ePramova, Mova Nanova, Local Elections Observation – Belarus Civil Society Digest
A new online platform ePramova invites Belarusians to discuss public issues with politicians and civil society activists. Its users can ask any question and watch videos of politicians answering them on the website.
How do Belarusian experts view the situation in Ukraine? International Consortium EuroBelarus and the Belarusian National Platform organised a roundtable in Minsk ‘Ukraine Today: What We Can and Should Do in the Current Situation?’
A new web site Nazirannie2014.spring96.org aims to get Belarusians who are interested in election observation involved.
Campaigns and projects
New discussion platform ePramova launched. The European Humanities University announces its participation in the launch of a new online platform called ePramova. ePramova is designed to encourage Belarusian citizens to become more actively involved in raising and discussing public issues that are important to them. The ePramova platform allows users to pose questions to political parties, political leaders and civic organisations that will in turn be answered. Filmed responses from respondents can be uploaded online.
Mova Nanova goes to regions. On 10 March free Belarusian language courses Mova Nanova/ Language in a New Way were held in Gomel and attended by about 30 people. On 14 March Mova Nanova launched its courses in Hrodna. Earlier the civil initiative opened a branch in Babrujsk. The organisers are extending the concept of non-academic study of the Belarusian language through interactive teaching methods outside of Minsk, where classes are very popular and attended by 200-300 people weekly.
Human rights defenders launch an interactive web resource for election observers. Nazirannie2014.spring96.org site not only includes detailed instructions on how to become an observer and to behave properly at a polling station, but also includes unusual stories that have happened to observers during previous election observations. The new interactive platform of the campaign "Human Rights Defenders for Free Elections" is aimed at involving Belarusians who are interested in assisting in election observations.
Interactive platform Electby.org renewed its work. The platform of civic monitoring Electby.org allows anyone to document on an interactive map any violations recorded during the 2014 local election campaigns – campaign oddities, the pressure on democratic candidates and activists, manipulation of ballots, etc. One can submit evidence and add his/her "pinpoint" on the map through the web site or by e-mail, Twitter and SMS.
Seminars and discussions
Seminar on CSOs' financial stability. On 29 March in Minsk, ICNL together with the Centre for Legal Transformation and the Assembly of Democratic NGOs will hold a seminar Financial Stability of CSOs: International Experience and Perspective for Belarus. The event seeks to present Belarusian and international legal expertise on how to ensure the financial stability of CSOs, as well as to discuss practical issues of fundraising within the country and abroad. The seminar is open to all interested CSOs.
Budzma's spring discussions. The cultural campaign Budzma! invites people to a series of spring offline talk shows dedicated to the discussion of the interaction of culture and society. Every week the Minsk creative space THEKH will gather experts, researchers and celebrities to discuss the culture of ‘being actual’ (on 18 March), the culture of philanthropy (on 26 March), the culture of partnerships (on 1 April), etc.
Research on visa regime intermediaries in Belarus. On 13 March Minsk hosted a roundtable Visa Mediation in Belarus: How to Reduce the Costs of Schengen Visas for Belarusians. The BISS analyst Andriej Jelisejeu and the independent expert Julija Muryhyna presented the preliminary findings of their research Some Aspects of Visa Regime Intermediaries in Belarus. In their presentation the experts raised the issues on the visa mediation regulations of the EU according to its legislation and establishing the practise of mediation in Belarus.
Social Entrepreneur course from Talaka.by. Beginning 18 March, an innovative training course Social Entrepreneur has opened its course for registration. The course is being organised by the Talaka.by initiative and is guided at providing a comprehensive course of training for social entrepreneurs who will be able to implement social projects in the future in Belarus. Twenty of the best students will be given an opportunity to present their projects to potential investors. At the moment 190 people have already signed up to participate.
