What Is Happening in Belarus?

In August of 2020, Belarus’ President, Aleksandr Lukashenko, ran for presidency for the fifth straight time. Twenty-six years ago, Lukashenko was elected as the first President of Belarus and has continued throughout his rule to stand in the way of democracy, human rights, and economic freedom. He has changed the Constitution numerous times, jailed political opponents, and tried to the remnants Soviet Union under his rule. Lukashenko has often been referred to as “the last dictator of Europe” by the West. The Belarusian people stood by and watched this take place and did not have much say in what they see as the future of Belarus. COVID-19 was the last straw for the people of Belarus. Since Lukashenko decided that the virus was not real and that if people continue to drink vodka and go to saunas, they will be okay, people were reminded that they were not protected by their government and were not safe. With no quarantine in place, the Belarusian people are now at their boiling point.

Opposition to Lukashenko was always present, but it was not always vocal, as people usually feared for their lives. As the elections were approaching, the two candidates that were running against Lukashenko, Viktor Babariko and Valery Tsepkalo were both unfoundedly jailed. Sergei Tikhanovsky, an anti-government video blogger, wanted to put forth his candidacy after these incidents but was not allowed by the election committee and was also jailed for his outspoken criticism of the regime in Belarus. His wife, Svetlana decided to assume his role and signed up to run for the president of Belarus working with Babariko’s and Tsepkalo’s campaign managers to create a united opposition majority in the country. The unity party included leadership from Tsepkalo’s wife, Veronika, and Babariko’s campaign manager, Maria Kolesnikova. It is noteworthy that the reason why the Belarusian election committee let Svetlana register was because she was a proclaimed housewife and nobody in the regime thought she would be a threat. As the elections were approaching, the opposition put a self-counting system in place to make sure

that there was an election monitor called Golos that tracked the number of votes for each candidate and how many people voted to have proof if the elections were falsified.

On August 9th, 2020, Aleksandr Lukashenko was declared as the President of Belarus, once again for his sixth term. Anticipating what was to come, the police placed a blockade around the city of Minsk to keep people from protesting in the capital. The internet access was shut down on mobile and home devices to prevent people from using the Golos app and coordinating protests in the city’s center. The government clarified that there was a denial-of-service attack that originated outside of Belarus, but IT specialists claimed that it was regime-based, and Lukashenko had cost the economy $170 million for the three days that the internet was shut down.

In the aftermath, Belarus has been in chaos for the last two months. Protests and marches are occur every day on the streets of major cities, with the biggest in Minsk. The protests have gained international recognition due to OMON, Belarus’ riot police, ill-treating protestors by beating and torturing them and taking them to the detention center, Okrestina, which is known for the brutal torturing of the people who have been jailed for mostly peaceful protests. Women have been raped and beaten. Tikhanovskaya was ordered to give a message after the elections, that people could tell that it was scripted.

The international community of the West, including the European Union and the United States, has stopped recognizing Aleksandr Lukashneko as the legitimate president of Belarus and has placed much of his government under sanctions. Poland and the Baltic States have also started to accept political refugees from Belarus. Russia, on the other hand has congratulated Lukashenko on his win in the elections and Vladimir Putin has continued to meet with Lukashenko throughout the last three months of protests. In these meetings, the situation in Minsk has not been discussed. Putin did approve of the changes in the constitution that Lukashenko once again touched in September. Lukashenko keeps claiming that the protests are orchestrated by the West, which include the U.S. and EU. He has also told Mike Pompeo that Russia is, and will continue to be, his closest ally.

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October 20 – October 27

Welcome to ICRC’s weekly briefing covering conflicts in Georgia, Armenia, Azerbaijan, Moldova, and Ukraine. This week, the U.S.-brokered ceasefire in Nagorno-Karabakh fails, the Ukrainian President addresses the nation, and Moldova prepares for presidential elections.

