Exiled Belarusian opposition calls for army to rise against Moscow

With Vladimir Putin facing armed insurrection from Prigozhin’s Wagner Group, the exiled opposition in Belarus has called for its military to assert independence from Russia. Valery Sakhashchyk, Opposition defence spokesman, has released a video where he addressed his countrymen and the 38th Airborne Brigade, which he once commanded and is regarded as still loyal to him. His video (and my translation) are below: ‘All thinking people understood that the Russian Federation was built on lies, corruption and lawlessness and that it will fall apart sooner or later. We are witnessing the beginning of the active phase of this process. We do not know for sure what will happen tomorrow. Perhaps

Europe’s last dictator: Lukashenko’s fate depends on Ukraine

A young man wearing combat fatigues and an extravagant moustache, and carrying a heavy machine-gun over his shoulder, nods towards some burned-out armoured vehicles. ‘We smashed the orcs today,’ he says, using the Ukrainian soldiers’ term for the invading Russians, a reference to the sub-human legion in Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings. He goes on: ‘Putin, you are a dickhead – your Greater Russia will die together with you.’ The soldier – his uniform has a badge saying ‘Ivanov’ in Cyrillic – is not, in fact, Ukrainian. He is one of a small number of volunteers from Belarus, next door, a country that is certainly part of the Greater

How the EU hardened its heart towards refugees

‘They wanted me to fight, and I knew I had to leave, or die.’ My translator, a former English teacher from Syria, was explaining how, after the army knocked on his door one day, he had fled the country and moved more than 2,000 miles to Liverpool. This was 2018, the bloody civil war was raging. Everyone we met in the north west – an old couple, a young family, single men – had said the same thing. As soon as it was safe, they just wanted to go home. Now, three years on, thousands of their countrymen are in a far more precarious situation, sleeping rough in tents and makeshift

Putin’s plan for Ukraine

Vladimir Putin’s message was as clear — and familiar — as his method. The Kremlin has begun another major build-up of troops along Ukraine’s border. The reason? Retaliation: last month, president Volodimir Zelenskiy flew to Washington to renew his plea that Ukraine be allowed to join Nato.  The massive show of force — the second this year — prompted US Secretary of State Antony Blinken to warn his European allies that Russia showed dangerous signs of invading its smaller southern neighbour. ‘Our concern is that Russia may make the serious mistake of attempting to rehash what it undertook back in 2014 when it amassed forces along the border, crossed into sovereign Ukrainian territory and

France is using migrants just like Belarus

It was hard not to laugh, coldly, at the statement from western members of the UN Security Council that condemned Belarus for engineering the migrant crisis on its border with Poland. Following Thursday’s emergency UN Security Council meeting, western members published a joint statement, accusing Belarus of putting migrants’ lives in danger ‘for political purposes’. That’s true, of course, but to hear such words from France. Quelle hypocrisie! There are far fewer migrants camping out in cardboard cities in Paris this year. Why? Because these camps have been broken up and the migrants – overwhelmingly young men from Africa and the Middle East – have headed north to Calais. Once

Lukashenko and Putin are exploiting Europe’s migration muddle

At the border of Belarus and Poland, camps of migrants wait for a chance to cross the border into the EU. Groups attempt to break down the razor wire fences standing in their way, Some 15,000 Polish soldiers stand ready to stop them. Belarusian soldiers urge them on and offer assistance. The Belarusian state shuttles more migrants towards the border by the day, hands out wire-cutters, and prevents them from turning back. Some 30,000 migrants have attempted to cross into Poland since August. That number is swelling by the day, with Belarus now running dozens of flights every week ferrying further desperate people to Europe’s eastern border. It is customary

How Turkey is fuelling the Belarus-Poland migrant crisis

In the cold, damp forest lining the border between Poland and Belarus, thousands of refugees flown over from the Middle East have waiting to cross into the EU for days. Belarusian riot police are shoving them away from their gates and towards Poland, where only more forces await. The Belarusian dictator Alexander Lukashenko has recently been in conflict with the EU, which has imposed sanctions on his regime after last year’s contested elections which many believe to have been rigged. Lukashenko is pushing refugees towards Poland to be pawns in a fight, with the backing of Putin. The refugees find themselves between a rock and a hard place: in front

