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By attempting to overthrow Lukashenko, Putin risks his own throne

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Everyone has their eyes on the events currently taking place in Belarus. I am sure that there weren’t a lot of people who doubted that the official election results will see Lukashenko win. Everyone also knew that the elections wouldn’t be fair. But there was one surprise – widespread protests erupted, uncharacteristically for Belarus, because of the election results, writes Zintis Znotiņš.

As strange as it sounds, the one who initially warned about possible unrest was Lukashenko himself. Belarus’ national news agency BELTA informed that on the night of 29 July law enforcement officials had detained near Minsk 32 mercenaries of the Russian private military company Vagner, while another person had been detained in southern Belarus. It was reported that there are 200 additional persons in the territory of Belarus and that they are being searched for, adding that it is like looking for a needle in a haystack. The aim of these people was to destabilize the situation during the election campaign.This means that Russia, or Putin, to be more precise, is interested in destabilizing the situation in Belarus.

It is often possible to gain understanding about a situation by thinking about who benefits from it. In the case of Belarus, we must understand who would want Lukashenko out of the picture. Lukashenko, undoubtedly, is one of the last dictators (after Putin, of course), and we can be certain that Belarusians want to live differently, but was it only the sudden will of the Belarusian people that allowed for mass unrest in a totalitarian state? I believe that Belarusian secret services would have quickly neutralized such “activists”.

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Who else would be interested in removing Lukashenko? Leaders of the EU? The United States? Let’s be completely honest – they indeed support democracy, but I highly doubt that anyone would be interested in engaging in particular activities to overthrow Lukashenko. We can condemn Lukashenko for several things, but in general I would even say that the EU and the US are more interested in Lukashenko remaining the president of Belarus.

Why? Quite simple – there is one person who despises Lukashenko and who has not been able to break or subdue him. This person is none other than the emperor next door Vladimir Putin, who was even forced to toy with the constitution because Lukashenko stubbornly resisted the creation of a unified state, denying Putin an even higher post. We also have to mention energy disputes between Belarus and Russia, as well as the unwillingness of Belarus to establish new Russian military bases.

If we look at the situation in Belarus from Putin’s point of view, he wants to replace the stubborn Lukashenko with someone more obedient and loyal to the Kremlin. How can he do this? We already know the answer – by sparking unrest.

It is still impossible to determine how everything truly unfolded, but we can certainly put forward our hypotheses.

So, before the election Lukashenko got rid of the candidates that could threaten him and left those who are less dangerous – it is democratic, after all. He also believed that local unrest would be easily suppressed, considering Lukashenko’s experience in this regard. However, the protests and local aggression opened the gates for the lawlessness of Belarusian power structures. No one can tell whether the local conflicts were initiated by those 200 people that were still in Belarus, but it is highly likely – especially if we remember Russia’s engagement in Ukraine.

However, this time something went wrong. Instead of increasing violence, the Belarusian people decided to participate in peaceful protests, which continued and are continuing to expand. I don’t believe Putin expected such a turn of events. Lukashenko understood that it’s one thing if Putin wants to make his life “more interesting”, but it’s something entirely different if Putin now desperately wants for the protests to end and for Lukashenko to remain in power. The reason for this is that Russians could take an example from their neighbors and start their own protests. In the Russian Far Eastern city of Khabarovsk, people have been protesting for six days in a row in support of former governor Sergey Furgal and the participants of these protests have also expressed support for Belarus.2 This means that Putin too is in a complicated situation and he could turn from being the overthrower into being the one overthrown.

Why do we even believe that Putin has anything to do with all of this? There is no direct evidence, but there is plenty of indirect evidence. First, he has a motive, the resources and previous experience. Second, the fact that Lukashenko is actively phoning Putin signals that Lukashenko believes Putin is not behind all of the protests. Believe it or not, but if you’re closely following the events in Belarus you would have noticed that after having a conversation with Putin the violence decreased and what remained were only the peaceful protests of the regular people.

What was the outcome of these conversations? The Vagnermercenaries detained in Belarus were given back to Russia, who in turn stated that they will not be punished. However, there are two significant aspects. First, despite the situation in Minsk being far from peaceful, Lukashenko ordered to relocate the Vitebsk air assault brigade to Grodno in western Belarus.

In the Ministry of Defense’s Strategic Command Center, representatives of the Belarusian Armed Forces informed about increasing “the military component” near the country’s western borders. Lukashenko is concerned about NATO drills taking place in Belarus’ neighboring countries. He stated that arming has escalated in these territories.3 One of the most combat capable units is being redeployed near the border while Minsk is in chaos? It just doesn’t seem logical. Well, Minsk lies between Vitebsk and Grodno, so the troops could stay in Minsk for a couple of days. Next, according to numerous media reports and photos available online the Conflict Intelligence Team (CIT) has identified trucks of the Russian National Guard heading in the direction of the Belarusian border.4 Where are they going and what will they do – I hope we never find out.

