Massive Repressions of Belarusians Continue. Belarus Watch #25

April 26, 2022
Read a new issue of a bi-weekly newsletter with monitoring of Russian activities and influence in Belarus to know more.
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RECENT POLICY DEVELOPMENTS

Lukashenka's meeting with Putin at the Vostochny Cosmodrome

On April 12, Putin and Lukashenka met at the Vostochny Cosmodrome in the Russian Far East in order to "inspect" the construction of this facility. The official goal of this meeting was to discuss the space cooperation between Belarus and Russia — Belarusian specialists will take part in the construction of the Vostochny Cosmodrome and the two countries intend to collaborate on the development of a new satellite. According Putin and Lukashenka, Moscow and Minsk will form the infrastructure in the space sphere and will create a "joint satellite grouping" in space. This completely secondary "space" topic dominated the official agenda of the meeting despite the ongoing war in Ukraine and its economic impact  on the economies of Belarus and Russia. In front of the cameras, they demonstrated unity, spoke about the Russia and Belarus Union State, actions against sanctions, and shared plans for how they together will finish the Cosmodrome building.

In line with Russian propaganda, Lukashenka called the mass killings of peaceful civilians in Bucha, Ukraine, a "psychological special operation conducted by the British".

Lukashenka's statements on relations with Russia

Visiting the Russian Far East, Lukashenka made a number of statements describing current relations between the two countries. According to him, Belarus and Russia have already implemented over 30% of all integration plans, which should be realized by 2023. Lukashenka also noted that Russia is willing to support Belarusian oil refineries, which appear in a very problematic situation after the introduction of Western sanctions and the loss of the Ukrainian market.

A "traditional" contradiction appeared between Putin and Lukashenka regarding the vision of Belarusian-Russian integration. For example, Putin spoke about the "trinity" of the Belarusian, Russian and Ukrainian peoples — according to him, "we do not distinguish where Russia ends and Belarus begins". Meanwhile, Lukashenka presented an opposite vision for the integration — in his words, Belarus and Russia should form "the unity of two independent states".

Makey's diplomatic Letter: "We need to rethink the paradigm of Belarus-EU relations"

Uladzimer Makey, Belarusian Foreign Minister, sent a letter to his counterparts in the EU saying that Belarus has not been involved in hostilities in Ukraine and will not be dragged into a war. Minister Makey complained that sanctions "never help to reach the desired target" and calls the policy of international organizations on Belarus a "witch hunt", asking his colleagues in the EU to re-establish (again) a dialogue with the West.

Putin awarded Kachanava with the Order of Friendship

According to the official sources, on April 18, Natalya Kachanava, Speaker of the Council of the Republic of Belarus, received an award from the Russian dictator in appreciation of a personal investment he made in Russian-Chinese cultural-humanitarian cooperation.

CIVIL SOCIETY

Massive repressions of Belarusians, who stand against the Russian invasion in Ukraine, continue

The Human Rights Center "Viasna" informs about massive repressions against Belarusians who express their opposition to the Russian invasion in Ukraine. In the middle of April, Viasna reported that about 1,500 people have been detained for anti-war activities nationwide. Most of them are charged with administrative offenses and receive fines or are arrested for couple of days. Some activists suffer criminal prosecution.

Russia extradited one more participant of the protests in Belarus in 2020

The citizen of Homel who had been prosecuted for countering police in protests on August 10, 2020 fled to Russia, in order to avoid the punishment. In mid-April 2022, the Russian Public Prosecutor's Office satisfied the Belarusian Prosecutor's Office's request and extradited the 25-year old man to Belarus, where he is currently in jail, awaiting the court's ruling.

CHURCH

Priests continue to be persecuted for demonstrating solidarity with Ukraine. Andrey Keulich, Dean of Mahiliou Catholic Church Office was detained on April 17, 2022 for showing the colors of the Ukrainian Flag on his avatar on Facebook.

