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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.
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”.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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”.
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.
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”.
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”.
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.
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”.
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”.
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.”
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.
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.
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.
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”.
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”.
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.
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.
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.
Opposition leader called for greater international support while President Lukashenka claimed assassination attempt and U.S.-backed coup plot. Following low ebb of opposition protests in recent months, opposition leader Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya 20 April described level of repression in Belarus as “unprecedented” and called on EU to be “faster and braver” in its actions against govt. In sign of possible splintering of opposition unity, former diplomat Pavel Latushko 8 April announced separate political party. Lukashenka 17 April claimed assassination attempt was being prepared against him and his two sons as well as military coup by “a group of foreign secret services, probably the CIA and the FBI” and approved “by the top political leadership” in U.S.; Russian security services same day reported they detained two individuals allegedly planning military coup in Belarus. Chair of Central Election Commission 27 April said referendum on constitutional amendments promised by Lukashenka likely to take place in early 2022.
Opposition leader sought to reignite anti-govt protests and announced bid to hold talks with govt amid concerns over ongoing crackdown on dissent. In attempt to restart anti-govt protests that began after disputed presidential election in Aug 2020, exiled opposition leader Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya 18 March called for “second wave of protests” to begin 25 March; police 25 March reportedly arrested over 200 protesters. Tsikhanouskaya 18 March said UN and Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe were “ready to organize a platform and act as mediators, as well as to force the regime to negotiate” and announced online poll aimed at delivering democratic mandate for pursuing talks with President Lukashenka; as of 19 March, over 450,000 people had signed poll. General Prosecutor’s Office 5 March said it filed extradition request with Lithuania for Tsikhanouskaya’s return to Belarus; Lithuanian FM next day responded that “hell will first have to freeze over before we consider your requests”. Tsikhanouskaya 17 March addressed U.S. House Foreign Affairs Committee and urged U.S. to apply pressure on govt by expanding sanctions to include “judges, state-owned enterprises, security officers, oligarchs” and other officials. Prosecutor General 29 March opened terrorism investigation into Tsikhanouskaya alleging plot to conduct arson and plant explosives in capital Minsk and other cities. Lukashenka 2 March said: “The [new] constitution… we will adopt in January-February next year. And that is all that the transfer of power will be about”, and 19 March said: “There will be other presidents. I can guarantee this”. Meanwhile, UN special rapporteur on the situation of human rights defenders 19 March expressed concern over “increasing crackdown against human rights defenders in Belarus” amid reports of “raids on offices, arrests of human rights defenders and the hampering of lawyers’ work”; authorities 22 March reportedly detained leader of opposition United Civil Party. U.S. House of Representatives’ Human Rights Commission 13 March called on Minsk to immediately release jailed blogger Ihar Losik who has been detained since June 2020.
While protests over disputed Aug presidential elections continued, opposition leader raised challenge of sustaining momentum amid crackdown. Protests took place on 7, 14, 19, 20, 21 and 28 Feb calling for President Lukashenka’s resignation; police detained dozens. In Brest city, protesters 14 Feb formed human chains holding national flag and chanting “We are together, and we are strong”. Protesters 21 Feb took to streets in capital Minsk in solidarity with detained journalists and political prisoners. Demonstrations 7 Feb held in Russia, Ukraine, Italy, Germany and Estonia marked international day of solidarity with Belarus. Opposition leader Svyatlana Tsikhanouskaya 19 Feb noted that “we have lost the streets, [and] we have no opportunity to fight the violence of the regime”, but she raised prospect of greater organisation in Spring. NGO Human Rights Watch 17 Feb stated that law enforcement previous day conducted nationwide raids targeting human rights defenders and activists, searching their homes and offices and detaining at least 40. UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet 25 Feb submitted report to UN Human Rights Council describing “human rights crisis of unprecedented dimension” in country; court same day jailed protester Aliaksandr Kardziukou for ten years for attempted murder of police officer and found protester Henadz Shutau, who was killed by security forces in Aug 2020, guilty of disobeying police order.