One thing is certain ­­– even if those behind the initial protests had other goals, this opened the gates for the Belarusian people to unite and express their opinion regarding the election, thus shaking the foundations of power in Belarus. Such a scenario was not foreseen neither by Lukashenko, nor Putin, who is now afraid of something similar happening in Russia. Therefore, it is very likely – as history has shown us numerous times – that enemies have now united to remain in power. But I do hope that first Belarus and then Russia will decide to get rid of Europe’s last dictators. It looks like this time Putin has miscalculated, and the initial idea of overthrowing Lukashenko could end with Putin himself being overthrown.

1 https://www.lsm.lv/raksts/zinas/arzemes/baltkrievija-apsudz-krievu-algotnus-un-lukasenko-kritikus-nemieru-planosana.a368870/

2 https://www.delfi.lv/news/arzemes/habarovska-jau-sesto-nedelas-nogali-turpinas-protesti.d?id=52381637

3 https://www.delfi.lv/news/arzemes/lukasenko-noriko-parsviest-desantniekus-uz-grodnu.d?id=52381969

4 https://www.apollo.lv/7040835/mediji-baltkrievijas-virziena-dodas-nemarketas-krievijas-nacionalas-gvardes-autokolonnas

The opinions expressed in this article are those of the author alone, and do not reflect any opinions on the part of EU Reporter.

Belarus

Ukraine aims to build a Nuclear Fuel Storage Facility, challenges the global environment

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With major climate and environmental challenges the world is facing today, a tiny risk that may provoke further damage to the nature (not to mention a global threat) must be calculated with extra dedication to details. And Ukraine is not an exception, writes Olga Malik.

As the country’s new Chernobyl Interim Spent Nuclear Fuel Storage Facility (ISF-2) was granted an operating license earlier in April, Ukraine started the loading of used fuel into the containerized dry storage systems. On July 8, the first part of the spent nuclear fuel was loaded to the ISF-2.

Yet, this poses many questions, even among the country’s authorities, as the experiment might not be as safe as it initially seemed to.

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According to Stanislav Mitrahovich, the leading expert of the National Energy Security Fund, the major operation risk of the ISF-2 is that it is ground-based and the transportation of the nuclear waste will also be operated through the surface transit. Designed by Holtec International, the price of $1,4 Storage project, according to Energoatom, the main operator and investor of the ISF-2, is multiples higher than its real cost. Moreover, due to the limited number of nuclear storage space in Ukraine, the spent fuel to ISF-2 will be transported throughout the country that poses a great ecological threat not only to Ukrainian cities, but to all Europe.

Ironically it may seem, the previous project of the new Chernobyl Nuclear Fuel Storage Facility designed by the French’s Framatom was a big failure, as the Ukraine authorities admit. For instance, the Storage’s bulk had fractures water system flaws. For Holtec International, that redesigned and completed the construction, the ISF-2 is an experiment, as the company has never implemented similar facilities before. Needless to say, that the safety of this “experiment” must be a priority for the global nuclear energy community, such as the International Atomic Energy Agency and WANO Biennial General Meeting, for the world will not survive a second Chernobyl disaster.

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Belarus

Belarus powers ahead with nuclear project despite some opposition

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Despite opposition in some quarters, Belarus has become the latest in a growing number of countries using nuclear energy.

Each insist nuclear produces clean, reliable and cost-effective electricity.

The EU supports safe nuclear production and one of the newest plants is in Belarus where the first reactor of the country’s first ever nuclear power plant was connected last year to the national grid and earlier this year started fully-fledged commercial operation.

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The Belarusian Nuclear Power Plant, also known as the Astravets plant, will have two operating reactors with a total about 2.4 GW of generation capacity when completed in 2022.

When both units are at full power, the 2382 MWe plant will avoid the emission of more than 14 million tonnes of carbon dioxide each year by replacing carbon-intensive fossil fuels generation.

Belarus is considering construction of a second nuclear power plant which would further reduce its dependency on imported fossil fuels and move the country closer to net-zero.

Currently, there are about 443 nuclear power reactors operating in 33 countries, providing about 10% of the world's electricity.

About 50 power reactors are currently being constructed in 19 countries.

Sama Bilbao y León, Director General of the World Nuclear Association, the international organisation that represents the global nuclear industry, said: “Evidence is mounting that to keep on a sustainable and low-carbon energy path we need to rapidly accelerate the amount of new nuclear capacity built and connected to the grid globally. The 2.4 GW of new nuclear capacity in Belarus will be a vital contribution to achieving this goal.”

The Belarus plant has faced continued opposition from neighbouring Lithuania where officials have voiced concerns about safety.

The Belarusian energy ministry has said the plant when fully operational will supply about one-third of the country’s electricity requirements.

The plant is reportedly costing about $7-10 billion.

Despite concerns by some MEPs, who have mounted a strong lobbying campaign against the Belarusian plant, international watchdogs, such as International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) have welcomed project’s completion.

