Tag Archives: Belarus

On November 4, 2021, 35 OSCE Participating States[1] invoked the Vienna Mechanism and addressed human rights concerns regarding actions by the Government of Belarus, noting the mutual accountability shared amongst OSCE Participating States for full implementation of their OSCE commitments. It requested “concrete and substantial responses” to eight questions that summarised its principal concerns regarding the human rights situation in Belarus.

On 12 November 2021, Free Russia Foundation lodged a submission to the OSCE entitled “Concerning the Decision of 35 OSCE States to Invoke the Vienna Mechanism in Relation to Serious Human Rights Violations in Belarus.”

The submission was addressed to all 57 OSCE Participating States (including Belarus), as well as Helga Maria Schmid, OSCE Secretary General; Margareta Cederfelt, President of the OSCE Parliamentary Assembly; Matteo Mecacci, Director of the OSCE Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights; and Wolfgang Benedek, OSCE Rapporteur under the Moscow Mechanism on Alleged Human Rights Violations related to the Presidential Elections of 9 August 2020 in Belarus.

Free Russia Foundation has observed that the Government of Belarus has been unresponsive to OSCE concerns and has no intention to answer the questions. Belarusian civil society, on the other hand, is precluded from responding due to its well-founded fear of retribution and further persecution. Accordingly, Free Russia Foundation prepared this submission articulating responses to the eight questions by the 35 OSCE States.

The Submission asserts that:

  1. No steps have been taken by Belarusian authorities to investigate allegations that the right to freedom of peaceful assembly is being unduly restricted, that individuals are being arbitrarily detained or arrested, and that numbers of political prisoners are increasing. 
  2. On 26 August 2021, the Investigative Committee of Belarus announced that it would not criminally investigate or prosecute allegations by 680 persons regarding allegations of torture and other crimes under international law.
  3. Belarusian authorities incite hate and intolerance towards representatives of any political views that contradict the state and that their lack of a proper legal response to hate crimes creates an atmosphere of impunity for offenders.
  4. Belarusian authorities have hindered the ability of civil society and media actors to document and report on human rights concerns in Belarus and persecuted individuals and groups attempting to do so. 
  5. Belarusian authorities have facilitated irregular migration (to other OSCE Participating States) which puts vulnerable people at risk, impacts on their human rights, and has a destabilizing effect on regional security. In doing so, they use people in a vulnerable position as an instrument of pressure on other countries.
  6. Belarusian authorities have disregarded its OSCE membership obligations by failing to substantively respond to human rights concerns identified by OSCE Participating States.
  7. The Government of Belarus has closed at least 185 organizations, arbitrarily arrested dozens of their associates and taken no meaningful steps to engage with civil society. Further, it has taken no steps to respond to the recommendations contained in the 5 November 2020 report under the Moscow Mechanism.

Free Russia Foundation (4freerussia.org) is an international NGO dedicated to advancing democratic development and supporting civil society with centers in Kyiv, Ukraine; Tbilisi, Georgia; Prague, Czechia; Berlin, Germany; Vilnius, Lithuania; and Washington, DC, US.

The submission was prepared in cooperation with Scott Martin of Global Rights Compliance (‘GRC’). GRC is an international LLP working on international human rights, international humanitarian law and environmental law matters throughout the world.

[1] Albania, Austria, Belgium, Bulgaria, Canada, Croatia, Cyprus, Czech Republic, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Iceland, Ireland, Italy, Latvia, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Malta, Montenegro, The Netherlands, North Macedonia, Norway, Portugal, Romania, Slovakia, Slovenia, Spain, Switzerland, the United Kingdom, Ukraine, and the United States.

In this September 2020 analysis, Free Russia Foundation’s Fellow Alexander Morozov chronicles the unraveling of the political crisis in Belarus unleashed by Lukashenka’s illegal efforts to hold on to power despite a broad national demand for change.

Morozov describes the growth of the Belarus protest movement and traces the emergence and evolution of the Coordinating Council, its strategy, key positions and figures.

The report then delineates the positions of important stakeholders, the response of the European Union, and of various national European governments; and the U.S.

Morozov dedicates a special focus to the role of Russia in the crisis in Belarus; discussing how the protracted standoff between Lukashenka and Putin had shaped the 2020 Belarusian presidential elections and how the Kremlin’s regional objectives are framing Lukashenko’s emerging options and choices.

Morozov offers a near-term forecast and policy options for democratic countries and international organizations for resolving the political crisis in Belarus.


Free Russia Foundation stands in staunch solidarity with the People of Belarus. Continue reading Free Russia Foundation Statement on the Crisis in Belarus

On July 15, PEN AmericaPEN Belarus, and Free Russia Foundation will host a discussion on the ongoing political crackdowns in Belarus leading up to the country’s August 9, 2020 presidential election. In addition to exploring the recent wide-scale attacks on political opposition and the press, the conversation will examine broader trends of suppression of freedom of expression and the public’s right to information in Belarus, along with President Lukashenka’s relationship with the Kremlin.

The live Webex session, which will take place on Wednesday, July 15 at 10am EST / 16:00 CET, will include an extensive Q&A session. You may submit your questions in advance at registration or during the session.