On April 20, the home of a Baptist pastor from Minsk Vitaly Chychmarou was raided by police and the pastor was detained, Human Rights Center "Viasna" says.

ENERGY

Gas

Belarus and Russia have completely abandoned the dollar exchange rate in the gas pricing mechanism and set a fixed price until the end of 2022. "Today, the price for gas, for a thousand cubic meters of gas at the border of the Republic of Belarus, is fixed until the end of the year," said Yury Nazarau, Deputy Prime Minister of the Republic of Belarus. The Deputy Prime Minister again did not mention the price. Initially, it was determined in US dollars and amounted to $128 per thousand cubic meters. In 2023, the parties intend to work on new pricing principles. "The first half of the year is to work out the pricing mechanism within the framework of the Union State. Today, we have established comfortable, understandable and transparent conditions," Nazarau added.

Oil

Belneftekhim expects that Belarus and Russia will switch to quoting oil prices in Russian roubles. This was stated by the Belneftekhim Deputy Chairman Sviatlana Huryna. "To date, an effective mechanism for calculating in national currencies has already been developed and tested in practice. We actively use it when paying for oil and other hydrocarbon raw materials with our counterparties," she said. As a result, the company expects that not only will they pay for oil in Russian roubles, but the price will also be formed in this currency, and not in dollars. "Ultimately, we expect to achieve a transition to pricing in Russian roubles with our main trading partners. This will allow us not only to make payments timely and secure, but will also help to minimize the risks associated with currency fluctuations and lower costs in foreign trade operations," Huryna said.

"Due to EU sanctions, Belarus has switched to oil refining operations only for the needs of the domestic market", said Deputy Prime Minister of the Republic of Belarus Yuri Nazarau. "Under the conditions of restrictions, including sanctions, due to which we cannot supply to the European Union, we have optimized oil refining at our two refineries to meet the needs of the domestic market," Nazarau said. He claims that agreements have been reached with Russia on a comfortable oil price. "In this situation, we have agreed with the Russian side on oil pricing, and we have an absolutely comfortable price. The issue has been resolved," the Deputy Prime Minister added.

Electricity

Russia and Belarus agreed on a draft international agreement on the formation of a unified electricity market. This was stated by Russian President Vladimir Putin on April 12, 2022 after a meeting with Alyaksandandar Lukashenka. The launch of the common energy market will take place in 2024. In 2025, it is planned to launch a common market for all the countries of the Eurasian Economic Union (includes also Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan and Armenia), the rules of which "are in the active phase of development." Formally, Russia and Belarus have the opportunity to trade electricity now and without a special agreement. Belarus traditionally bought about 3 billion kWh from Russia to cover the energy deficit until 2018. However, later Belarus refused to import, calling Russian electricity too expensive, and even began to independently export it.

Belarus again began to buy electricity from the Russian Federation in the fall of 2021. The Ministry of Energy of Belarus claimed that they resumed imports on a temporary basis, "based on economic feasibility" and against the backdrop of an increase in electricity consumption in the republic. However, in 2020, even without a working nuclear power plant, Belarus still recorded an electricity surplus.

A special trade agreement may give Minsk a chance to start selling surplus nuclear power plant energy to the Russian Federation. The first nuclear power unit was put into commercial operation in July 2021, and the second, according to Vladimir Putin, is planned to be commissioned before the end of this year. The cost of the nuclear power plant was estimated at $9 billion, with the construction being financed by a $10 billion Russian loan. However, in Russia there is no need for surplus energy from Belarus -- indeed, imports in large volumes can lead to a decrease in the load of Russian power plants in the unified energy system of the Center which would, in turn, reduce their revenues.