Abkhazia/South Ossetia

CoE Reinforces Georgia’s Sovereignty for the Seventh Time
The Council of Europe issued its seventh resolution stating the Russian Federation inhibits peaceful conflict resolution in Abkhazia and South Ossetia due to increased military exercises in the region. The Committee urged Kremlin to withdraw troops from Abkhazia and Tskhinvali and abide by Ceasefire Agreements ratified on Aug. 12, 2008.

Abkhaz Officials Respond to Georgian President Remarks on Abkhaz Language Day 
On Oct. 27, Georgian President Salome Zurabishvili said Georgia has a responsibility to preserve the Abkhaz language and linguistic diversity. Kremlin-backed Abkhaz officials responded that Georgian leadership facilitated the erosion of Abkhaz identity, citing Abkhaz statehood as the only way to preserve their cultural heritage.

Former Abkhaz De Facto VP Calls for Union with Russia and Belarus
Valery Arshba, former Abkhaz “vice-president,” said Abkhazia should unite with Russia and Belarus to avoid “further destruction of the nation.” Arshba also criticized Aslan Bzhania’s de facto administration for economic cooperation with Georgia.
Sources: Agenda GE, COE, Civil Georgia


New Russian Naval Drills Reported in Crimea
Russian Defense Ministry reported conducting military exercises with Air Defense Forces of the Black Sea Fleet. Ships on duty were tested for combat readiness using anti-aircraft missile weapons. Putin’s Press Secretary Dmitry Peskov said Ukrainian creation of naval bases is a potential danger to Russian Federation, justifying reoccurring military drills.
Tatars Call for OSCE Monitoring Mission to Crimea Amidst COVID-19 Concerns
The Mejlis of the Crimean Tatars urged the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe to expand its mission to Crimea. Chairman of the Mejlis Refat Chubarov raises concerns about the absence of accurate COVID-19 reporting, discrimination in hospitals, and lack of health updates of illegally detained activists in Crimean prisons.
Ukrainian Government Will Not Negotiate Water Supply to Crimea
Oleksiy Reznikov, Deputy Prime Minister for Reintegration of Temporarily Occupied Territories, stressed that no negotiations on reopening water supply to the Crimean Peninsula will be considered by the Ukrainian government. Reznikov maintains that water shortage is a result of increased Russian militarization.
Russia Illegally Launches Archaeological Excavations in Crimea
The Foreign Ministry of Ukraine condemns Russian “Crimean War” archaeological excavations in Alma Valley and the city of Sevastopol. The Ministry cited the Convention for the Protection of Cultural Property in the Event of Armed Conflict and UNESCO provisions as grounds for the preservation of Ukrainian historical heritage. 
Sources: 112 UA, Ukrinform, Interfax Ukraine, UNIAN


Congressional Ukraine Caucus Concern About Nord Stream 2 Sanctions 
Congressional Ukraine Caucus expressed concern about the possibility of the 2021 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) annulling sanctions against the Russian natural-gas pipeline to Europe called Nord Stream 2. Members believe that vague language regarding sanctions can “water down” the Protecting Europe’s Energy Security Clarification Act (PESCA) that widens sanctions for pipelines from Russia to Germany.

OSCE Reports 154 Ceasefire Violations in Donetsk, 10 in Luhansk
From Oct. 20–27th the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe reported 154 violations of the ceasefire agreements in Donetsk and 10 in Lugansk. The mission observed 27 weapon violations beyond withdrawal lines in non-government-controlled areas, which include residential areas.

OCHA Reports Over Seven Thousand COVID-19 Cases, Wildfires in Luhansk
UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs reported 12,140 COVID-19 cases in eastern Ukraine with 7,559 confirmed cases and 537 deaths in Donetsk and Luhansk oblasts. Wildfires in government-controlled areas of Lugansk damaged about 500 houses, 1,800 outbuildings, and 60 vehicles since Sep. 30. Fires spread rapidly because of heavy mine and explosive contaminations of the forest.

No Local Elections Take Place in Donetsk, Luhansk, and Crimea 
Non-government-controlled regions of Donetsk, Luhansk, and Crimea were unable to elect mayors and local councils.OSCE monitored polling locations on Oct. 25th during local elections in government-controlled areas, where only 10 percent of voters declared their vote for Volodymyr Zelensky’s party “Servant of the People.” Polls predict that 60 percent of Ukrainian voters planned to vote for Russia-friendly parties such as “Opposition Platform – For Life.”

