Legal uncertainty: why Belarus is Russia’s accomplice in the war against Ukraine

In early March, MIHR journalists established that kidnapped Ukrainians were taken to pretrial detention centers in Russia through Belarus or were held in special camps in Belarus itself. It was from Belarus that Russia invaded Ukraine’s Kyiv and Chernihiv oblasts. And now, when air raid sirens are going off, we hear reports of missiles launched from Belarus. Yet Belarus still isn’t talked about as a party to this war. MIHR decided to find out why.

During the occupation of Kyiv and Chernihiv oblasts, the locals didn’t just see Russian soldiers, but also Belarusians. A woman from the village of Nova Basan in Chernihiv Oblast asked the occupiers where they were from. «They said they were from Belarus,» Vitaliy Veres, the woman’s relative, who was in the same village during the occupation, told MIHR.After the village was liberated, Ukrainian troops found abandoned Belarusian-made things there. Anatoliy Burbeza, who serves in the Volunteer Forces of the Irpin Territorial Community, took pictures of some of these items. They feature a pack of Belarusian cigarettes as well as a piece of a sheet used by Belarusian armed forces.

Military history scholar Mykhailo Zhyrokhov has also been told by a number of people that they saw Belarusians in Ukraine.

«I have spoken to people who personally saw, for one, Belarusian uniforms on the dead, and secondly, the Belarusian flag on armored vehicles that they destroyed. This was in Kolychivka, Lukashivka, Mykhailo-Kotsyubynske,» Mykhailo Zhyrokhov told MIHR.

However, there is no photo or video evidence of this. Mykhailo Zhyrokhov believes that Belarusians may have been fighting in the war as part of Russian units, or providing rear support. Belarusian journalist Andrey Myadzvedzev confirms this. According to him, the entire state health care in Belarusian border regions, in particular the district hospitals of Yelsk, Mozyr and Naroulia, was used for treating wounded Russian soldiers.

Mykhailo Zhyrokhov, Facebook


Lawyer and MIHR expert Andriy Yakovliev believes that Belarus is Russia’s accomplice in its military aggression against Ukraine but not yet a party to an international armed conflict, which, nevertheless, doesn’t mean that Belarus bears no blame here. According to Andriy, the fact that Belarus is allowing another state to perpetrate a crime of aggression from its territory is in itself a crime of aggression.«This makes the military and political leaders of Belarus complicit in a crime of aggression,» says Andriy Yakovliev.At the same time, he believes that being an accomplice in a crime of aggression isn’t enough to recognize Belarus as a party to an armed conflict. It is necessary to prove first that Belarus has used its own armed forces to attack Ukraine or capture Ukrainian soldiers or civilians. So far, there has been no verified evidence of this.

«Right now we need a special tribunal on the crime of aggression in order to bring those responsible to justice,» says the lawyer. «Since Ukraine hasn’t ratified the Rome Statute yet, this is outside the jurisdiction of the International Criminal Court.»

Andriy Yakovliev. Photo: Ukrainian Legal Aid Foundation

MIHR is already looking into the issue of crimes of aggression. In our future reports we will explore the role of Belarus in the commission of war crimes and crimes against humanity.

MIHR promptly publishes all stories on the website. For more information, please contact: [email protected].

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