Belarus enforces harsher penalties for protesting

Effective today, the Belarusian government will increase fines and prison sentences for participants in unauthorised protests. Nationwide anti-government demonstrations and

Belarus Reuters

Photo: Reuters

Effective today, the Belarusian government will increase fines and prison sentences for participants in unauthorised protests.

Nationwide anti-government demonstrations and a subsequent government crackdown began after the fraudulent August 2020 presidential elections. The increase in punishment follows a February 16 crackdown on journalists and human rights organisations that saw two journalists sentenced to two years in prison, prompting a new round of sanctions from both the US and the EU.

Expect Russia to offer continued economic support to Belarus in order to lessen the effects of Western sanctions. Moscow granted Minsk a $1.5 billion loan in September and an additional loan is likely after further economic aid was discussed at a February 22 meeting in Sochi between Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko and Russian President Vladimir Putin.

Lukashenko is a key Putin ally and the Kremlin likely believes that his removal from power could embolden Putin’s critics at home. Additionally, Russia is nearing its longtime goal of establishing a permanent military base in Belarus, which would likely be scrapped in the event of Lukashenko’s ouster. Expect increased joint military exercises to reinforce military ties between Moscow and Minsk in a show of solidarity and intimidatory force.

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