Zelensky Announces Amnesty for Separatist Citizens After Reunification
President Volodymyr Zelensky announced to the Ukrainian Parliament that when separatist territories reunify with Ukraine, they will be granted amnesty to ensure safe reintegration. Transition period laws will not apply to those who had committed murder or other crimes against civilians. Zelensky noted that people who gave up Crimea “without a fight” in 2014 will face punishment. Vice Prime Minister of Reintegration of the Temporarily Occupied Territories of Ukraine, Oleksiy Reznikov estimates that the reintegration of Donbas will take 25 years.
Source: OCHA, OSCE, Yahoo! News, Office of the President of Ukraine, Ukrinform, RFE/RL


Third Attempted Ceasefire Falls Apart
A U.S.- brokered a humanitarian ceasefire between Armenia and Azerbaijan went into effect on Monday, only to collapse amid renewed shelling and military operations near the town of Terter, Armenia. Both sides have accused each other of violations while maintaining their own innocence. The now-failed ceasefire is the third attempt by outside powers to halt the hostilities, which began on Sep. 27th.
Azerbaijan Reports Armenian Attacks on Barda, Killing Over 20 Civilians
Azerbaijani authorities are accusing Armenia of launching a rocket strike on the town of Barda, which resulted in 21 civilian deaths and 70 injured. Armenia denies responsibility and reports that an Azerbaijani rocket hit a maternity hospital in Nagorno-Karabakh resulting in no casualties.

Concerns of COVID-19 Spread Amid Fighting
Doctors in the Nagorno-Karabakh region are warning that COVID-19 is spreading unchecked throughout the enclave following the heavy fighting. The strained health infrastructure in Stepanakert/Khankendi, already struggling to contain the virus before the outbreak of hostilities, has been overwhelmed by the influx of wounded civilians into hospitals. Many public health workers are forced to provide medical care or conduct surgeries while suffering from COVID-19 symptoms. 

Erdogan Proposed Joint Effort with Putin for Karabakh Peace
Following the failure of the U.S. ceasefire, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said he suggested a collaborative peace effort with Russian President, Vladimir Putin. Putin’s spokesman Dmitry Peskov denied Erdogan’s claim of Turkey-Russia negotiations.
U.S. Secretary of State Meets with Armenian and Azerbaijani Ministers
U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo hosted top diplomats from Armenia and Azerbaijan in Washington last week to negotiate the now-failed ceasefire. Both sides reiterated their openness to dialogue, despite the continued heavy fighting on the ground. Azerbaijan expressed the necessity to end what it calls the “Armenian occupation” of Nagorno-Karabakh, clarifying that such a conclusion could be reached politically rather than militarily. Secretary Pompeo emphasized that the top priority was the cessation of hostilities to protect civilian lives.
Sources: BBC, AP, Bloomberg, RFE/RL


Moldova Is Choosing Between Russia and EU at Upcoming Presidential Elections
Moldovan presidential elections will take place on Nov. 1st and incumbent pro-Russian President Igor Dodon is facing former Prime Minister Maia Sandu. The former PM said Moldova must resolve its corruption problem to normalize relations with the EU, Romania, and Ukraine. The candidate warned about Russian intervention in elections, falsifications via the illegal purchase of votes in Transnistria, and potential Belarus-type protests.
JCC Meeting on Transnistrian Security Cancelled Again
Human rights violations worsen in Transnistria following another Joint Control Commission meeting cancellation for the third consecutive week. Representatives from Moldova and Transnistria would have discussed illegal border checkpoints, restrictions on free movement, and reports of kidnappings in Tiraspol. Earlier, OSCE reported a rise of abusive detentions, arrests, and intimidation in the unrecognized republic. Moldovan delegation fears that reoccurring JCC meeting cancellations negatively affect peacekeeping mechanisms established during 1992 ceasefire agreements. 
Sources: Euronews, Moldova.org

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October 12 – October 19

Welcome to ICRC‘s weekly briefing covering conflicts in Georgia, Armenia, Azerbaijan, Moldova, and Ukraine. This week, the international community responds to a new cease-fire agreement in Nagorno-Karabakh, Russia withdraws from the MH17 investigation, and Ukraine signs military partnership with Turkey.

