This week on War & Peace, Olga Oliker and Hugh Pope talk to Belarusian expert Yauheni Preiherman about the outlook for Belarus's President Aleksandr Lukashenka after his crackdowns on dissidents, EU sanctions, and a recent standoff with European countries over refugees trapped on the Belarus-Poland border.
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.
Sanctions send a signal to Belarus and the international community of EU states’ frustration with a fraudulent election.
Thousands of people looking to enter the European Union have massed at the Belarusian frontier with Poland. In this Q&A, Crisis Group expert Oleg Ignatov explains how the events relate to tensions between Belarus and its ally, Russia, on one side, and Western governments on the other.
In this week’s episode of Hold Your Fire!, Olesya Vartanyan, Crisis Group’s senior South Caucasus analyst, opens up about how the recent flare-up in Nagorno-Karabakh is affecting her personally. It could be the “big war” between Armenia and Azerbaijan that everyone was dreading would happen.
President Aliaksandr Lukashenka’s government is teetering after he declared victory in a rigged 9 August vote. Protests have exploded. Moscow, Brussels and other stakeholders should avoid transforming the Belarus crisis into a European one, cooperate to warn against repression and insist on new, fair elections.
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