition United Civic Party activist Andrey Kudzik to two years’ imprisonment for activities related to disrupting civil order; Kudzik rejected accusation and refused testimony. U.S. State Dept 1 Feb warned U.S. citizens of travel to Belarus due to “arbitrary” law enforcement; U.S. 4 Feb introduced sanctions against “Belarusian nationals for their involvement in serious, extraterritorial counter-dissident activity”. EU 9 Feb claimed authorities detained 1,040 people as “political prisoners” and called “for their immediate and unconditional release”.

January 2022

Europe & Central Asia

Belarus

President Lukashenko scheduled constitutional referendum and announced forthcoming military exercises with Russia in Feb, stoking international tensions. Lukashenko 20 Jan scheduled referendum on constitutional amendments for 27 Feb; amendments would allow Lukashenko to remain in office until at latest 2035, establish immunity for former president(s), and introduce govt-friendly All-Belarus People’s Assembly as second legislative body. Western media mid-Jan reported arrival of Russian military equipment, as Lukashenko 17 Jan announced joint military drill with Russia at western and southern borders lasting from early Feb to 20 Feb; U.S. same day described troop movements as “extremely dangerous”, while Lithuania 19 Jan warned of “direct threat” (see Russia-U.S.). Tensions with neighbours continued. Govt 5 Jan expelled Polish consul following border crisis in recent months. Lithuania 13 Jan cancelled contract on delivering fertilisers to Belarus. Iraqi foreign ministry 16 Jan announced return of 4,000 Iraqi citizens “trapped” at Belarusian-EU border. UN Aviation Agency 18 Jan finalised report on Ryanair aircraft incident with “further action” pending agency’s council members meeting scheduled for 31 Jan; agency 18 Jan concluded that official information on bomb threat was “deliberately false”. Regarding incident, U.S. 20 Jan charged four govt officials. U.S. and EU 27 Jan called for immediate and unconditional release of “1,000 political prisoners.”

December 2021

Europe & Central Asia

Belarus

Authorities continued crackdown on opposition and independent media while Western countries expanded sanctions. Vyasna Human Rights Centre 1 Dec reported searches and hearings of over dozen activists and journalists; in separate case, authorities same day arrested 11 people for posting “blasphemous and insulting statements in various messengers and social networks”. Interior ministry 3 Dec designated Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty’s (RFE/RL) Telegram and YouTube channels “extremist”, making subscription punishable; RFE/RL same day rejected “ridiculous label”. Govt 23 Dec added RFE/RL’s Belarus Service to registry of extremist organisations. Court 14 Dec sentenced former presidential candidate and opposition figure Siarhei Tsikhanouski – husband of exiled opposition leader Svyatlana Tsikhanouskaya - to 18 years imprisonment; five other opposition activists and journalists same day received sentences between 14 and 16 years. Tsikhanouskaya same day described sentence as “revenge”; EU and U.S. criticised “unfounded and harsh sentences” and “politically motivated convictions”, respectively. Authorities 30 Dec designated Vyasna Human Rights Centre’s Telegram channel “extremist”. President Lukashenka 27 Dec published draft constitutional changes ahead of Feb referendum. Meanwhile, Poland 1 Dec renewed state of emergency at Belarus border for up to three months. Lukashenka same day repeated “serious” threat of closing Belarus gas route from Russia to EU. U.S., UK, EU and Canada in coordination 2 Dec adopted new sanctions for migration crisis; in response, foreign ministry 7 Dec issued six-month ban of mainly food products from EU, U.S., Canada, UK, Norway and other countries, starting in Jan. Border agency 4 Dec alleged violation of airspace by Ukrainian military helicopter; defence ministry next day summoned Ukrainian military attaché; Kiev 4 Dec denied accusation. Following forced landing of passenger aircraft in Belarus in May and arrest of Belarusian opposition journalist, Polish investigation 9 Dec concluded “there was no bomb threat”, contradicting govt’s claims. UK 9 Dec announced deployment of 140 military engineers to Poland to support “response to the pressures from irregular migration at the Belarus border”. During 12 Dec meeting with Svyatlana Tsikhanouskaya, EU increased financial support to civil society by “an additional 30 million euros”. Two Russian nuclear-capable bombers 18 Dec participated in joint air patrol at western border.