The IAEA team of experts recently has completed a nuclear security advisory mission in Belarus, carried out at the request of the Belarus government. The aim was to review the national security regime for nuclear material and associated facilities and activities and the visit included a review of physical protection measures implemented at the site, security aspects related to the transport of nuclear material and computer security.

The team, which included experts from France, Switzerland and the UK, concluded that Belarus had established a nuclear security regime in compliance with the IAEA’s guidance on the fundamentals of nuclear security. Good practices were identified that can serve as examples to other IAEA Member States to help strengthen their nuclear security activities.

IAEA’s Division of Nuclear Security Director Elena Buglova said: “By hosting an IPPAS mission, Belarus has demonstrated its strong commitment and continuous efforts to enhance its national nuclear security regime. Belarus has also contributed to refining IPPAS methodologies in recent months, in particular by conducting a pilot self-assessment of its nuclear security regime in preparation for the mission.”

The mission was, in fact, the third IPPAS mission hosted by Belarus, following two which took place in 2000 and 2009 respectively.

Despite efforts to offer reassurances, concerns do persist about the safety of the nuclear industry.

French energy expert Jean-Marie Berniolles concedes that accidents at nuclear plants over the years have “deeply changed” Europe’s perception of nuclear plants, “turning what should have been one of the most sustainable electricity generation sources into a lightning rod for criticism”.

He said: “This is proof of an increasingly ideologically tainted viewpoint entirely divorced from scientific facts.”

France is one country that has fallen out of love with the nuclear technology, culminating in the 2015 Act on the energy transition for green growth that envisions the share of nuclear in France’s energy mix to fall to 50% (down from roughly 75%) by 2025.

There are many who argue that this will be impossible to achieve. 

Berniolles says the Belarus plant is “another example of how nuclear safety is leveraged to prevent NPPs from achieving full and timely operability”.

He said, “Although not a member state of the European Union, several MEPS, at the urging of Lithuania, demanded in February 2021 that Belarus suspend the project over supposed safety concerns.”

Such demands continue to be voiced fervently, even after the European Nuclear Safety Regulators Group (ENSREG) said that the safety measures at Astravets are squarely in line with European standards. The peer reviewed report – published after extensive site visits and safety evaluations – said that the reactors as well as the NPP’s location are “no cause for concern”.

Indeed, IAEA Director General Rafael Grossi stated in a recent European Parliament hearing that: “We’ve been engaging with Belarus for a long time,” “we are present in the field all the time”, and the IAEA has found “good practices and things to improve but we have not found any reason for that plant not to operate”.

The Belarus plant’s opponents continue to draw comparisons to Chernobyl but Berniolles says that “one of the fundamental lessons gleaned from Chernobyl was that complete core melt-throughs needed to be thoroughly contained”.

“This is usually carried out with a device called a core-catcher, and every VVER-1200 reactor – two of which are in Astravets – is equipped with it. The core-catcher’s cooling system must be able to cool the core debris where a thermal power of about 50 MW is generated during the first days following the nuclear accident. No neutronic excursion occurs under these circumstances, in what is another fundamental difference to Chernobyl. Given that European safety experts have not raised these issues during their analyses of Astravets indicates that there are no problems with these measures,” he added.

He and others note that while Lithuania and some MEPs may have spent years criticising the plant’s safety measures “the fact is that they were never found to be seriously lacking”.

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Belarus

On Washington visit, Belarus opposition leader asks US for more help

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Belarusian opposition leader Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya looks on after taking part in a panel discussion with Belarusian film director Aliaksei Paluyan in Berlin, Germany, 11 June. REUTERS/Axel Schmidt/File Photo

Belarus opposition leader Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya (pictured) appealed on Monday (19 July) for more help from the United States as she began a visit to Washington for meetings with top Biden administration officials this week, write Steve Holland and Doina Chiacu.

Belarus President Alexander Lukashenko has kept a tight grip on Belarus since 1994 and has cracked down on street protests that began over a presidential election last August that his opponents say was rigged so that he could retain power.

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Tsikhanouskaya, 38, was a candidate in the election instead of her husband, Sergei Tsikhanouskiy, a video blogger who has been jailed since May 2020 on charges such as violating public order, which he denies. Tsikhanouskaya fled to neighboring Lithuania after Lukashenko's crackdown.

She met with Secretary of State Antony Blinken, Undersecretary of State for Political Affairs Victoria Nuland and State Department Counselor Derek Chollet, the State Department said in a statement.

It said they discussed the need for the Lukashenko government's "crackdown to end, along with the unconditional release of all political prisoners in Belarus, and an inclusive political dialogue and new presidential elections under international observation".

Tsikhanouskaya also had meetings planned this week with senior White House officials, a senior administration official said.

She told CNN that more help was needed from the United States and the European Union.

"The USA has a moral obligation to be with us. I ask the USA to help civil society survive," she said. "Stand with Belarus."

The senior administration official said the United States "stands with" Tsikhanouskaya and the people of Belarus and "will continue to support their democratic aspirations."

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