Mass protests over disputed Aug presidential elections continued. Hundreds of people 3, 10, 17, 23 and 31 Jan protested in capital Minsk, calling for President Lukashenka’s resignation; police detained dozens. Notably, police 23 Jan arrested around 100 people in Minsk who formed human chains in demonstrations demanding free and fair elections. Prosecutor General Andrey Shved 4 Jan announced proposed changes to legislation to strengthen prosecution powers to ensure nobody “who had endangered the public order …would get away from strict responsibility”. Authorities 6 Jan extended pre-trial detention of opposition leader Maryya Kalesnikava until 8 March; Kalesnikava was arrested in Sept 2020 and charged with calling for action aimed at damaging national security. Belarus opposition leader Svyatlana Tsikhanouskaya 9 Jan met with Lithuanian FM Gabrielius Landsbergis to secure support for opposition; Tsikhanouskaya 18 Jan announced that she requested Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe’s (OSCE) support to secure her safety when she returns to Belarus and called for OSCE-facilitated talks between EU, Lukashenka and opposition to resolve crisis.
Mass protests over disputed Aug presidential elections continued. Thousands throughout month protested in capital Minsk, calling for free and fair elections and challenging govt’s Nov ban on mass demonstrations. Police 6 Dec arrested more than 300 people during protests, using water cannons, armoured vehicles and military trucks to disperse crowds; police 13 Dec detained 135 people and 20 Dec arrested over 100 demonstrators during opposition protests. Hundreds 27 Dec marched in Minsk demanding resignation of President Lukashenka amid heavy police presence; police detained 13 protesters. U.S. 23 Dec sanctioned four entities and 40 individuals for role in disputed election, while EU 17 Dec imposed third round of sanctions targeting seven entities and 29 individuals. Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe 4 Dec urged govt to cancel results of disputed Aug election, immediately cease all violence against peaceful protesters and organise new presidential elections. Belarus opposition leader Svyatlana Tsikhanouskaya 16 Dec received European Parliament’s 2020 Sakharov Prize for Freedom of Thought in Brussels on behalf of opposition Coordination Council. Prosecutor General’s Office 22 Dec opened criminal case against Tsikhanouskaya, accusing her and Coordination Council of forming extremist group to overthrow govt.
Mass protests continued throughout month following disputed Aug presidential elections. Thousands of people throughout month demonstrated in capital Minsk, demanding President Lukashenka’s resignation as police used teargas, water cannons and rubber bullets to disperse protesters; police 8 Nov arrested record 1,000 people who participated in mass demonstrations across country. Opposition supporter and children’s art teacher Raman Bandarenka 12 Nov died in hospital after plain-clothed security forces previous day detained and reportedly beat him at opposition rallying point “Square of Changes” in Minsk; govt 13 Nov denied responsibility for Bandarenka’s death, claiming it was result of street brawl. Thousands 12-15 Nov gathered in Bandarenka’s memory, forming human chains and marching on streets; police 15 Nov used teargas and water cannons to disperse protesters. Hundreds of retirees 23 Nov protested against Lukashenka in Minsk, holding portraits of Bandarenka; more than 1,000 pensioners 30 Nov also gathered in capital as police detained a dozen. Belarus opposition leader Svyatlana Tsikhanouskaya 1 Nov called on EU to step up sanctions against Lukashenka regime. UK FM Dominic Raab 5 Nov called for fresh presidential elections in Belarus, following independent report confirming that Aug election was “falsified” and exposing human rights violations committed by Lukashenka regime; govt 9 Nov expelled from Belarus two British diplomats who observed Sunday street protests in Minsk; UK next day retaliated by expelling two Belarus diplomats. EU 13 Nov warned that it could expand its sanctions on Lukashenka following Bandarenka’s death, describing Belarus authorities’ actions as “outrageous and shameful”. Lukashenka 27 Nov said he will resign when new constitution is adopted.