November 2021

Europe & Central Asia

Belarus

Tensions surrounding migrants on Polish-Belarusian border escalated, while govt continued crackdown on opposition and civil society. Migration dispute with Poland drastically worsened amid dire humanitarian conditions for migrants and refugees. Warsaw 8 Nov estimated 3,000-4,000 migrants seeking to reach its territory from border with Belarus, as Warsaw same day increased border troops to 12,000. Migrants and Polish forces 16 Nov clashed, as former threw stones and Polish authorities used tear gas; Poland same day claimed Belarus provided migrants with stun grenades. Clashes resurged 20-21 Nov as Lukashenko 22 Nov said: “We understand that if we go too far, war is unavoidable”. Russia and Belarus 12 Nov held military exercise, including two Russian nuclear-capable bombers. President Lukashenko 12 Nov threatened to cut natural gas supply that transits via Belarus from Russia to EU; however, Russian President Putin 13 Nov reaffirmed respect of transit contracts. In response, EU 15 Nov included Belarusian transport operators in existing sanctions and agreed on “5th package of sanctions”; U.S. special envoy for Belarus 22 Nov announced “more sanctions pressure is coming soon”. Poland and Lithuania 14 Nov reportedly considered consultations on NATO’s Article 4. German Chancellor Angela Merkel 15 Nov and 17 Nov held conversations with Lukashenko; govt 17 Nov moved migrants to shelters and began deporting hundreds of individuals back to Iraq. Meanwhile, authorities continued repression on dissenting voices. Minsk court 1 Nov reportedly sentenced opposition TV channel Belsat representative to 15 days prison; interior ministry 3 Nov labelled Belsat as “extremist formation”. Gomel City Court 3 Nov sentenced two Vyasna human rights centre members to imprisonment; Vyasna and 17 national and international human rights groups same day accused govt of “cleanup of civil society”. Authorities 10 Nov launched probe against “extremist” opposition group BYPOL, comprising former police officers. Minsk Court 23 Nov outlawed “extremist” Nasha Niva, oldest newspaper in country.

October 2021

Europe & Central Asia

Belarus

Authorities continued crackdown on dissent and restricted space for civil society groups, while ties with Western countries deteriorated further. Following late Sept house raid by security forces that resulted in shootout, which left one civilian and one security officer dead, authorities 6 Oct announced detention of 136 individuals over social media comments criticising intelligence agency for incident. Authorities next day launched criminal probe against news outlet Tut.by for allegedly inciting social hatred and discord. Supreme Court 1 Oct ordered closure of Belarusian Helsinki Committee, one of country’s remaining two human rights groups. Court 5 Oct sentenced former Colonel Alyaksey Syankou to two years in prison over participation in Aug 2020 mass protests. Ministry of interior 15 Oct classified Telegram channel of exiled opposition leader Svyatlana Tsikhanouskaya as “extremist”, threatening subscribers with fines or jail time. Authorities 25 Oct removed licence of opposition lawyer Natallya Matskevich; 28 Oct cut access to several news networks, including Deutsche Welle, alleging media outlets spreading “extremist” content. Amid migration dispute between EU states and Belarus, Polish Border Guards 8 Oct accused Belarusian forces of firing “probably blank ammunition” across border; Belarus’ Border Guard Committee rejected alleged use of weapons. Polish interior minister 12 Oct announced plan to construct “solid, high barrier” on Polish-Belarusian border, while Poland 19 Oct doubled border contingent to 6,000 soldiers. German Federal Police 13 Oct claimed 4,300 migrants entered Germany through “Belarus Route”. After govt mid-Aug demanded U.S. to reduce embassy staff in Belarus, Belarusian New York City consulate 21 Oct closed at request of U.S.; France’s ambassador 17 Oct left Belarus following govt’s request. Govt 20 Oct notified U.S. of forced closure of its embassy’s Public Diplomacy and Agency for International Development offices.