Abkhazia/South Ossetia

EU Representative Visited Abkhazia to Discuss COVID-19 Situation
European Union’s Special Representative for the South Caucus (EUSR) Toivo Klaar visited Tbilisi and Sokhumi following Russian refusal to participate in the 51st round of Geneva Talks. Klaar discussed violations of Georgian human rights in Sokhumi and Tskhinvali and Russian provocations with Georgian officials. During his meeting with Abkhaz ‘foreign minister,’ Kaar reportedly discussed the COVID-19 situation in the region. 
South Ossetia Continues Border Delimitation with Russia
South Ossetian de facto leader Anatoliy Bibilov participated in a border delimitation committee with Russian officials where he exclaimed that the unrecognized republic is not a part of Russia and is not separate from North Ossetia. Earlier, on Sep. 29th NATO Secretary-General Jens Stolberg called on Russia to end its recognition of Abkhazia and South Ossetia.
Sources: Civil.ge, Sputnik, RFE/RL


EU Denounces Military Recruitment in Crimea 
On Oct. 15th, the European Union condemned the military conscription of Crimean residents, citing that Russia is violating international law and Ukrainian sovereignty by illegally integrating Crimea and Sevastopol. The EU continues to denounce the annexation of the peninsula. 
Poland and Ukraine Sign a Joint Declaration on Crimea
Polish and Ukrainian presidents signed a declaration further ensuring the continuation of Polish-Ukrainian relations, shared opposition to the Russian occupation of Crimea, and outlined Poland’s next year’s presidency of the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE). 
Turkey and Ukraine Sign Military and Economy Partnership
Turkish and Ukrainian presidents signed a “goodwill” agreement for the defense industry and military framework. Details of the agreement are not available but involve talks on protecting the Ukrainian position at the Black Sea against Russia. 
Ukraine Calls OSCE to Expand Monitoring to Crimea
Ukrainian Permanent Representative to the International Organizations in Vienna Yevhenii Tsymbaliuk called to expand OSCE’s Special Monitoring Mission (SMM) to include Crimea and Sevastopol. Tsymbaliuk said Russian resistance towards OSCE missions must be recorded on the basis of Crimean international recognition as part of Ukraine.
Kremlin Allocates $ 65 Million to Supply Water to Annexed Crimea
Russian Prime Minister Mikhail Mishustin allocated 4.95 billion rubles ($ 65 million) for the distribution of water from the Belbek River and an additional $ 11 million for repairs of water pipelines. Crimean reservoirs experienced severe drought due to low rainfall over the summer. Previously, Ukraine supplied 85% of Crimean freshwater until Russia annexed the peninsula in 2014.
Sources: RFE/RL, Polske Radio, Ukrinform, Associated Press, government.ru


Russia Stops Participating in MH17 Talks
Russia announced it will cease consultations with Australia and the Netherlands on the downing of a Malaysian Airlines passenger flight over the Donbas region in 2014. In a statement on Oct. 15th, the Russian Foreign Ministry cited Dutch “unfriendly” conduct as the reason for their refusal to continue cooperating in the investigation.

OSCE Reports 94 Ceasefire Violations in Donetsk
From Oct. 12th to Oct. 18th the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe reported 94 violations of the ceasefire agreements in Donetsk and five in Lugansk. Five civilians were injured by coming into contact with explosive devices.

US Indices Six Russian Intelligence Hackers Involved in Destabilizing Ukraine
The Justice Department charges Russia intelligence officials responsible for hacking the Ukrainian Parliament, finance ministry, and electrical grid. The attack left 200,000 residents without electricity. Russian hackers were also responsible for infiltrating French elections and the 2018 Winter Olympics. 