HEALTHCARE

A validation batch of the Sputnik Light vaccine has been released in Belarus. It has been sent to Russia for quality control, the press service of the Ministry of Health reported on April 18. The Belmedpreparaty enterprise has completed the next stage in the implementation of the joint Belarusian-Russian project for the production of the Sputnik Light vaccine against the COVID-19 infection in full cycle. The Belarusian enterprise Belmedpreparaty has been producing Sputnik V since last year, and on April 14, 2021, the Ministry of Health approved its use in Belarus. At the moment, the vaccine is still bottled from a semi-finished product.

Earlier, Prime Minister of Belarus Raman Halouchenka said that the Sputnik V vaccine, on a full cycle, will go into circulation in the summer of 2022, and the output will be about 10 million doses per year. Director General of the Republican Unitary Enterprise "Belmedpreparaty" Siarhey Belyaeu later clarified that both "Sputnik V" and "Sputnik Light" will be available to the general public.

MILITARY AND LAW-ENFORCEMENT AGENCIES

Lukashenka's return to the "peacemaker" role

On April 7, 2022 Lukashenka made a number of important statements regarding the Belarusian position towards the war in Ukraine. According to him, Belarus was labelled by the West as an "accomplice of the aggressor" without any evidence, so the anti-Belarusian economic sanctions were unjustified. In this way, it is possible that Lukashenka will try to repeat his "traditional" trick, trying to re-establish political and economic relations with the West by presenting himself as a "regional peacemaker". In an apparent effort to this end, Lukashenka demanded that Belarus be added to the ongoing peace talks between Russia and Ukraine.

Evidence has emerged that on April 6, 2022, Belarusian Foreign Minister Makey sent a letter to Brussels (see the respective news above) with an appeal to return to dialogue and end the anti-Belarusian "witch hunt". In this way, it is possible that the official Minsk is trying to escape the responsibility for the war and present itself as a "neutral" country willing to improve relations with the EU.

Ongoing withdrawal of the majority of Russian units from Belarus

Since the beginning of April, the Russian Army has been actively withdrawing its soldiers and military equipment from the territory of Belarus. There is ample evidence of the movement of trains and columns transporting Russian equipment out of Belarus. The process of withdrawal has been slow as visible sections of the Russian military vehicles appeared damaged or in a poor technical state. The Russian Army is also withdrawing the ammunition previously delivered to Belarus. For example, a train moving explosives from the Luninets Airbase to Smolensk was detected. There is evidence that the Russian field hospitals in Belarus have ceased their work and the Russian Army doctors have left Belarus. As of April 14, the majority of Russia's aviation left the Belarusian air bases, though some planes and helicopters remain in the country.

Part of the Russian forces is staying in Belarus

So far, it is unclear whether a part of the Russian Ground Forces will remain on the territory of Belarus or if all Russian units will be withdrawn from the country. It is highly probable that part of the Russian aviation and missile units (Iskander complexes) will stay in Belarus in order to keep harassing Ukraine with the strikes from the North.

For example, the Russian Army continues to deliver missiles and ammunition for its fighter jets stationed at the Baranovichi Airbase. It is also possible that the Russian missile units based in Belarus were recently used for the attacks against Ukraine.

Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya addressed the international community, demanding the withdrawal of Russian troops from Belarus

The Russian troops remaining in Belarusian territory will be a source of turbulence in the region and their remaining in Belarus contradicts Belarusian Constitutional neutrality, Tsikhanouskaya said.

Incidents with the Russian Army in Belarus

The Belarusian independent media confirmed the information that at the beginning of April, a car with two Belarusian KGB officers patrolling the border area was blown up by a mine set up by the Russian soldiers in the wrong place. As a result of this explosion, a KGB lieutenant colonel Andrey Reutsky died — he was buried in Mazyr on April 5.

The "Railroad Partisans" shot at by Belarusian security services

Recently, the Belarusian security functionaries detained a group of the "Railroad Partisans", who destroyed railway equipment in order to slow down the movement of trains moving the Russian military equipment. It appeared that one or two of the detained partisans were purposefully shot in their knees.

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