Lukashenko’s press secretary was involved in the incident leading to the death of a protester. The EU introduces new sanctions while social support is reduced.
Killing a Protester With Top Officials Involved
Alexander Lukashenko openly calls on violence against protesters: “Starting today…We will take no prisoners. If someone touches a serviceman — he should leave without his hands at the very least”.
After such words top officials wearing their masks personally went to cut off red-and-white ribbons on the “Square of Changes” in one of Minsk yards. In the course of the conflict a local resident, a 31-year-old Roman Bondarenko, was injured and then died. According to anonymous tap wires of telephone conversations, those personally involved in the incident included the chairman of the Belarusian Ice Hockey Federation and Lukashenko’s press secretary.
Bondarenko’s death intensified widespread protests even more, including those among medical staff. Over 200 thousand people took part in an online voting on choosing new tactics for protests, with local protests, gathering in their own districts, winning. This way, without one major gathering point, official law enforcement is inefficient when it comes to counteracting hundreds of protesters nationwide at the same time. The total number of detained since August 9 is over 30 thousand people.
Even though the nationwide strike following Tikhanovskaya’s ultimatum did not happen, protests do take place at some enterprises, and there are mass dismissals taking place in factories and universities. The infrastructure is failing: Astravets Nuclear Power Plant as well as the third Minsk metro line, both of which have just been launched, do not operate, with almost every day bringing news regarding accidents taking place on factories and water, power and heating cutoffs in residential buildings.
The authorities are afraid of students protesting and combine different repressive measures: arrests of student activists, mass expulsions of students, and closing state borders for those Belarusian citizens who study in other countries. The head of the Council of the Republic Natalia Kochanova had a meeting with Belarusian State University students. However, despite the measures, student protests are still ongoing.
“Belarus suspended its dialogue with the European Union on human rights and the work of the EU-Belarus Coordination Group while downgrading its level of participating in the Eastern Partnership to expert”
Reduced Social Support
The state lacks resources to provide social support: Lukashenko is planning to discuss the issue of decreasing maternity leave payments and stated his intentions on “increasing” pensions by 5,4% (which is lower than the annual inflation rate).
Seeking new resources the state additionally takes a share of profit from profitable state enterprises, while small and medium sized businesses have to deal with sudden inspections and large fines.
Moreover, Lukashenko granted his regional representations the authority to control the largest local employers.
The EU Sanctions and Greetings from Putin
The European Union imposed sanctions against Lukashenko and 14 other top officials, while some EU countries, the USA, Great Britain and Canada adopted statements and resolutions including those calling on new elections in Belarus. Ukraine, Norway and other 5 countries joined the EU sanctions. The third package of the EU sanctions may be adopted already in December, and it will target those businesses supporting Lukashenko. In response to that Belarus suspended its dialogue with the European Union on human rights and the work of the EU-Belarus Coordination Group while downgrading its level of participating in the Eastern Partnership to expert. Belarus also closed its borders with EU countries and expelled two British diplomats, with Britain’s expulsion of two Belarusian diplomats following in tit-for-tat move adding that “the UK will not be cowed by the attempts of Lukashenko’s regime to stop us speaking out about the rigged election and the despicable violence against the Belarusian people”.
On November 26 Sergei Lavrov, the head of Russian MFA, met with his Belarusian colleague Vladimir Makei and Alexander Lukashenko in Minsk. Sergei Lavrov conveyed greetings from Vladimir Putin to Lukashenko and reminded him of the earlier agreements. In particular, Sergei Lavrov drew attention to the much-needed constitutional reform in Belarus that would include limiting presidential powers.
The memorial to Roman Bondarenko in Minsk