September 2021

Europe & Central Asia

Belarus

Authorities continued sentencing of opposition figures, while Russia boosted its support for govt. Authorities 6 Sept sentenced leading opposition figures Maryya Kalesnikava and Maksim Znak to 11 and ten years’ imprisonment, respectively; rulings prompted strong condemnation from EU, UK, Germany and U.S.. UN Special Rapporteur 7 Sept described “terrible repression” inside country and crackdown on human rights groups had hindered human rights monitoring. 23 international and Belarusian human rights organisations 17 Sept demanded release of members of Viasna human rights centre. President Lukashenka 1 Sept said country would soon receive large quantity of military hardware from Russia. In fifth face-to-face meeting this year, Lukashenka 9 Sept met Russian President Putin in Russian capital Moscow where pair agreed additional loans for Minsk and announced unified gas market. Russian and Belarus military forces 9-16 Sept held large-scale Zapad 2021 military exercises in multiple locations across country. Polish President Duda 2 Sept announced state of emergency in areas close to Belarussian border amid surge in recent months of migrants and asylum seekers; Poland 20 Sept deployed 500 additional troops to border, citing “well-organised action directed from Minsk and Moscow”. Latvian border authorities 8 Sept said over 1,000 people had illegally entered country in past month. During visit to France, opposition leader Svyatlana Tsikhanouskaya 15 Sept urged President Macron to take “decisive action in solving the Belarus crisis”.

August 2021

Europe & Central Asia

Belarus

Amid new Western sanctions to mark first anniversary of disputed presidential election, govt continued crackdown on dissent and allegedly lent support to border crossings of illegal migrants. Authorities continued to target opposition, independent media and civil society. Notably, Prosecutor-General’s Office 3 Aug ordered closure of four NGOs, bringing total number of civil society organisations shut since mid-July to over 60. Authorities 6 Aug sentenced opposition leader Mikalay Kazlou to three months’ imprisonment for disclosing confidential information; police 11 Aug detained over 20 members of opposition Skhod initiative, next day detained presidential candidate of 2020 election Andrey Dzmitryyeu; police 26 Aug reportedly arrested youth opposition leader Dzyanis Urbanovich and two associates. International NGO Committee to Protect Journalists 12 Aug also called on govt to immediately release journalist sentenced on 2 Aug to 18 months imprisonment for allegedly insulting President Lukashenka and two police officers; court 13 Aug designated prominent news outlet Tut.by and its associated website as “extremist”; police 18 Aug detained staff and searched offices of news agency BelaPAN in capital Minsk. Marking first anniversary of disputed election in which Lukashenka claimed victory, U.S., UK and Canada 9 Aug unveiled additional financial sanctions, including against businesspeople, state-owned companies and Belarusian National Olympic Committee. Foreign ministry 11 Aug requested U.S. reduce its embassy staff to five people by 1 Sept and revoked consent to appoint ambassador. Amid surge in illegal crossings of asylum seekers and migrants that transited from Iraq to Lithuania, Poland and Latvia via Belarus, EU 10 Aug welcomed Iraq’s decision to suspend flights to capital Minsk. Lithuanian President Nauseda 13 Aug deployed armed forces to border, while U.S. Deputy Sec State Wendy Sherman same day called on Lukashenka to “immediately halt a campaign of orchestrating irregular migrant flows across its borders”. German Chancellor Angela Merkel 17 Aug accused govt of using crossings as “hybrid way to undermine security”, while EU interior ministers 18 Aug held emergency meeting, accusing Belarus of conducting “direct attack aimed at destabilizing and pressurizing the EU”.

