Lukashenka Hammers Drug Dealers and Users with a Tough Decree
Starting 1 January 2015, Belarusians can no longer use e-money services with operations based inside the country. A presidential decree signed on 28 December requires all domestic e-money service account holders to provide authentic identification information.
Controlling e-commerce is Minsk's first major move in the war on drugs. Electronic accounts were popular among drug dealers who received transactions anonymously.
The presidential decree also strengthened punishment for drug trafficking, with sentences ranging of up to 25 years, and introduced measures sanctioning intoxication. The new law targets a synthetic drug called 'spice', which has had disastrous consequences in Belarus in recent years.
A more comprehensive approach to the problem is needed, however. Promoting youth development and education should be a part of any long-term response to drug addition. Additionally, the lack of public debate on drugs contributes to a distorted public perception of the scale of the problem.
A Major Step in the War on Drugs
According to the 14 January statement by the Head of the Department on Drug Trafficking, since 2014 Belarusian hospitals have accepted 1,351 people with overdoses, 32 of whom subsequently died. More than a thousand of these people consumed spice. In 2013 alone 800 such patients appeared in the hospitals, suggesting a striking increase in 2014. These statistics motivated the adoption of the anti-drug decree, said one official.
In January 2014, after a poppy seed ban came into effect, police reported a considerable reduction in the consumption of opiates. However, the problem of synthetic drugs, locally known as "spice", remained at critically high levels. Spice has overtaken the market share of opiates, easily spreading among the youth.
The police could do little to counter the problem due to the lack of necessary laws and equipment. Some police departments had no Internet access and thus were unable to monitor online drug trade.
In December 2014 Lukashenka called a meeting on combating illicit drug trafficking. He made some far-reaching propositions, going as far as to say, “We should create unbearable conditions for [drug traffickers] in prisons. Let us create for them a regime where they would, I'll say it plainly, beg for death”.
Lukashenka also suggested establishing LTPs (sanatorium labour centres) for drug addicts. “We should not treat in hospitals, where normal people are being treated, but in institutions where they [drug addicts] have time only to sleep and work,” he said.
The final text of the law did not contain any of Lukashenka's proposed measures, suggesting that they were meant primarily for public ears. However, punishment for drug-related crimes have indeed become more severe. The decree also included measures to tackle the online channels of drug trafficking.
Harsh Punishments for Drug Dealers
The decree raised the maximum sentence for various kinds of drug trafficking crimes to up to 25 years. It also lowered the age of criminal liability in drug cases to 14 years.
Taking into account the scale of synthetic drug usage in Belarus, many experts approve of tougher punishments for dealers. The human rights centre “Platform” stated that “as the problem of drug use in Belarus has become so critical, our centre supports all of the initiatives for stricter punishment for dealers”.
A Minsk lawyer Hanna Dakućka said that she usually opposes tougher punishment, but since drugs are becoming a national catastrophe, she agrees with increasing prison terms for the drug trade.
So far, the government has focused on deterring trafficking, which is only one side of the problem. No preventive measures were taken. In particular, the authorities are unable to provide proper leisure infrastructure and education that could prevent youngsters from taking drugs. This problem hardly ever appears in government debates. The reason for this is that Belarus lacks youth policy.
To be sure, the possibility of spending two decades in jail may make a seasoned criminal think twice about engaging in drug trade. Young people, however, tend to realise their mistakes only after they have wound up behind bars. And it is precisely the youth who represent the majority of offenders, not the seasoned criminals.
The decree made appearing in public place in a state of intoxication a misdemeanour; a repeat offence is now considered a felony. The degree also established fines for the owners of nightclubs and casinos who turn a blind eye to drug use or trade inside their businesses.
Liudmila Truchan, a representative of the civil association Positive Movement, which helps HIV-positive people and injecting drug users, opposes this aspect of the decree. “They are people with an illness and they will not cease to be them if they receive fines for their drug use”, she said.
The head of the civil association Mothers Against Drugs Iryna Lukjanovič disagrees. In her opinion, the possibility of finding oneself in jail may push an addict towards rehabilitation, which they have so far sought to avoid.
