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.
The Belarusian authorities regard the Catholic conference as yet another international event to promote Minsk as a global negotiating platform. Minsk’s proposal to organise a meeting between the Roman-Catholic Church and the Russian Orthodox Church is rather an image-making undertaking than a serious intention. However, the authorities could somewhat extend the opportunities for the Roman-Catholic Church in Belarus due to developing contacts with the Catholic world.
Minsk is attempting to lay out a mosaic from various international religious, political and sportive events to shape a positive image of Belarus for promoting the Helsinki 2.0 idea.
Belarus’ invitation to the head of the Holy See for a meeting with the Patriarch of the Russian Orthodox Church should be regarded as a continuation of her foreign policy efforts in shaping Minsk’s peacekeeping image and enhancing Belarus’ international weight. The Belarusian authorities are aware that their initiative is unlikely to find supporters among the leadership of the Russian Orthodox Church in Moscow. In Russia, isolationist sentiments prevail.
In addition, for domestic audiences, the authorities make up for the lack of tangible economic growth with demonstrations of growth in Minsk’s authority at international level through providing a platform for religious, sportive and other dialogues.