In order to attend, please register before the event.

On June 19, Belarusian authorities arrested hundreds of opposition supporters who had lined the streets of Minsk to support petitions for opposition leader campaigns in the upcoming election. Many of those arrested were journalists and other members of the media. Among those who remain imprisoned since June 19 is prominent opposition leader Viktar Babaryka – the prime opposition candidate in the upcoming presidential election. President Lukashenka has so far ignored requests for Babaryka’s release.

Featured speakers will include Taciana Niadbaj, a poet, translator, and current executive director of PEN Belarus; Franak Viacorka, a Belarusian journalist and media expert; Natalia Arno, president of Free Russia Foundation; and Polina Sadovskaya, Eurasia program director at PEN America. The event will be moderated by Michael Weiss, senior editor for The Daily Beast and a frequent national security analyst and contributor for CNN.


Zapad 2017 seems to be all the buzz this week in Washington, DC and many European capitals. To get the basics straight on this Russian military exercise and separate facts from the hype, the Free Russia Foundation sat down with Michael Kofman, the Senior Research Scientist at CNA and Fellow at the Wilson Center. Mr. Kofman, 35, served as a Russia military analyst at the U.S. Department of Defense for over 7 years, managed military to military programs, and participated in a number of U.S.-Russian military initiatives. He speaks Russian, understands Ukrainian, and his work involves frequent travel to the region.

Is Zapad-2017 different from previous exercises in this series?

Zapad 2017 is quite similar to other strategic exercises Russia has held, and will probably not differ markedly from the general scenario of Zapad 2013. The exercise itself, scheduled for September 14-20, will be similar to previous iterations in its duration and the two phases involved. The first phase simulates diversionary groups infiltrating Belarus from Poland, Lithuania, and Latvia in order to install a color revolution or destabilize the regime. In the second phase, the crisis becomes a more traditional conventional conflict with Russian forces training to respond to a coalition of NATO countries supported by the United States.

Although the exercise is only a week long, it is really the capstone to several months of snap readiness checks, drills, and other exercises conducted across Russia. Such drills will continue after Zapad’s conclusion, perhaps well into October and November. Hence Zapad is not one exercise but a series of numerous drills across Russia that are more representative of state mobilization against an existential threat rather than just the armed forces training for a geographically limited scenario.

Is the number of forces involved much higher than previously?

The number of actual forces involved is difficult to predict, and much depends on how you count. Base estimates indicate 65,000-70,000 troops involved in the Baltic and Nordic region. Those numbers include the 40,000 or so forces already based there such as 11th Army Corps Kaliningrad, 6th Combined Arms Army around St. Petersburg, or 76th VDV Airborne Division in Pskov. Beyond that, it is hard to say how many other units will be involved across Russia’s five military districts, and we should assume another

20,000 national guardsmen deployed across cities to train in suppressing protest movements. The total number of participants may prove quite conservative, but on the other hand, it may well exceed the numbers seen in previous exercises.

What’s the involvement of units from Chechnya?

More than likely little to none, with the exception of internal policing duties and training for suppression of protest movements or ‘diversionary groups.’

Why is this exercise conducted in Belarus?

Zapad, starting with the 1999 exercise, has traditionally been conducted jointly with Belarus since its principal focus is deterring an attack from NATO and defending Russia’s interests in maintaining the so-called Union State with Minsk.

Belarus is integral to Russia’s strategy of extended defense, maintaining buffer states between it and military or economic blocs. It is also a vital logistical corridor to Kaliningrad in any hypothetical fight with NATO.

Will Russia use this exercise to stage forces for invasion?

That’s highly unlikely, but large-scale exercises are always a time for prudent vigilance. The real period of danger is after the exercise not during, but more than likely all Russian forces involved will return promptly to their garrisons.

Should Ukraine, Lithuania, Latvia, Estonia or other neighbors be concerned about this exercise?

Concerned yes, alarmed no. Demonstrations of capability are always disconcerting because even if you know the adversary’s intent, it can change quite quickly. Hence understanding capability matters, and Russia certainly has the capability to be the first with the most on its borders, perhaps achieving overmatch in the initial phases of conflict. The exercise is actually an opportunity to better understand Russia’s capabilities and capacity to deploy forces to the region, offering lessons on the evolution of its military power and general purpose forces.

Will Russia demonstrate new capabilities or concepts of operations as part of this exercise?

Doubtfully new concepts, but rather test-drive and further refine existing doctrine, tactics, and operations. New capabilities will include electronic warfare, perhaps practice firing new generations of weapon systems, and testing out a host of command and control or communications equipment. The most consequential, and least exciting, is logistics, how large formations of Russian ground forces actually get into the theater and deploy across Belarus. This is both a test of logistical capability – in terms of bridging, engineering and the like – and transport capacity.

How should NATO respond to Zapad?

Maintain high readiness during the exercise, vigilance, and avoid sounding panicky or hysterical. The response thus far has been measured, but Russia has proven incredibly successful in the information domain, getting Western leaders to cry wolf with worrying statements. The best response is to not give away Russia coercive power freely. It’s important to avoid coming off as the world’s most powerful and most panicky alliance.