Euromaidan from Belarusian perspective. A roundtable entitled ‘Ukraine Today: What We Can and Should Do in the Current Situation?’ was held on 14 March in Minsk. The discussion was organised by the International Consortium EuroBelarus and the Belarusian National Platform. The participants suggested creating a position of a special rapporteur within the National Platform to monitor the situation in Ukraine and offer a quick response, should it prove to be necessary.
BAJ Statement on violence against journalists in Crimea. On 12 March the Board of the Belarusian Association of Journalists (BAJ) adopted a statement which claims that a situation when journalists are prevented from performing professional duties is inpermissible. BAJ calls on all people and organisations involved in the conflict to put an end to the violence and to ensure normal conditions for journalists work.
Protecting nature in an urban environment. Is the title of a new project launched by the Brest regional branch of APB BirdLife Belarus. The project aims to preserve bio-diversity in Brest, improving residents' understanding of ecology and environmental protection, the introduction of interactive methods for Brest schools and institutions. The project is creating a unique complex interactive training program of environmental education in an urban environment.
Online monitoring of biodiversity. APB-BirdLife Belarus NGO launched an online database for monitoring areas important to bio-diversity conservation, namely, areas important for birds. Now anyone can view the data collected and use it both for professional purposes and general guidance. Any user can contribute to the map and thus help to collect information on areas important for birds, monitor their condition, as well as join in to help solve any potential threats against them.
School of Environmental Activism announces a call for fellows for 2014. The mission of the School of Environmental Activism is to develop ecological thinking and expand the "green" movement in Belarus through a series of trainings. Organised by the Green Alliance, an annual school provides practical skills and offers its fellows the chance to design and implement eco-projects or have internships in other Belarusian CSOs. Deadline for applications is 29 March.
Belarus Digest prepared this overview on the basis of materials provided by Pact. This digest attempts to give a richer picture of the recent political and civil society events in Belarus. It often goes beyond the hot stories already available in English-language media.
Belarusian Drones, Military Cooperation with Ukraine, Drills – Belarus Security Digest
The situation around the establishment of a Russian air base in Belarus remains uncertain. Apparently, Minsk is continuing to bargain. In response, Moscow has postponed implementation of its earlier obligations to supply weapons to Belarus.
The Crimea crisis did not prevent cooperation between Belarus and Ukraine in either the military or industrial sphere: Ukrainian companies can participate in the modernisation projects of the Belarusian Air Force.
The Ministry of Internal Affairs continues to try and solve their staff shortage problems and improve the quality of its personnel, while the Belarusian military and industrial complex reaffirms its priorities with its pilot projects in the field of unmanned aircraft.
Some exercises have ended and others have started
The Armed Forces recently held the first phase of its joint staff training. The event has been scheduled to be held in two phases: the 1st phase will be held from 11-14 February and the 2nd phase will be held from 25-28 March. The main objective of the training is to develop the most suitable option for Belarus' Armed Forces, as well as other troops and military formations in accordance with the latest proposed simulated situation.
The event should be considered in conjunction with the operational readiness test of the Belarusian Armed Forces, which took place on 21 January to 10 February. The national military command pays a lot of attention to the organisation of a sustainable and efficient system of military command should a military conflict arise.
Minsk and Moscow continue to bargain on air force base and weapons supplies
Apparently, the situation around the creation of a Russian air force base in Belarus remains unclear. This can be deduced when considering the fact that there has been a postponement in the arrival of four battalions and delivery of the air defence missile systems (ADMS) S-300PS to Belarus.
If earlier they spoke about 2014, now the question is about 2015. On 20 February 2014, the Belarusian ambassador to Russia, Ihar Pietryshenka, said that a contract for a supply of four battalions and a command post of ADMS S-300PS from Russia had been discussed.
It was not entirely clear whether the supplies would be made in exchange for payment, or if they were going to be given to the Belarusian side. In April 2013, the Russian Minister of Defence, Sergei Shoigu said that the weapons would be transferred "as is". The Belarusian side would only pay for transport costs and equipment repairs. Perhaps, however, there were looming questions about the contracts for equipment repairs, namely if they should be carried out in Russia or not.
