A day after Belarus registered a record-breaking number of COVID-19 infections, an authoritarian leader Lukashenka overruled his own health officials to scrap the newly established mask mandate. Belarusians still remember the Lukashenka’s “useful” advice at the beginning of the pandemic about fighting the infection with the help of “vodka and tractors”. This time, the list is expanded by a bizarre suggestion that Coronavirus somehow helps to reduce the number of new cancer patients. In a mean time, routine medical care is suspended as Belarusian health care is struggling with another wave of COVID infections.
Belgium is leading the block of several E.U. countries to advocate for easing sanctions on Belarus' potash sector in order to ease financial impact from having to look for alternative sources.
German Interior Minister Horst Seehofer pledged to work with different countries to stop their airlines from flying migrants into Belarus. The effort is made more difficult by the recent change in the Belarusian laws that now allow visa-free entry from countries like Iran and Pakistan, while removing the United States from that list. The minister also mentioned that he did not believe the roots of the problem lay in Belarus itself. He named Russia as a likely co-sponsor of the migrant crisis initiative, as it seeks more ways to destabilize the situation in the E.U.
Background: In the past months, tens of thousands of migrants mainly from the Middle East and Africa have been lured by the Lukashenka regime to fly to Belarus on tourist visas, and then travel onward to the E.U. borders of Poland, Lithuania, and Latvia. More than 20,000 crossings have been stopped and at least seven people reportedly died. According to the E.U., the artificial migrant influx is orchestrated by Russian and Belarusian states to destabilize and infiltrate Western democracies. The three E.U. nations have described this human trafficking, paired with active anti-West propaganda as “hybrid” warfare.
Tougher sanctions, canceling more flights from the countries of origin are some measures considered to make it harder for Lukashenka to operate his illegal migrant smuggling ring. The key challenge at the moment is to get all member nations to agree to the approach.
Poland is increasing the number of soldiers guarding the border area with Belarus from 3000 to 6000, as it experiences a surge in illegal border crossings from Belarus.
As many European countries accuse Belarus and Russia of encouraging the migration to trigger instability within the bloc, Germany has offered assistance to Poland with a proposal to provide troops for patrolling the Belarus border. Most of the migrants are bound for Germany and get smuggled there by trucks once they cross from Belarus.
Polish divers found the body of a 19-year-old Syrian man in the river Bug on the Polish-Belarusian border in the midst of the migrant crisis instigated by the Lukashenka’s regime. The man’s identity was confirmed, and an investigation will be conducted into his death.
The security services of the E.U. member nations suspect that destabilizing the political situation in Europe through hybrid migrant warfare on Belarus-E.U. border may not be the only goal on the Lukashenka’s agenda. Russia also appears to be using the crisis to send its agents to the European Union, as Russian nationals are among those attempting to illegally cross the border between Belarus and Lithuania.
Repressions in Belarus
Background: The Lukashenka regime ruthlessly and methodically continues to repress anyone who has been participating in last year’s protests and is exhibiting any signs of disenchantment with the regime. Since October 16 the number of political prisoners has risen to 821 people. Below are examples of the regime’s retaliation against its people for exercising their human rights. More information about the scale of repressions and deterioration of the human rights situation in Belarus could be found at Viasna Human Rights Center, Belsat Channel & Amnesty International.
According to PEN Belarus, who is observing implementation of rights of cultural workers, the pressure and repressions on cultural workers is only increasing since August 2020, taking new forms as well as encompassing a wider range of subjects in the Belarusian cultural sphere.
Repressions on free journalists continue in Belarus as the authorities raid the offices of yet another independent newspaper “Novy Chas”. Equipment was confiscated, additionally, apartments of some journalists were searched as well. The raid comes at a time when 28 journalists are already in Lukashenka’s jails.
According to the report published by Coalition for Women in Journalism (CFWIJ), attacks increased by 16.7% in Europe in 2021 compared to year before. Belarus is identified as the country with the highest number of violations, followed by Russia.
Belarus and Russia
Russian Defense Minister Sergey Shoigu announced that Russia and Belarus had developed a new joint “military doctrine of the Union State in response to the confrontation with Western countries.” Military cooperation between Belarus and Russia will include the “Shield of the Union” exercises in 2023.
Russia’s role in the Belarusian crisis illustrates its role as “the world’s leading exporter of instability.”
Belarus and India
Speaking in an exclusive interview to WION’s Palki Sharma, Belarus leader Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya urged India to not back Lukashenka, adding that Belarus’ political future will be decided by its own people, not Putin’s Russia.
The founder of the Gulagu.net Human Rights group has identified a Belarusian IT engineer Syarhey Savelyeu as a man who leaked 2 terabytes of video materials with images of torture in Russian penitentiaries by agents of the Federal Security Service (FSB) and Federal Penitentiary Service (FSIN).