These times have been busy for the rogue state of Belarus.
In recent days, opposition activist Vitaly Shyshov has been found dead – hanging from a tree in a park in the Ukrainian capital Kiev – in what is now officially a murder case. Shyshov led an NGO that helped Belarusians escape the ever-growing repression in their country, having fled in 2020. Olympic 200m sprinter Krystsina Tsimanouskaya narrowly escaped being boarded a plane back from Tokyo , and obtained a humanitarian visa by Poland. And EU Home Affairs Commissioner Ylva Johansson of Sweden traveled to Lithuania to try to do something against the smuggling of migrants organized by the Belarusian state to its neighbor (the government in Minsk has been accused of having organized flights from Baghdad to Belarus: the migrants are led by guides to the border, and the whole operation is announced on social networks).
Is there a model? The hijacking of a Ryanair flight in May and the arrest of social media activist Raman Pratasevich warned all opponents abroad that they would never be safe. Leaked documents and tapes showed that Belarusian leaders plotted killings in Germany in 2012. In the same year, what is still known as the Belarusian KGB was reportedly recorded referring to another emigrant, the journalist. Pavel Sheremet, like “a huge pain in the ass”, saying “the president is waiting for these operations”. The murder of Sheremet by a car bomb in Kiev in 2016 remains unclear. According to another leak, President Alexander Lukashenko threatened to build concentration camps with barbed wire in Belarus. Since his arrest, Pratasevich has featured not once but several times in what are in fact hostage videos on Belarusian television, alongside his increasingly hysterical propaganda about armed coups and chimerical plots against the life of the president.
Lukashenko may not have read many of Richard Nixon’s biographies, but he seems to be testing the President’s “crazy” foreign policy theory, that unpredictability and thoughtless behavior are in fact an asset, destabilizing them. opponents and even the allies. In that case, the looser EU states will worry whether the sanctions currently in place against Belarus are worth it. President Vladimir Putin also appears to be a target. He and Lukashenko have met on several occasions since the fraudulent elections and mass protests of August 2020; but Putin has repeatedly refused to write him a blank check. Another reason to provoke a conflict with the West is to bring Putin closer.
The Belarusian pirate state is now a multiplied thug. Coercion is so far off the scale that the West does not know how to react. As of June 2021, there are reportedly 526 political prisoners in prison, with nearly 4,700 show trials since last year’s mock elections. The UN special rapporteur on human rights for Belarus, Anais Marin, told the Security Council that 35,000 people have been arrested since August 2020. There is a growing refugee crisis: people like Pratasevich, who was based in Warsaw, Shyshov and now Tsimanouskaya. These are just three of the tens of thousands who have left Belarus since August 2020. The unpredictability of foreign policy is everywhere. In June, Belarus left the EU’s Eastern Partnership, of which it had been a founding member since 2009. In July, Lukashenko closed the border with Ukraine, citing stories of non-existent arms smuggling and threatening to open a second front in the Ukrainian war with Russian proxies. in the East. Lukashenko threatened to flood the EU with drugs as well as migrants.
Economic hacking could be next. The economy is in a state of day-to-day survival, but there are disturbing reports that the surviving elite are taking over everything that pays off. The Russian word for it is reiderstvo – not just corporate raids, but a physical takeover. A moribund economy would exacerbate the refugee problem and the regime’s siege mentality.
What is there to do? On August 3, Boris Johnson met opposition leader Sviatlana Tikhanouskaya at No 10, but her warm words that the UK was “on your side” didn’t translate much. Bellingcat online investigators said they would look into the Shyshov case. Belarusian dissidents need adequate protection when they are abroad. Lithuania needs help to control its forest border. The deaths in Kiev of Shychov and Cheremet underscore the importance of helping Ukraine reform and modernize its security forces. The UK helped train the Ukrainian army – a bill is currently before the Ukrainian parliament to reform the SBU, Ukraine’s overpowered but often incompetent and corrupt security service. The UK is also expected to review the London-based assets of Russian and Belarusian oligarchs who support the regime.
Whether his folly is calculated or not, the country’s dictator can no longer be allowed to act with such impunity. Although while protecting ourselves and other states, we must not forget that the biggest problems are for Belarusians themselves.