Belarusian law students enrolled at European Humanities University are filing reports with JURIST on current circumstances in Belarus under the constitutionally-disputed presidency of Alexander Lukashenka. Katsiaryna Vasilionak files this dispatch from Vilnius, Lithuania.
During the period of June 23-24, the private military company Wagner, headed by Prigozhin, attempted an armed rebellion in Russia.
Alexander Lukashenka managed to resolve the conflict, and decided to receive Prigozhin in Belarus, thus ensuring his safety. Together with Prigozhin, other members of Wagner were invited to Belarus.
Based on Lukashenka’s words, the Wagnerians will be located at one of the abandoned military bases. There are already photos of how they set up a tent camp in the city of Osipovichi (100 kilometers from the capital of Belarus – Minsk).
A week has passed since the day of the armed rebellion, but there are still many questions:
- Under what conditions do the militants arrive on the territory of Belarus?
- How many of them, and for how long?
- Will they arrive armed?
- With what types of weapons?
- Will they interact with the Belarusian army? How will it go?
- Who will control this structure? Will this structure obey the Belarusian army?
There are no answers to many of these questions and there will be no answers. But we can try to predict some of them.
In his first statements after the resolution of the conflict, Lukashenka stated that only Prigozhin was invited to Belarus, he didn’t say a word about the militants who are in the company. Putin announced a few days later that militants would go to Belarus. From this it should be assumed that this decision was made in Moscow, not in Belarus, and the militants came as a surprise to Lukashenka himself.
And its quite likely he doesn’t know what to do with them now.
The Minister of Defense of the Republic of Belarus came to his aid, saying that Wagner’s fighters would be useful because “they could share their experience with the Belarusian security forces: tell us what is important now. They will tell you about the weapons: which worked well, and which did not. And tactics, and weapons, and how to attack, how to defend. It’s priceless.”
Every speech from Lukashenka and representatives of the Ministry of Defense of Belarus is invariably filled with words of reassurance to Belarusians, insisting that the Belarusian Army is in complete control and that there was no reason to be wary of the army of mercenaries stationed in their land. But there is something to be afraid of. Wagner is armed to the teeth, and it is a rabid legion of war-inflamed bandits. In addition to their combat experience, these are men who are accustomed and desensitized to violence. Further, this army is not a disciplined fighting force accountable to the people, but rather a private army of murderers and war criminals. Their horrendous impunity in committing acts of violence is one of the most notable things that the civilian population of Belarus fears.
In addition, these are not just militants who have visited African countries (such as Mali, Central African Republic and Libya, among others) to conduct “deniable” operations with no regard for human rights, but also prisoners who have been convicted of serious crimes: rape, robbery, arson, murder-the list goes on. On the Internet, one may see videos of Prigozhin recruiting prisoners in Russian prisons, urging them to sign contracts.
Therefore, Belarusians are understandably afraid, seeing now they will be surrounded by such people. Especially considering the lack of clarity on who is subordinate to whom in this situation and who will control whom.
Another aspect of the arrival of Wagner and Prigozhin’s fighters in Belarus is the image of Lukashenka himself.
Absolutely all Belarusian propagandists are now busy creating an image depicting Lukashenka as some sort of ‘peacemaker’. This works for the older generation in our country, who watch TV. As for the younger generation- they are engaged in creating memes that Lukashenka is capable of solving absolutely all problems in the world.
All this has a negative impact not only from the point of view of the safety of people in Belarus, but also on the development of civil society in Belarus.
It is important to understand that Lukashenka is no peacemaker, and certainly not a man who strives to solve conflicts to save the lives of countless people. Lukashenka is a dictator, a man who killed dozens of people who dared oppose him. Several thousand people are in prison due to his tyranny. Hundreds of thousands of people were forced to leave Belarus due to his megalomania.
And all the pretenses of peace conceal one thing- that the only thing that matters to Lukashenka is that he wants to be all-powerful. Will Wagner Group, which started an armed rebellion against his closest ally’s government, be of help in his power-hungry goals and further reinforce his iron-fisted rule? All we can do is wait and watch.
Opinions expressed in JURIST Dispatches are solely those of our correspondents in the field and do not necessarily reflect the views of JURIST's editors, staff, donors or the University of Pittsburgh.