Trials of Sannikov and Bondarenko
On 26-27 April trials of a former presidential candidate Alexander Sannikov and his proxy Dmitry Bondarenko opened. The latter was sentenced to 2 years of minimum security prison term.
As we have anticipated, 19 December aftermath trials follow the line of softening of the charges. The first penalties to active participants of the demonstration in Minsk were the most severe (up to 4 years of imprisonment), while the charges against many other senior organizers of the protests were changed in the course of the investigation to the Article 342 of the Criminal Code. D. Bondarenko was sentenced to a 2-year prison term under the Article 342 which envisages imprisonment up to 3 years.
Charges against Sannikov Statkevich and Uss remained unchanged, i.e. Article 293 of the Criminal Code (mass rioting), which implies imprisonment up to 15 years. The Belarusian Ministry of Internal Affairs previously issued a statement, that investigators had sufficient evidence proving the involvement of these politicians in the organization of rioting, therefore one should expect the most severe punishment in their regard. The trail of Andrey Sannikov is expected to resume on 4 May.
President Lukashenka has met with the head of Chechnya Ramzan Kadyrov, who visited Minsk and the Minsk Automobile Plant. Minsk has always sought to have independent links with Russian regional elites, partially, to compensate for the Kremlin's diminishing interest in Belarus. In recent years, Belarus’ contacts with the Russian regions have been extremely intense. However, with some leaders of Russian regions, primarily heads of large republics, communication was more difficult to build. As many analysts in Minsk suggested, Minsk could regard contacts between President Lukashenka and the head of Chechnya as an additional communication channel for relieving tension in relations with the Kremlin. However, most likely, a trusting relationship with Kadyrov is a value for Minsk as such, provided Kadyrov’s broad business and political interests, and a high degree of autonomy for the Chechen leader from the Kremlin.