The law also introduced a series of thorough controls on the online drug trade. Police now can shut down any web site suspected of promoting drugs. The Ministry of Internal Affairs created a cyber intelligence unit which will combat online drug crime. The law imposed additional responsibilities on the owners of the Internet resources. Now providers will have to monitor all of their content in order to prevent the spread of drug trafficking and to inform the police whenever a potential case arises.
The decree also requires obligatory identification for all e-money accounts that have payment systems and work within Belarus. This measure has already led to some results within the first days of decree's coming into force.
Web Sites and E-money Accounts Closed
Most electronic payment systems have halted their operations because of the decree. Payment terminals have also stopped using electronic account services such as Belqi, EasyPay, and WMB. The systems are apparently undergoing restructuring, which will include the necessary identification verification procedures as required by the law.
The decree also affected gift card services previously offered by three Belarusian banks. In the past, anyone could buy a gift card with a particular sum of money and give it as a present to friends or family. This card, unlike a regular credit or debit card, did not identify its holder by name.
Now anyone who has received a gift card needs to verify their identity. The banks are complaining that under the new law gift cards are no longer profitable and the service has to be halted.
Requiring identification for every e-transaction can certainly hamper drug dealers' business, but it will by no means stop them. People can rely on e-services based outside of Belarus, such as PayPal. What the law might do instead is increase the amount of cash used in drug business, with smaller transactions bundled into larger ones. One way or another, dealers will find ways to bypass these obstacles.
The coming months will show whether drug dealers with a good grasp of modern technology can outwit the authorities and continue on with lucrative trade. What is certain, however, is that the decree will destroy many young lives by putting the youth experimenting with drugs into prison for decades.
Moscow Pushing for an Air Base, Protecting Transport Infrastructure – Belarus Security Digest
Despite the worsening situation in the region and Alexander Lukashenka's bellicose rhetoric, spending on national security will not see an increase in 2015. Even common threats have failed to unite post-Soviet countries: leaders of CSTO countries more often than not can engage in talking more than action.
CIS countries are concerned about the security of their transportation infrastructure, fearing the consequences of terrorist attacks on major transportation hubs. Belarusian aircraft manufactures hope to enter international markets with help from the Russian United Aircraft Corporation.
Moscow wants an air force base, Minsk pretends not to hear its calls. On 23 December 2014, the defence ministers of Russia and Belarus met. The Russian side has again publicly voiced the idea of increasing its military presence in Belarus. At the same time, the wording of the statement was rather vague: to increase the number of aircraft and helicopters at an air force base in Belarus without specifying the legal status of this base.
It is unclear whether this wording was unintentional, or it was a result of Minsk' unwillingness to formalise legally the creation of a Russian base. It should also be noted that the Belarusian sources omitted the topic of build-up of Russia's military presence in Belarus. This phenomenon has already become tradition.
CIS security services seek to protect its transportation infrastructure. On 5 December 2014, the CIS countries signed a protocol on cooperation in the field of protection of transport infrastructure and vehicles against acts of unlawful interference. The drafting of a coordinated policy of development of transportation networks and a build-up of international transportation corridors in the CIS are among the economic priorities of the Commonwealth.
Meanwhile, up to 70% of the terrorist attacks in the world take place in transport or using the vehicles. A shutdown of a major transportation hub due to sabotage can cause environmental and economic damage. The security of transportation sites and infrastructure are among the priorities of the security services and law-enforcement agencies of the CIS countries. A coordinated strategy of countering terrorist activities in transportation supports their claims to deal with the issue.
Back in November, CIS countries discussed protecting transportation infrastructure against terrorist attacks.
The State Border Committee keeps the border locked tight. On 5 December 2014, Alexander Lukashenka received Leanid Maltsau, Chairman of the State Border Committee. They discussed optimising the agency's operational structure and the border infrastructure's general layout. They also focused on the border with Ukraine. Leanid Maltsau said that the state of the country's border security was stable, but the State Border Committee was prepared to face any changes should they arise.