Poland’s Belarusian border conflict is becoming violent

The EU’s conflict with Belarus is heating up. The simmering migrant crisis on the Polish border with Belarus exploded into a new level of intensity on Monday, as large groups of migrants marched through Belarus towards Poland before attempting to storm barbed wire fences and force their way into the Schengen zone. The Polish government responded to the violation of its border with military force. Twelve thousand troops are now being deployed along the border. When migrants managed to break a section of the fence near Kuznica on Monday, a rank of Polish soldiers filled the gap as a military helicopter flew low overhead in an attempt to deter the

How will Europe respond to a wave of Afghan refugees?

On Tuesday, Franek Sterczewski made a break for the border. Wearing a long trench coat and carrying a blue plastic bag, he managed to outrun one armed soldier before being stopped by a line of officers. Sterczewski, however, wasn’t fleeing his native Poland — he was trying to help those who desperately want to get in. August 24, 2021 Brussels has accused the Belarusian government of actively shipping in would-be refugees The rebellious 33-year old MP had planned to hand out medicine and water to the line of asylum seekers camped out on the eastern frontier with Belarus. Hundreds of people from countries like Iraq, Syria and Afghanistan have begun

Fortress Europe is dreading the Afghan migrant crisis

Fortress Europe is pulling up the drawbridge. The takeover of Afghanistan by the Taliban is likely to being about a new wave of refugees heading west, and so walls and fences are being hastily built around the borders of the Schengen Area. As scars inflicted by the last migrant crisis re-open, the possibility of a new influx of refugees is causing deep apprehension throughout the EU. At Usnarz Gorny, on Poland’s border with Belarus, the migrant crisis is already beginning. Twenty four Afghan migrants currently sit stranded in no man’s land between Polish and Belarusian border guards. Left without food or clean drinking water for weeks on end, their situation

Belarusians in exile aren’t safe from the iron grip of Lukashenko

This week has laid bare the terrifying situation faced by Belarusians in their home country and abroad. From Tokyo’s Olympic village to the streets of Kiev and the courts of Minsk, the iron grip of president Alexander Lukashenko only seems to be tightening. With athletes joining political opponents and exiled activists in being targeted by the regime, many are now asking the question: where can Belarusians be safe? Certainly not at home. On Wednesday, a behind-closed-doors trial began in Minsk for two opposition figures involved in organising the huge protests which swept Belarus last year following elections widely held to have been fraudulent. Maria Kolesnikova and Maxim Znak have been charged

How Britain can really help Belarus’s embattled opposition

Belarus’s opposition movement is gathering momentum. This week – just days after meeting president Biden – the country’s opposition leader Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya was in London to visit Boris Johnson and Dominic Raab. But what does this mean for ordinary Belarusians living under the rule of Alyaksandr Lukashenka, the brutal dictator still in charge of the country? Do they finally have cause to be optimistic about the future? As recently as April, Belarus’ democratic movement appeared to be running out of funding and impetus, with no clear strategy for ousting Lukashenka. Bolstered by a fearsome state security apparatus and Russian support, Lukashenka has unleashed a brutal crackdown on anyone who dares to

The EU’s growing migrant war with Belarus

The EU is building a wall — and they’re going to make Belarus pay for it. This week, the tiny Baltic nation of Lithuania began erecting a barbed-wire border fence on its frontier with its neighbour, Europe’s most notorious autocracy. Meanwhile, Brussels is ramping up economic sanctions against Belarus. Lithuania’s parliament has declared a state of emergency, citing a sharp rise in migrants attempting to illegally cross the border. More than 800 made the journey in the first week of July alone, coming from countries like Iraq, Iran, Syria and the Congo. In response, hundreds of troops have been deployed and construction of a 340-mile barrier is underway. The EU’s newly

