During a meeting with defence minister Andrei Raukou on 20 March, president Alexander Lukashenka demanded 'absolute transparency' at the forthcoming West-2017 Belarusian-Russian military exercise. The Belarusian government is working to counter the negative repercussions of such a massive show of military force in the region.
These repercussions have certainly been felt. On 9 February, Lithuanian president Dalia Grybauskaitė stated that during the West-2017 exercises 'aggressive forces are concentrating in very large numbers, this is a demonstrative preparation for a war with the West.'
On 22 March, Alexander Lukashenka revealed an extraordinary discovery – the authorities had arrested armed fighters who were planning to overthrow the government on 25 March, the day when the Belarusian opposition traditionally celebrates Freedom Day with mass rallies.
The fighters allegedly had training camps inside Belarus and in neighbouring countries. The official media also reported on a series of related incidents, such as gunmen in a car attempting to force their way through a border checkpoint in Ukraine. This all comes in a context of mass arrests of oppositional activists protesting the ‘social parasites decree’.
While many Belarusians call themselves religious, less than 10% regularly visit church and only 33% believe that religion is important, according to a Gallup study of religiosity. Despite the fact that Belarus is among the top-15 least religious countries in the world, according to Gallup, the Orthodox Church remains influential in the public sphere.
The Orthodox Church maintains a special status in Belarus and takes advantage of this to promote pro-Russian and military values. The regime and the Orthodox Church both benefit from cooperating with each other. At the same time, due to its complex structure and Russian links, Lukashenka has been unable to bring the Belarusian Orthodox Church completely under his control.
Arrests infographics, Washington conference, MediaBarCamp, feminist protest - Belarus civil society digest
The toll of activists detained as a result of street protests against decree #3 reaches nearly 200 people, sentenced to 982 days of arrests and $7,600 of fines. TUT.BY visualises statistics of the "protest spring." The two-week defence of Kurapaty protected area seems to have ended in the victory of activists: construction works halted.
On 15 March, Belarusian authorities detained dozens of citizens protesting against the social parasite decree. Anarchists were one of the most noticeable movements at the protests in Brest and Minsk, causing an immediate reaction from the police.
Anarchists in Belarus, who have a long history, tend to participate only in particular political events. Their creativity and integration distinguished them from other groups during the last two weeks of protests.
The regime has put considerable effort into diminishing the influence of any uncontrollable and integrated group of dissidents, including anarchists. Independence Day on 25 March will show whether the anarchist movement in Belarus is ready for social and political protest or whether it will continue to operate mostly underground.
Minsk alludes to 'shared values' with Europe as Brussels downplays repression - Belarus Foreign Policy Digest
Security services have so far detained over 150 protesters following mass rallies in Belarus. Many were arrested or fined, and some were beaten.
However, the authorities' return to mass repression of the opposition has provoked a muted reaction from Western democracies. The government’s actions have so far failed to disrupt the intensive dialogue between Minsk and European capitals.
High-level diplomats from Germany and Belgium visited Minsk when the repression was already in full swing. Belgium’s deputy prime minister de facto condoned the administrative arrests, while the German diplomat warned Belarus against ‘backsliding in terms of democracy’.
The recently published survey Civic Literacy in Ukraine, Moldova and Belarus revealed that the civic literacy rate is lower in Belarus than in Ukraine and Moldova, except when it comes to such issues as budget and taxes.
The survey attempted to determine how people in the three countries understand the principles of interaction between the state and citizens, how they participate in public life at the local and national level, and what kind of knowledge they are lacking. The survey sample in Belarus included 1005 people.
Several corruption scandals shook Belarusian sport in 2016. They demonstrate that even Alexander Lukashenka's favourites are not safe from corruption.
Perhaps the most discussed case was the five-year prison sentence of Maksim Subbotkin, the General Director of the most successful ice-hockey club in Belarus – Dynama-Minsk, whom the court charged for embezzlement.
In spite of the fact that the Belarusian state prides itself on its achievements in fighting corruption, bribery remains widespread in all spheres of life, including sport. Moreover, corruption has become a part of the Belarusian political system. Corruption scandals perform an ideological function and serve to control the bureaucracy.
In 2012, Belarus became 18th out of the world's 20 leading arms exporters, according to a report by the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI) published last month.
Despite this achievement, the situation of national arms industries remains precarious. Belarusian arms producers are increasingly loosing sway on the post-Soviet market. Since 2007, The Kremlin has pursued a policy of substituting Belarusian products with Russian ones.
Under these circumstances, Minsk is focusing on traditional Soviet-era markets (such as China and Vietnam) and cooperation with conservative regimes in the Middle East and Southeast Asia. For example, Belarusian firms are currently seeking a contract on modernisation of Malaysian MiG-29s. At the end of February, Belarusian officials signed new agreements with a major defence company from the United Arab Emirates.
The government will postpone the ‘social parasite’ decree but not rescind it. The Minister of the Interior claims that the opposition is waging an information war against his ministry. A round table with Belarus Segodnia discusses whether Kurapaty should become a National Mourning Memorial.
The Belarusian government reveals a Russian official's vested interest in banning Belarusian imports. The Belarusian president hosts his Georgian counterpart Giorgi Margvelashvili in Minsk.
Minsk may restore cooperation with the Russian company Uralkali. This and more in the new edition of Belarus state press digest.
Recent statements by Belarusian officials have confirmed that the country's citizens should not expect a more liberal visa regime with Europe in the foreseeable future. Belarus's decision to introduce a conditional visa-free regime for nationals of eighty countries, many of them European, does not mean Europe has to reciprocate.
Georgia and Ukraine, Belarus’s fellow inmates in the Soviet camp, will soon join Moldova in the group of countries which enjoy visa-free travel to the Schengen zone. Meanwhile, Belarusians are subject to the strictest Schengen visa regime amongst all Eastern European nations.