Targeted repressions demonstrate threat of punishment for illegal cooperation with foreign organizations
On August 21st - 22nd, Sovetskaya Belorussiya, the Presidential Administration newspaper, published two pieces about the convicted youth activist Andrei Gaidukov.
Law enforcement agencies specifically demonstrate the imminent threat of punishment for illegal cooperation with foreign organizations to different social groups. Such actions by law enforcers hamper the Foreign Ministry’s political maneuvers in the West.
The publication of evidence in Gaidukov’s case by Sovetskaya Belorussiya continues the tradition started after December 19th, 2010, when the same newspaper published confidential financial and programmatic documents seized from defendants in the mass riots case. This time, the newspaper published extracts from correspondence, allegedly between Gaidukov and the CIA European Office, regarding potential collaboration.
According to the prosecution, the Belarusian KGB was communicating with Gaidukov on behalf of the CIA, thus dragging the 20-year-old young man into an investigative experiment which resulted in Gaidukov’s criminal prosecution. On July 1st, Andrei Gaidukov, leader of the unregistered organization “Young Intellectuals Union”, was sentenced to one and a half years in prison on charges of attempting to establish cooperation with foreign special services.
Another case, which entailed punishment for attempting to cooperate with foreign states, occurred in June with Tatyana Zelko, chairman of “Our Generation”, an unregistered pensioners organization. The woman was fined for receiving foreign aid to conduct political and mass agitation activities. During the trial the detention details were disclosed: Mrs Zelko was arrested by the KGB Department for Financial Investigations officers as she walked out of the Slovak Embassy in Minsk with 1,453 Euro in cash. Zelko was awarded a 50 basic units fine (BYR 5,000,000 or circa USD 560) and 1,453 Euro were confiscated.
These developments point to a coordinated targeted repressions strategy against members of specific social groups. In particular, seniors are one of the target groups in the EU programme “Dialogue on Modernization with Belarusian Society”. Previously, a massive information attack was organized against independent experts participating in the programme. Finally, youth movements have traditionally been a major focus of the Belarusian special services, and the KGB in particular. In this regard, it is noteworthy that Sovetskaya Belorussiya has launched its series of publications just before the school year starts, in early September.
In addition, the State Control Committee’s Financial Investigation Department (FID) is actively counteracting illegal foreign funding of non-governmental organizations in Belarus. The most notorious case led by the FID was the examination of “Viasna” human rights Centre’s financial activities, which eventually resulted in a 4.5 years prison term for its leader Ales Bialiatski.
Objectively, such actions by the Belarusian security forces hamper the Foreign Ministry’s attempts to normalize Belarus’ Western foreign policy. Foreign governments and international organizations reacted predictably negatively to the Gaidukov case. And the Foreign Ministry’s position in negotiations with the EU and the U.S. has weakened, since Belarus not only failed to fulfill the demand to release political prisoners, but also - in the eyes of the West - enhanced repressions.
Over the past year, military-political relations between Minsk and Kyiv have become complicated. Due to their high inertia and peculiarities, this downward trend would be extremely difficult to overcome.
The root cause of the crisis is the absence of a common political agenda in the Belarusian-Ukrainian relations. Minsk is looking for a market for Belarusian exports in Ukraine and offers its services as a negotiation platform for the settlement of the Russo-Ukrainian war, thereby hoping to avoid political issues in the dialogue with Kiev. Meanwhile, Ukraine is hoping for political support from Minsk in the confrontation with Moscow. In addition, Ukraine’s integration with NATO presupposes her common position with the Alliance in relation to Belarus. The NATO leadership regards the Belarusian Armed Forces as an integral part of the Russian military machine in the western strategic front (the Baltic states and Poland). In addition, the ongoing military reform in Ukraine envisages a reduction in the number of generals and the domestic political struggle makes some Ukrainian top military leaders targets in politically motivated attacks.
Hence, the criticism of Belarus coming from Ukrainian military leadership is dictated primarily by internal and external political considerations, as well as by the need to protect the interests of generals, and only then by facts.
For instance, initially, the Ukrainian military leadership made statements about 100,000 Russian servicemen allegedly taking part in the Russo-Belarusian military drill West-2017. Then the exercises were labelled quazi-open and military observers from Ukraine refused to provide their assessment, which caused a negative reaction in Minsk. Further, without citing specific facts, it was stated that Russia was building up its military presence in Belarus.
Apparently, the Belarusian and Ukrainian Defence Ministries have entangled in a confrontational spiral (on the level of rhetoric). Moreover, only a small part of the overly hidden process has been disclosed. That said, third states are very likely to take advantage of the situation (or have already done so). This is not only about Russia.
The Belarusian Defence Ministry officials are restrained in assessing their Ukrainian counterparts. However, such a restraint is not enough. Current military-political relations between Belarus and Ukraine are unlikely to stabilise without the intervention of both presidents.