Since April 2011, when Russia first announced an agreement on supplying Belarus, they have repeatedly delayed their delivery. There is another unresolved issue as well – whether or not Belarus will need to purchase these new weapon supplies, albeit at a discounted price. Kazakhstan secured ADMS systems for free from Russia. The training of military personnel in Russia is provided to Astana at no cost.
Military and technical cooperation with Ukraine is growing
Despite the political crisis in Ukraine, cooperation in both the military and industrial spheres between the two countries is continuing to develop. The Cabinet of Ministers of Ukraine has granted permission to the Radar production plant (Kyiv) to export military goods to Belarus. This decision has been carried out, and is possible, due to the official "Agreement between the Cabinet of Ministers of Ukraine and the Government of the Republic of Belarus on the production and scientific and technical cooperation between the defence industry enterprises."
Despite the political crisis in Ukraine, cooperation in both the military and industrial spheres between the two countries is continuing to develop. Read more
The Radar production plant from Kyiv is one of the most advanced enterprises in Ukraine, which specialises in manufacturing modern radio electronic and radar equipment for aircraft and helicopters. Its products can be used to support the implementation of modernisation projects for MiG-29 and Su-27 fighters, as well as the Su-25 attack planes of the Belarusian Air Force.
The Interior Ministry is trying to solve the problem of staff shortages
There is some information emerging about the nature and results of the reforms that are taking shape in the Interior Ministry that was previously announced by the authorities. However, no fundamental changes have yet occurred. Some avacant posts were cut, some secondary services (such as physical training) were cut, and personnel were partially redistributed throughout the system which has been experiencing high workloads.
In order to stabilise the personnel situation, the ministry has intensified its vocational guidance for youth. In schools, there are 178 classes and 11 groups that concentrate on legal studies, comprising of more than four thousand students. The greatest concentration of students who are engaged in these profession-oriented studies are in the Brest and Homiel regions, as well in Minsk.
he period of initial training for future policemen has been increased to six months Read more
As a measure to improve the staffing of the Interior Ministry and the quality of the selection process, the period of initial training for future policemen has been increased to six months and the training programme includes more practical training.
The problem remains very acute. Thus, more than a quarter of posts in the transportion police in Minsk and the Minsk region remain vacant. The staffing situation is also unstable in the Homiel region.
Belarus develops projects to create domestic drones
This year, official tests are planned for Belarus' own drone, called the Burevestnik, which has been designed for aerial reconnaissance and surveillance. Its developer, the Physico-Technical Institute of the National Academy of Sciences, says that communication with the unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) is guaranteed at a range of up to 290 kilometres.
In a pre-programmed stand-alone mode the flying range of the drone is over one thousand kilometres with it being able to stay in the air for up to 10 hours. The latter figure, it is expected, can be increased by still another 50%.
Statements about the drone's range and plans to hold official tests for the UAV Burevestnik this year may be overly optimistic, especially when judging from the experience of the development of the UAV Grif-1. Most likely, the project's schedule will be susceptible to shifts. The financial security of the project is also unclear.
The simultaneous nature of upgrading two UAVs (Burevestnik and Grif-1) suggests that they will be proceeding in more or less the same direction. Most likely, there are plans to use more composite materials their frames' construction and, most importantly, to install different engines.
Tactical use of UAVs are tested
Tactical exercises with the 1st reactive artillery battalion of the 1199th reactive artillery regiment took place in the Homiel region during 24-26 February. During the exercises, combat with the assistance of regular drone surveillance and using them during massive attacks to systematise firing was perfected. The accuracy of carrying out strikes at long range was also assessed.
This phase of the exercises, which combined the UAVs with traditional operational forces, focused on the application of multiple and single missile strikes on specific targets. It culminated in a multiple missile strike from an entire battalion, with each of its twelve combat vehicles firing sixteen rocket-propelled missiles.
Andrei is the head of “Belarus Security Blog” analytical project.