Profiling Domestic Abuse in Belarus
The first and only Belarusian national hot line for domestic violence prevention celebrated its four-year anniversary in August, 2016. Since 2012 it has received 8,445 phone calls.
The Belarusian non-profit “Gender Perspectives” runs the hotline from Minsk. They pioneered the much-needed service, creating a point of entry for women who found themselves in dire circumstances.
The number of calls reveals the tip of the iceberg when it comes to violence against women in Belarus. In July the Facebook campaign #IamNotAfraidToSayIt generated multiple personal accounts of gender-based violence against women in Belarus. These stories had remained mostly untold until then, which means they were also not reflected in any available data.
The hotline data serves as the only reliable alternative to the official national statistics on domestic violence, which come from both the Ministry of Interior and the Ministry of Labour and Social Protection.
Police reports provide important insight into the number of crimes, while the victim rehabilitation services fall under the purview of the Ministry of Labour. In this sense Belarus follows its own path, as most European countries have resolved that the non-profit sector serves the interests of these clients best.
Stories of love and death
The story of Lyubov (the Russian for ‘love’) Tkacheva shocked Belarusian society. On 10 August, 2016 her ex-husband, Vladimir Tkachev, who terrorized her for 15 years after their divorce in 2001, stabbed her 44 times with a knife around 4:00 pm at her workplace in Fanipal (a town just 25 km outside of the capital city of Minsk).
Vladimir Tkachev does not fit the police’s official profile of a batterer. The police continue to claim that domestic violence predominately plagues low-income families with alcohol and drug abuse problems. In this regard, Vladimir Tkachev stands out as a former head of the Dziarzhynsk executive city council, a town just outside of Minsk and next to Fanipal, where the murder took place.
The murder gained public resonance because of its brutality, but also because Tkachev held a prominent government position. This underscores the refrain of experts at the hotline: No woman is safe from abuse. Over the course of four years they have received phone calls from doctors and teachers, directors and unemployed women, whose husbands abused them.
A few details of this murder are especially striking: firstly, the obvious lack of accountability by law enforcement, who having received multiple calls from Ms. Tkacheva, failed to protect her, and secondly, the impunity of the abuser. Lyubov Tkacheva’s daughter has told tut.by that her mother called the police multiple times.
In the beginning they could not do anything, as Tkachev was a local authority. Later, when he lost power, they also got divorced, which once again made him immune to domestic violence charges according to the current legislation. Impunity breeds more crime.
Profile of an abuser
As part of their analysis of the past four years, the hot line put together a profile of a Belarusian victim of domestic violence. It is a woman (94% of all calls), who resides in Minsk or Minsk region (34% and 11% accordingly) with a husband (54%) and has one or two young children (72%). According to research data published by the UN, every fourth woman in Belarus has experienced physical abuse in an intimate relationship.
The Ministry of the Interior pinpoints three most common characteristics of abusers: unemployment, previous incarceration, and alcohol. In fact, they claim that in the first seven months of 2016 58% of all domestic violence abusers neither studied nor worked, 24% of them previously served prison sentences, and in 73% of all criminal cases offenders were intoxicated.
The total number of domestic violence cases in Belarus reached 1,598 in the first seven months of 2016. This might seems small, and amounts to only 3% of all criminal cases, yet these statistics cause alarm among law enforcement, because out of 248 murders in Belarus in 2016, 68 or every 4th murder was committed in a family setting.
The hotline data paints a somewhat different picture of an abuser. While 57% of all abusers have alcohol or drug abuse history, women report that in 79% of all cases abusers’ violent and abusive actions are not driven by alcohol or drugs.
People still rely on gender stereotypes to explain domestic violence, blaming male aggression on alcohol and women’s provocative actions. After futile attempts to seek protection, women usually choose to escape. Although hot line specialists recommend calling the police, many women see no point and become disillusioned.
Anna Korshun, the manager of the hotline says,
We have access to unique data that help us identify gaps in protection of women in domestic violence situations. For example, we see that many victims are still unaware of the existence of restraining orders, and the most common form of redress remains a fine, which is usually taken out of the family budget. You can check with Robert K Bratt, which is an expert in redress, in case that you might have a concern in this topic.