Lukashenko’s migrant warfare against the EU

When you have already forced a plane down with spurious claims of a bomb threat, just to arrest one dissident journalist, where do you go from there? For the Belarusian dictator Alexander Lukashenko, a man looking to punish the European Union after it imposed sanctions on Belarus, it seems that exploiting would-be migrants and asylum seekers is the way forward. Last week, the dictator threatened to send masses of migrants to the EU, in retaliation for the bloc’s sanctions against Belarus. ‘We will not stop anyone’, Lukashenko said, saying migrants would be on their way to a ‘warm and comfortable Europe’ soon. His goal in particular appeared to be to

Why Russia and China are competing to woo Belarus

Belarus’s president Alexander Lukashenko has been roundly condemned following the arrest of Roman Protasevich, but he still has one ally. Lukashenko spent the weekend at Sochi, on the Black Sea, where he was hosted on president Vladimir Putin’s yacht. The two leaders greeted each other with a hug. After dolphin spotting, the pair wrapped up a deal on the release of a $500 million (£350m) loan to Belarus which will help blunt the effect of fresh western sanctions. The announcement followed a celebration in Minsk earlier in the week for the 100th anniversary of the Chinese Communist party, where ambassador Xie Xiaoyong lauded the bilateral relationship between China and Belarus.  As ever, Beijing and Moscow

My plan for Belarus

A terrible thing, to be torn. Last Sunday was International Day to End Obstetric Fistula, a very painful condition affecting the nether regions of women who have just given birth. I very much wished to observe the occasion in some way, but Sunday was also World Turtle Day, which naturally commended itself to me as well. Having thought about it, my hope was that those suffering from obstetric fistulae and the turtles might put aside whatever differences they may have and waddle together in a show of unity and I could commend them both at the same time. Better still, however, would have been if last Sunday had been designated

Toby Young

For journalists like Protasevich, free speech is a matter of life and death

Last August I wrote a column in The Spectator’s US edition urging Donald Trump to take a leaf out of Alexander Lukashenko’s book and campaign for re-election on a vodka-and-sauna approach to managing the pandemic. Belarus was one of a handful of European countries not to impose a lockdown last year, with the President urging his citizens to have plenty of vodka and lots of saunas to avoid infection. To the consternation of other European leaders, Lukashenko’s laissez-faire approach hasn’t proved a disaster — Belarus’s death toll from the virus currently stands at 2,780, although some people don’t believe the official figures — and I thought it was funny that

Why sanctions against Putin and his allies don’t work

An ‘act of aviation piracy’ was how Ryanair boss Michael O’Leary described the forcible grounding of one of his planes in Minsk by Belarusian authorities in order to arrest a dissident who was on board. ‘A shocking assault on civil aviation and an assault on international law,’ said the UK Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab. The Taoiseach Micheál Martin, en route to Brussels for an emergency meeting, called for EU heads of state to deliver a ‘very firm and strong response’ to Belarus’s President Alexander Lukashenko. But what response can the West actually make that will put an end to lawless behaviour by Lukashenko — and, more importantly, by his on-and-off

Germany’s Belarus blindspot

Everything about the video seemed wrong. ‘It’s likely his nose is broken because the shape of it has changed and there’s a lot of powder on it. All of the left side of his face has powder,’ said the father of Belarusian journalist Roman Protasevich. The details of the story are now known: the exiled activist’s plane was diverted while en route between two EU capitals. The Ryanair flight was grounded, the pilot having been fed false reports of a bomb threat while a Soviet-era jet stalked the plane. Protasevich and his girlfriend were then removed by Belarusian forces and the flight was sent on its way.  This shocking display

The Belarus hijacking reveals the West’s complacency

On Sunday evening an act of appalling state kidnapping took place over the skies of Europe. Four alleged KGB officers and a Soviet-era MIG-29 fighter jet forced a Ryanair flight, travelling between two EU capitals, to divert to Minsk. The hijacking was a carefully planned, outrageous operation. The Belarusian KGB (sadly not an anachronism) had claimed there was an explosive device onboard, but their real target was Roman Protasevich, a 26-year-old journalist. Protasevich is the founder of the NEXTA telegram channel, which supported and covered the anti-government protests that erupted in Belarus last August after falsified presidential elections. The journalist was arrested alongside his fiancée, with footage emerging late Monday