Purpose of pressure on political prisoners - to force the clemency petition
Increasing pressure on political prisoners should be seen as an attempt to force them to write a petition for clemency to President Lukashenko. In addition, the refusal of political prisoners to plead guilty in itself motivates the administration of the colonies to retaliatory actions.
The penalty to the former presidential candidate N. Statkevich was made more severe on January 12. The convicted politician was transferred from colony to prison for 3-year period. In this case, the total sentence toStatkevich has not changed and comprises 6 years.
In the case of Mr. Statkevich a special role could play a place, where he is serving his sentence- the Penal Colony of Shklov town, which is the homeland of President Lukashenko. It is likely that persistence of Statkevich in unwillingness to admit his guilt is perceived by the administration of the colony as an additional challenge and makes the jailers to improvise in their methods of pressure. According to human rights defenders, such toughening of the sentence is observed in the history of the Belarusian judiciary for the first time.
Another former candidate Alexander Sannikov, who is serving a sentence in the Vitebsk region and also refuses to acknowledge his guilt, is being exposed to the same type of pressure for several months: the complete isolation from relatives and lawyers, as well as the constant censorship for correspondence with his family.
During a press conference in Minsk on December 23, President Lukashenko said he was willing to pardon political prisoners subject to compliance of the procedure by them when a convicted person writes a petition for clemency, addressed to the President, and thus pleads guilty.
The relationship between the pressure on the prisoners and the President willingness to pardon them is confirmed by the motivation of the new sentence to Statkevich. The administration of the colony demanded to make the sentence more severe for the reason he has not learned the rehabilitation, is not seeking parole, and intends to conduct the criminal lifestyle after completing a sentence.
But we should not leap to the conclusion that President Lukashenko is preparing to release political prisoners and thus meet the requirements of the international community and to resume relations with the West. At least we are talking about squaring personal accounts with the two most anti-Presidential minded candidates in the campaign of 2010. In the eyes of Lukashenko, receiving pardon from Statkevich and Sannikov will allow him to regain his credibility among the subordinates. Conversely, the clemency without a petition will be considered as a capitulation by them.
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.