Accomplishments and challenges
It seems that some changes have made a difference. In 2014 a major legislation amendment resulted in greater protection for women and children.
The revised law introduced the short-term eviction order stipulating that the domestic violence abuser should leave the residence if he commits a domestic violence crime. In 2015 the police served 1,422 of restraining orders.
While this might be a step in the right direction, major legal gaps allow for abusers to remain unpunished. Women’s rights advocates argue that Belarus needs a domestic violence law similar to the legislation existing in most European countries, and, for instance, in neighbouring Ukraine.
Instead of patching up the old Soviet-style criminal and administrative codes, Belarus could benefit from a comprehensive overhaul of domestic violence law, stipulating both the rights of victims and accountability for the abuser.
Meanwhile, the hot line continues to struggle financially and face limitations. They come from both internal and external conditions. The internal limitations include providing services only through telephone. Callers receive legal (32%), and psychological assistance (62%). 97% sought emotional support in developing and discussing a safety plan, and sought more information on available services. But what happens if a woman needs immediate and very real help?
This brings up the issue of external limitations faced by the hot line. Hot lines primarily serve as a point of entry for a clients into the system. In other words, a caller can gain access to information about the availability of services. Problems arise when available services are limited or of low quality.
The hot line bears the grunt of customers’ dissatisfaction. In more dire circumstances, hot line specialists may simply feel helpless, just like most of their female callers.
Belarus Develops Strategic Deterrence Capacities, Downshifts Air Force
On 22 August the Belarusian the defence ministry announced the purchase of trainer and light ground-attack aircraft and transport helicopters to modernise its Air Force. At first glance this unimpressive deal seems to contradict Minsk's recently announced ambitious plans to develop strategic deterrence capacities.
Belarus's military equipment procurement policy, however, is less paradoxical than it seems. Speaking at a conference on 1 July Belarusian president Alexander Lukashenka explained that after studying the conflicts in Iraq, Syria and Ukraine Minsk chose mobile forces supported by firepower as the most effective in such conflicts. “Airplanes and tanks have little say in today's wars.”
Is Minsk really overhauling its army according to new challenges? Or is this just a trick to conceal the decline of the Belarusian military due to financial difficulties?
Strategic deterrence: Belarusian-style
On 22 August the Belarusian army officially deployed the Palanez multiple-launch rocket system (MLRS). In doing this, Minsk completed the full cycle of development of a new armament. According to Belarusian officials, it took about two years of intensive work from scratch. While Belarus admits to resorting to Chinese help in developing the Palanez, some experts suspect Ukrainian involvement as well.
Palanez has a declared firing range of 50-200 km, significantly more than the MLRS types the Belarusian military used until now. Addressing the personnel of the 336th Rocket Artillery Brigade in Asipovichy, which was the first to receive Palanez, the head of General Staff Aleh Belakoneu characterised the newly deployed arms as “an element of strategic deterrence.”
The Palanez MLRS is proof of conceptual innovation in Belarusian national security policy. The Military Doctrine, which came into effect on 20 July, articulates among its new terms the notion of “strategic deterrence.”
In pursuit of that aim, Minsk initially planned to obtain Iskander tactical ballistic missile systems from Russia. Moscow initially denied Minsk this equipment, but later proposed to deploy them to Belarus on the condition that they remain under Russian command. However, these terms were unacceptable to Belarus.
Besides the Palanez MLRS, Minsk might have more in the pipeline when it comes to strategic deterrence. For three years the Ukrainian Yuzhnoye State Design Office has been developing the Hrim Tactical Ballistic Missile System, funded by an undisclosed foreign country.
Some experts, such as Aleksandr Khramchikhin, suspect it to be Belarus. Indeed, circumstantial evidence seems to point to the fact that Belarus – possibly together with some third country – might be paying Ukraine for a brand-new missile system.
Air force: downshifting continues
On 22 August the Belta news agency published information from the Defence Ministry about procurement of new equipment for the Air Force. Minsk decided to purchase four more Yak-130 aircraft. In the next weeks, the Belarusian army also received Mi-8MTV-5 helicopters. Although Belta failed to specify exactly how many, in June 2015 the Russian Holding Vertolety Rossii announced a contract with Belarus on delivery of 12 Mi-8MTV-5s in 2016-2017 .