Mass demonstrations continued following disputed Aug presidential elections, resulting in clashes with police and large-scale arrests. Mass protests of thousands of people, including more than 100,000 on 4 Oct, 11 and 18 Oct demanded resignation of President Lukashenka and freedom for political prisoners, at which police turned water cannon, used tear gas, fired rubber bullets into air; hundreds arrested. In unprecedented move, Lukashenka 10 Oct visited detained opposition members in prison, talking with them over period of four hours; opposition leader Svyatlana Tsikhanouskaya same day said “event is a result of our pressure.” Interior ministry 12 Oct permitted police to use firearms against protesters “if need be”. After Tsikhanouskaya next day threatened mass workers’ protest if Lukashenka refused to resign by 25 Oct, over 100,000 anti-govt protesters 25 Oct marched in capital Minsk. Lukashenka next day ignored ultimatum, prompting factory workers, business owners and students to go on strike while thousands continued to rally in Minsk; dozens of factory workers and students subsequently fired and expelled for joining strikes. Russian Interior Minister Vladimir Kolokoltsev 7 Oct announced that Russia put Tsikhanouskaya on its wanted criminals list for “criminal charge”. Meanwhile, EU member states 1 Oct agreed to impose sanctions on about 40 govt officials, excluding Lukashenka, on grounds of flawed presidential election; in response, govt 2 Oct accused EU of “striving towards deterioration of relations”, announced retaliatory sanctions and cancelled accreditation of all foreign journalists. After Lukashenka 9 Oct demanded Poland and Lithuania scale down their diplomatic missions, eight European countries, including UK and Germany, 5-9 Oct recalled ambassadors from Minsk in solidarity. European Parliament 22 Oct awarded Sakharov Prize for human rights to democratic opposition in Belarus, led by Tsikhanouskaya.
Mass demonstrations continued following disputed Aug presidential elections, leading to clashes with police and numerous arrests. Tens of thousands continued to gather throughout month in capital Minsk to demand President Lukashenka step down after disputed Aug vote; police clashed violently with demonstrators, detaining hundreds. In response to call from opposition leader Svyatlana Tsikhanouskaya, thousands of students 1 Sept boycotted start of school year and staged marches collecting signatures calling on Lukashenka to resign; security forces detained seven journalists covering protests and 4 Sept arrested five university students protesting in capital Minsk. After govt late Aug detained third member of opposition Coordination Council, other council member Pavel Latushka 2 Sept fled to Poland. Masked men 7 Sept reportedly detained protest leader Maria Kolesnikava in Minsk and 8 Sept attempted to forcibly expel her from country across border with Ukraine; masked men 9 Sept also detained opposition leader Maxim Znak. Lukashenka 8 Sept said he would not step down but remained open to early presidential elections. UN Human Rights Council 14 Sept confirmed it would hold urgent debate on human rights situation in Belarus. U.S. 4 Sept deployed 500 troops and 40 tanks to Lithuania near border with Belarus for pre-agreed two-month deployment; Russia and Belarus throughout month held joint military drills in Brest region near border with Poland. Head of Russian Foreign Intelligence Service Sergei Naryshkin 16 Sept accused U.S. of “poorly disguised attempt” to organise coup in Belarus. Russian President Putin 14 Sept confirmed after talks with Lukashenka that Russia would lend $1.5bn to Minsk. Lukashenka 23 Sept sworn in for new term, prompting thousands to take to streets; police fired water cannon to disperse crowds and arrested hundreds; Pavel Latushka same day called on protesters “to immediately start a civil disobedience campaign”; U.S., UK, Germany, European Parliament and Canada were among actors that refused to recognise Lukashenka. UK and Canada 29 Sept imposed sanctions on Lukashenka, his son and eight senior officials. French President Macron 29 Sept said he hoped mediation will begin soon.