July 2021

Europe & Central Asia

Belarus

Opposition leader Svyatlana Tsikhanouskaya sought greater U.S. support as govt stepped up crackdown on independent media. Opposition leader Svyatlana Tsikhanouskaya visited U.S. capital Washington and 28 July met U.S. President Biden who declared U.S. “stands with the people of Belarus in their quest for democracy and universal human rights”; earlier, Tsikhanouskaya 19-20 July met U.S. Sec State Antony Blinken and U.S. National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan, said she had requested U.S. “to be the guarantors of our independence” and “politically pressure the regime”. Meanwhile, authorities 8-9 July raided offices of multiple media outlets, reportedly arresting 32 individuals. NGO Human Rights Watch 15 July accused govt of “massive, unprecedented raids and detentions against the Belarus human rights community” after authorities arrested at least 12 activists across ten cities previous day. Belarusian Association of Journalists, largest media association in country, 21 July said ministry of justice had filed lawsuit at Supreme Court in attempt to “liquidate” organisation. Court 27 July labelled Polish-funded news channel Belsat “extremist”, ordering its website and social media accounts be blocked. Lithuanian FM Gabrielius Landsbergis 2 July accused govt of seeking “to weaponize migration to weaken our resolve for sanctions” and Lithuanian PM Ingrida Šimonytė 7 July accused Belarusian govt of offering migrants from third countries flights to capital Minsk in order to transit across border into Lithuania; in letter to EU member states publicised 29 July, EU Home Affairs Commissioner Ylva Johansson described developments on border as “unacceptable instrumentalization of people for political purposes”; Lithuania border services 27 July revealed that over 2,300 migrants had been detained in July along border with Belarus, bringing number of detained migrants since Jan 2021 to 3,027 – compared to 81 in 2020.

June 2021

Europe & Central Asia

Belarus

Western countries announced additional sanctions on govt, while opposition called for greater international pressure. After authorities forcibly diverted passenger aircraft in May and arrested Belarusian critic, U.S. Sec State Antony Blinken 3 June announced termination of business dealings with nine state-owned enterprises. EU ambassadors 4 June agreed to ban Belarusian airlines from using EU airspace or airports. U.S., UK, Canada and EU 21 June announced sanctions, including asset freeze and travel bans, and in joint statement said: “We are united in calling for the regime to end its repressive practices against its own people”. Govt 28 June suspended participation in EU’s Eastern Partnership initiative; EU Council President Charles Michel same day said decision “will escalate tensions further”. U.S. 29 June prohibited sale of passenger flight tickets between U.S. and Belarus. Opposition leader Svyatlana Tsikhanouskaya 8 June urged international states to impose tougher sanctions on govt, saying: “We can block the regime economically so that it won’t be possible to pay the police and the military”. President Lukashenka 8 June signed into law amendments to criminal code that strengthen punishment for criticising govt or participating in anti-govt rallies. Court in capital Minsk 10 June sentenced four individuals associated with presidential campaign of opposition figure Viktor Babaryka to five years’ imprisonment for their alleged role in anti-govt protests last year.

May 2021

Europe & Central Asia

Belarus

Amid ongoing repression of opposition and independent media, authorities sparked international condemnation after forcibly diverting passenger flight to arrest critic. Authorities 23 May scrambled fighter jet to forcibly divert passenger flight headed for Lithuania to land in capital Minsk, citing bomb threat; upon landing, security forces detained opposition activist and journalist Raman Pratasevich, sparking international outcry and condemnation from U.S., NATO, UK and EU and its member states, among others; in response, EU heads of state 24 May imposed new sanctions on President Lukashenka’s govt while U.S. 28 May announced forthcoming sanctions. Russia’s refusal to allow flights bypassing Belarus to enter its airspace fuelled speculation that Moscow might be mulling ban in support of Minsk that would risk escalating incident into larger East-West standoff; President Putin’s spokesman 28 May said Russian air traffic controllers were working to resolve what was technical issue. Meanwhile, Chyhunachny district court 4 May sentenced four associates of exiled opposition leader Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya to six-and-a-half years imprisonment for role in organising 2020-2021 anti-govt protests. Authorities targeted independent media, arresting and, in numerous instances, sentencing journalists to prison terms. Notably, police 19 May raided office of well-known independent news site Tut.by and homes of several of site’s editors, accusing organisation of avoiding tax; Tsikhanouskaya 18 May called arrests “planned attack on our journalists & media” while U.S. State Dept same day said raids were “systematic effort to stifle independent voices and punish journalists”. Opposition continued efforts to rally international support. Tsikhanouskaya 6 May called on U.S. to “use its diplomacy to further isolate Lukashenko” and 9 May urged Finland to take lead in initiating roundtable talks between govt and civil society.