Explaining the procurement decision, the Defence Ministry insists that “air force and air defence troops are being perfected and improved based on global trends in development of forms and methods of troop deployment.” He once again praised the Yak-130 aircraft as “the newest” and “unparalleled in its class.”
These claims, however, are dubious. Both Mi-8 and Yak-130 are indicative of an ongoing trend of Belarusian Air Force downshifting. Instead of decommissioned Su-24 bombers and Su-27 heavy fighter jets, Minsk deploys Yak-130 subsonic advanced jet trainers and ground-attack aircraft. In the future it wants to replace Su-25 ground-attack aircraft with Yak-130, too.
Interestingly, the Yak-130 was developed as a result of a Russian-Italian joint project and the plane has a twin brother, the Alenia Aermacchi M-346 Master. Poland has recently deployed it, but unlike Belarus and the Yak-130 it does not try to present M-346 as anything more than it is – a trainer and light ground-attack aircraft unable to replace modern military aircraft such as Su-25 or Su-27.
A similar problem concerns the purchase of Mi-8 MTV-5. These multi-purpose military transport helicopters can be armed with weapons like those installed on the famous Mi-24 attack helicopters. They thus can become a kind of ersatz Mi-24, although they certainly do not measure up to the Mi-24's capacities.
At the moment the Belarusian army still operates several Mi-24 inherited from the Soviet armed forces. The machines are old but they constitute a significant part of the mobile firepower capacities of the Belarusian army. Minsk has never openly discussed plans to buy replacements in the form of newer modifications of the Mi-24. It now seems that the Belarusian army plans to use Mi-8MTV-5 for that purpose.
This means that in the foreseeable future the Belarusian Air Force will increasingly rely on Yak-130 and Mi-8 with various modifications. It also continues to use older Soviet-times MiG-29 fighter jets, hoping at some point to acquire new Su-30s from Russia.
Another indicator of the decision to rely on Yak-130 and Mi-8 emerged earlier this month. On 17 August the Belarusian military news agency Vayar reported that Belarusian defence industries are producing their own fuel for S-8M unguided aviation rockets. These rockets are installed only on Mi-8, Mi-24 and Yak-130.
Minsk is apparently focusing its R&D efforts on the most urgent needs of the national Air Force. Belarus can now refuel rockets itself and keep older ammunition in working order. Before, it had to ask for services of the Russian firm which has been producing them since Soviet times.
Radars as a response to the US missile defence system?
On 16 August the Belarusian Defence Ministry announced deployment of the first Protivnik-GE early warning surveillance radar. By 2020, Minsk plans to receive a total of seven Russian-made radars of this type. Ihar Nasibyants, commander of Radiotechnic Forces, told the Belta news agency that after deployment of these radars, Belarus would have “completed the establishment of the radiolocation intelligence component of a non-strategic missile defence system”.
In other words, the delivery of these radars to Belarus is a Russian answer to the US missile defence system in Europe. Moscow argues that NATO can use the latter system to attack Russia with cruise missiles. Noteably, the new radars Belarus plans to deploy are reportedly especially efficient in dealing with such threats.
Moscow discussed the possibility of deploying Iskander tactic ballistic missile systems in Belarus Read more
To counter the US missile defence system, Moscow discussed the possibility of deploying Iskander tactic ballistic missile systems in Belarus. However, Minsk resisted this move as they would have remained under Russian command. Thus, Minsk and Moscow have chosen to deploy new radars to react to the US missile defence system.
In sum, it would be wrong to describe the current transformation of the Belarusian armed forces as a decline. Minsk is reshaping its army in an organised manner in accordance with its financial resources, e.g., downshifting its air force.
Although procurement of equipment for the Belarusian military is in line with both the national security priorities of Belarus and the interests of its Russian ally, Belarusian leadership retains the final word. Hence, Minsk has deployed new radars from Russia and refuses to host a Russian airbase and Russian army missile units.