The optimisation of the operational structure of the State Border Committee allowed strengthening the national border's security, including with Ukraine, and deploying additional forces (two border guard outposts near a nuclear power plant under construction and a new border guard detachment in Mazyr). The head of the State Border Committee reported the introduction, in addition to UAVs, of rapidly deployable alarm systems and other equipment, "which would permit for the protection of the state border… with smaller forces but more reliably".
The level of interaction within CSTO is low. The situation on the CIS' southern border remained in the spotlight of the latest CSTO summit. The statement by the President of Tajikistan Emomali Rahmon deserves special attention. He said that his country looked forward to the full implementation in 2015 of the decision by the CSTO's Collective Security Council "On providing assistance to the Republic of Tajikistan in reinforcing the Tajik-Afghan border" adopted on 23 September 2013.
Moreover, the need for this kind of assistance has increased in light of the situation in neighbouring regions. Emomali Rahmon pointed out that Tajikistan acted as a buffer for the entire post-Soviet space from the threats of terrorism, arms and drugs smuggling. Thus, it is entitled to effective assistance from its CSTO partners.
Judging by the fact that the CSTO countries failed to implement their decision on assistance to Tajikistan in protecting the border with Afghanistan for over more than a year since its adoption, as well as taking into account Emomali Rahmon's pleas, cooperation between CSTO countries leaves much to be desired. There are doubts that the assistance to Tajikistan will be rendered on time and in full. In general, the lack of commitment in implementing agreements is a characteristic feature of all post-Soviet alliances.
Aircraft manufacturers from Belarus and Russia are making joint plans for the future. The Concept of Development of the 558th Aircraft Repair Plant with the United Aircraft Corporation (Moscow) until 2025 was recently approved. The purpose of the document is to preserve the standing of the Belarusian enterprise in the market for repairing and modernising aircraft as well as its integration into the international aircraft complex of aircraft manufacturers.
The integration with the United Aircraft Corporation will allow the 558th Aircraft Repair Plant to take part in the manufacturing programmes of the corporation, to get access to modern technologies of aircraft engineering and to set up the integrated system of production to ensure the maximum economic benefit.
The fundamental issue is whether or not the United Aircraft Corporation will acquire a share of the 558th Aircraft Repair Plant, and if yes, how big of a chunk it will be. Earlier, the Russian party expressed interest in purchasing shares of the Belarusian manufacturer. Taking into account the war of sanctions between Russia and the West, an agreement of this sort may be crucial for the Belarusian aircraft manufacturer.
Budget-2015: no money for the silovikis. Analysis of the expenditures for the 2015 budget show that no fundamental changes in funding for law-enforcement agencies took place compared to last year. Meanwhile, this might have been expected taking into account the security situation in the region, the forthcoming presidential election and Lukashenka's bellicose statements during 2014. Moreover, it is doubtful that even the existing figures will be implemented because of the financial crisis. A high probability remains that the 2015 budget will be revised by the autumn.
New plan for state defence approved. In this regard, one should pay attention to a meeting of the Security Council of Belarus held on 16 December 2014. During this event, Alexander Lukashenka approved the plan of state defence for the next 5 years. The plan of state defence is a classified document.
As stated, the plan of defence has been developed under the direct supervision of Alexander Lukashenka "taking into account an in-depth analysis of the situation… in the world… and specific aspects of wars and military conflicts in recent years".
Lukashenka's emotional statements about the policies of Russia and the West accompanied the Security Council meeting. He emphasised "strengthening intelligence activities and the deployment of military facilities in Poland and the Baltic States" of the NATO alliance.
All of this confirmed that Belarus, according to Lukashenka, needed to develop and strengthen its defensive capabilities. However, "today's behaviour by our eastern brother cannot but cause alarm. Nevertheless, we refrain from drawing any conclusions from it… before speaking to the President of Russia". He said that the main threats were in the economy.
Andrei is the head of “Belarus Security Blog” analytical project.