New sentences for post-election protestors
On 26 May two former Presidential candidates N. Statkevich and D. Uss were handed the toughest sentences under Article 293 (“organization of mass disorder”): 6 and 5 1/2 years of medium security prison accordingly.
The other four participants of the 19 December demonstration in Minsk were sentenced to 2 - 5 years in prison of variable security level.
With the escalating crisis on the currency and consumer markets, these strict sentences imply that the authorities are taking a stand to oppose attempts to challenge the legitimacy of the regime. The sentences defy the international community as a demonstration of “power”.
The harsh sentence for N. Statkevich is obviously associated with his sharp remarks against President Lukashenko personally during the election campaign. The sentence to a counterpart of Statkevich, a businessman and former Deputy of Minsk City Council, Uss can be decoded as a signal to Belarusian businessmen to keep out of politics. Moreover, Uss’ election campaign focused on the electoral reform and increased transparency of the electoral process, i.e. issues of vital control by the Belarusian authorities.
A harsh sentence of 5 years of medium security prison was handed down to Alexander Klaskouski, a former police officer and son of a freelance journalist. This harsh punishment of an ordinary protester (former Presidential candidate A. Sannikov was also sentenced to 5 years of imprisonment for allegedly organizing “mass disorder”) is definitely related to the fact that Alexander Klaskouski had previously served in the MIA and participated in the demonstration on 19 December in police uniform. First of all, the authorities had to demonstrate that the Belarusian law enforcement agencies were not involved in oppositional politics in any way and, secondly, that disloyalty among MIA staff will be prosecuted severely.
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.