Mass demonstrations erupted in run-up to and following disputed presidential elections, leading to clashes with police and large-scale arrests. Mass protests against President Lukashenko’s bid for sixth term continued ahead of 9 Aug election: police 8-9 Aug launched violent crackdown on thousands of protesters in capital Minsk. Central Election Commission 10 Aug declared Lukashenko winner with 80% of votes, while opposition candidate Svyatlana Tsikhanouskaya received 9.9%; opposition same day rejected result, accusing govt of rigging vote and calling for dialogue on peaceful transfer of power. Tsikhanouskaya 11 Aug fled to Lithuania following alleged threats from govt. Thousands took to streets in following weeks including in Minsk, Brest, Grodno, Vitsebsk and other cities demanding Lukashenko step down; police fired tear gas, rubber bullets, stun grenades and used batons to disperse crowds, killing at least three and detaining thousands; protesters in return set up barricades in several areas of Minsk. UK and U.S. 10 Aug expressed grave concern over violence and flawed election; EU foreign policy chief 10 Aug called for immediate release of detainees while UN human rights chief 12 Aug described detentions as “clear violation of international human rights standards”; Belarus govt 13 August issued apology for use of force and released over 2,000 protestors. Lukashenko 15 Aug said “Russia will provide comprehensive assistance to ensure the security of Belarus”; Kremlin 19 Aug said Russia saw no need for intervention for time being. Lukashenko 17 Aug refused to hold new elections while expressing readiness to share power; Tsikhanouskaya’s representative next day announced launch of Coordination Council with aim of negotiating transfer of power; Lukashenko denounced move as “attempt to seize power” and court 25 Aug sentenced two high profile members of Council to ten days in jail. EU 19 Aug announced intention to impose sanctions on individuals; Russian FM 25 Aug warned EU and U.S. against move. Defence ministry 23 Aug warned protestors that army would respond to any “violation of order” near presidential residence; tens of thousands same day gathered peacefully near residence. Supreme Court 25 Aug rejected Tsikhanouskaya’s appeal to annul election results.
Mass demonstrations continued in lead-up to Aug presidential elections, leading to sporadic clashes with police and large-scale arrests. Amid President Lukashenko’s bid for sixth term in office, which triggered major demonstrations in June, Central Election Commission (CEC) 14 July confirmed registration of five presidential candidates for 9 Aug elections, including Svyatlana Tsikhanouskaya - wife of video blogger and former presidential candidate Syarhey Tsikhanouski who was incarcerated in May for taking part in unsanctioned rally; CEC also barred nine other candidates from running, including main opposition candidates Viktor Babariko and former Ambassador to U.S. Valery Tsepkalo; Tsepkalo’s campaign said Tsepkalo would challenge ruling in court. Several hundred protesters 14 July gathered in capital Minsk to protest CEC’s barring of Babariko and Tsepkalo, while social media reported protests in Brest and Gomel cities; in Minsk, violent clashes same day erupted between police and demonstrators, with police reporting arrest and detention of over 250 protestors; NGO Amnesty International 15 July condemned police’s “excessive and unnecessary use of force.” Around 2,500 Babariko supporters next day protested against decision to reject candidacy outside CEC building in Minsk. Representatives of Babariko and Tsepkalo 17 July united behind registered candidate Svyatlana Tsikhanouskaya to “defeat” the “long-time dictatorial regime”; united opposition parties 19 and 24 July held three mass rallies of about 5,000 people in Minsk, Dzyarzhynsk and Vitebsk, urging voters to cast ballots for Tsikhanouskaya. Tens of thousands 30 July rallied in Minsk in support of Svyatlana Tsikhanouskaya in reportedly largest campaign rally to date. Tsepkalo campaign officials 24 July confirmed Tsepkalo had fled to Russia. Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe 15 July said it had not received invitation to monitor Aug election while Commonwealth of Independent States 20 July confirmed it would deploy monitoring mission. Security Council Secretary Andrey Ravkov 29 July confirmed arrest of 33 suspected Russian mercenaries on allegations that they entered country to “destabilise the situation during the election campaign”.