US Supports Ukrainian Stance on Elections in Donbas
US Department of State agreed with Ukraine’s decision to postpone elections in Donbas until Kyiv reestablishes control over the eastern border.

Ukraine Plans New Checkpoints in Lugansk
Minister for Reintegration of the Temporary Occupied Territories Oleksiy Reznikov said Ukraine plans to open new checkpoints in Schastye and Zolote, adding four more points of disengagement of forces and equipment, and 19 location of humanitarian demining. 

Sources: RFE/RL, OSCE Report, The New York Times, 112 UA


Armenia and Azerbaijan Reach Second Cease-Fire Agreement
On October 17th, Yerevan and Baku announced a humanitarian truce mediated by France, Russia, and the United States. The agreement allows for the exchanges of prisoners and remains of the dead. Both sides accused each other of violating the agreement within minutes, with Armenia reporting Azerbaijani artillery strikes and Baku claiming Yerevan launched two rocket attacks towards the Jabrayil region.
EU Releases a Statement Welcoming Cease-Fire Agreements
European Union’s High Representative/Vice President Josep Borrell announced that the EU welcomes humanitarian truce in Nagorno-Karabakh but remains alert about the agreement violations. EU calls for a strict cease-fire on both sides and reinstates that no attacks on civilians will be justified. 
Casualties Reach Over 500 Dead and 5,000 Wounded
Armenian officials reported a death toll of 673 soldiers since September 27th. Baku does not release information about its military casualties. Azerbaijan had said 14 civilians were killed and over 40 were wounded after two rockets hit apartment buildings in the city of Ganja. Azeri officials added that approximately 250 Azeris were injured throughout the conflict. The current civilian death toll in Nagorno-Karabakh is 34 with 106 wounded. Over 6 journalists have been injured reporting from the frontlines. 
UN Secretary-General Charges Baku and Yerevan to Uphold the Truce
Antonio Guterres denounced attacks on civilian localities in Ganja, Stepanakert/Khankendi, and other areas in Nagorno-Karabakh. UN chief has said he regrets that both sides disregarded repeated calls for an immediate cease-fire under international law. 
Pompeo to Host Armenian and Azerbaijani Foreign Ministers 
Secretary of State Mike Pompeo is scheduled to separately meet with Armenian and Azerbaijani foreign ministers this Friday. Armenia’s ambassador to the US praised Pompeo for his earlier remarks about Turkish involvement in supplying weaponry to Azerbaijan on Oct. 15th.
Iran Warns Armenia and Azerbaijan About Stray Fire
Iran’s Foreign Ministry alerted Armenia and Azerbaijan to cease stray fire after ten rockets reportedly destroyed a building and wounded one person in Iran’s county of Khoda Afarin.
Azeri Officials Deny Allegations of Syrian Mercenary Involvement 
Azerbaijan and Turkey continue to deny allegations about the presence of Turkish-backed Syrian mercenaries after major publications interviewed families of 52 dead Syrian men. Azeri and Turkish officials call allegations “Armenian provocation” citing lack of evidence and earlier French and Russian support for Armenia in the Minsk Agreements. Earlier, French and Iranian presidents alongside Russian intelligence officials issued statements supporting the allegation without presenting substantial proof. 
UNICEF Appeals for Upholding Truce Agreement, Citing Civilian Suffering 
UNICEF appealed for the implementation of a cease-fire agreement stating that children, families, and civilian facilities must be protected under international and humanitarian laws.
Sources: Reuters, The New York Times, The Guardian, Polish Press Agency, RFE/RL, NPR, Aljazeera, UN News, Politico, Wall Street Journal, EU External Action, UNICEF


Transnistrian Officials Want to Resume Talks with Moldova
Transnistrian ‘foreign minister’ Vitaly Ignatyev announced that Transnistria wants to participate in 5+2 format talks to resolve issues relating to the Berlin Plus package, an agreement between the EU and NATO. Since July 2020, both sides announced that they were ready for settlement talks.
Source: TASS

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