Major demonstrations erupted across country opposing President Lukashenko’s attempt to run for sixth term in August election, and police arrested dozens of opposition members and protesters, including main opposition candidate. Following end of May protests of 1,000 demonstrators in capital Minsk against his bid for sixth presidential term, Lukashenko 1 June announced that he would not allow “any colour revolutions” and banned protests until 9 August presidential election. Hundreds of opposition supporters 6-7 June rallied in Minsk and other cities in attempt to collect 100,000 signatures necessary to register alternative independent presidential candidates. Belarusian human rights NGO Vyasna 19 June reported police arrested over 40 activists and prominent members of opposition, including opposition leader Mikalay Statkevich, and leader of non-registered opposition Belarusian Christian Democratic Party Paval Sevyarynets; those arrested subsequently detained for taking part in “unsanctioned rallies”. Authorities 18 June arrested main opposition presidential candidate Viktor Babariko on suspicion of financial crimes, including allegations of tax evasion and money laundering while he was head of Belgazprombank (local unit of Russia's Gazprombank); Babariko’s campaign team same day called allegations “absurdity” and released pre-recorded video message from Babariko proposing return to 1994 constitution, including limit on presidential terms. Several thousand protestors 18-20 June joined opposition rallies in Minsk, Gomel, Babruysk, and Vitebsk in solidarity with Babariko; police reportedly arrested over 100 protestors and journalists in Minsk and dozens in other cities. Lukashenko 19 June said that govt had thwarted plan of political forces “both from the West and from the East” to destabilise country, while Babariko same day said actions taken against Belgazprombank were part of intimidation campaign conducted on “political orders”; EU 19 June called on govt to release Babariko immediately, and urged authorities to ensure “meaningful and competitive political contest” in August election. U.S. Congressman Alcee Hastings, head of U.S. Helsinki Commission, 25 June said Belarusian authorities made free and fair election “impossible” due to arrests and intimidation throughout month. Lukashenko 3 June dismissed current govt under PM Sergei Rumas and named former head of state military-industrial committee Roman Golovchenko as new PM; Lukashenko described move as “a natural process” to “determine an almost final composition of the government” ahead of election.
Govt 10 May held large military parade in capital Minsk to mark 75th anniversary of Victory in Europe Day despite COVID-19 outbreak, prompting domestic and international criticism; President Lukashenko 4 May said he refused to set up protective measures or to cancel parade partly because people “would say we were scared”; former head of state Stanislav Shushkevich condemned decision as “not only ignorance, but a crime” while former parliament speaker Mechislav Grib compared Lukashenko’s remarks with Soviet attitudes “when human life was not valued”. NGO Committee to Protect Journalists reported that foreign ministry 6 May cancelled accreditations for two journalists reporting on COVID-19 outbreak for disseminating “information that did not correspond with the reality”. In line with commitment made during Feb visit of U.S. Sec State Pompeo to Belarus, U.S. sent first ever crude oil shipment to Belarus.
Following settlement of dispute over price of Russian oil supplies in March, Russian oil company Transneft 6 April resumed crude oil supplies to Belarusian refineries, ending freeze that began 1 Jan. President Lukashenko 13 April asserted “no one would die of coronavirus in our country”, stating that govt had found “combinations of drugs to save people” and refuting Health Ministry’s figures showing that virus had already killed 29 people.
Months-long oil supply contract dispute with Russia which began in Jan settled amid global crash of oil prices, and following expressions of support for Minsk from other countries including UK, Poland and U.S.. PM Rumas 11 March stated sudden global decline in oil prices had given Minsk more space in oil supply negotiations with Kremlin; Russia 23 March increased discount on prices as initially requested by Minsk, with Russian oil companies confirming they stood ready to restore supplies in full as soon as 1 April.
Amid heightened tensions with Russia following President Lukashenko’s declaration in Jan that Belarus would seek oil elsewhere following halt of Russian oil supplies, U.S. Sec State Pompeo 1 Feb said during historic visit to Minsk that U.S. stands ready to deliver all Belarussian oil needs at competitive prices. Lukashenko and Russian President Putin 7 Feb met in Sochi, Russia, but failed to reach agreement on oil supplies; Lukashenko 14 Feb was quoted saying that during Sochi meeting, Russian leadership had hinted at “incorporation of Belarus [into Russia] in return for unified energy prices”. Amid shortages of crude oil and oil products, state energy company Belneftekhim 11 Feb started tapping oil from Russia’s Druzhba pipeline to Europe. Lukashenko 14 Feb said Belarus would siphon off oil from Druzhba pipeline unless Moscow restarted supplies of crude oil. In sign of potential progress in talks, Lukashenko 21 Feb said Putin had offered $300mn to compensate for Belarus’s reported $330mn loss in 2019 that resulted from 1 Jan 2019 change in Russian oil taxation. Russia 21 Feb said proposals by Russian companies had been sent to Minsk laying out pricing of future oil supplies and that Moscow was ready to keep same oil supply terms as in 2019; Lukashenko 21 Feb said “it was an unexpected proposal”.