Three men who are alleged to have attempted to slow down the Russian military advance through Belarus at the beginning of Vladimir Putin’s invasion of Ukraine are set to face the death penalty for high treason.
The three men, who have become known as the “rail partisans”, have not been named but are said to be aged 29, 33, and 51. They have been labelled “terrorists” and “traitors” by Belarusian prosecutors.
They stand accused by the Belarusian regime – often referred to as the last dictatorship in Europe – of high treason for having allegedly damaged a railway line in a bid to stop supplies of Russian weaponry and equipment from transiting through Belarus to Ukraine.
They currently face treason and terrorism charges from the regime of Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko, who has been in power since 1994 and is a close ally of Vladimir Putin, even allowing Russia to use Belarus as a staging area for some of Russia’s forces at the beginning of the invasion of Ukraine, when Russian troops raced – unsuccessfully – to take the capital Kyiv.
At the end of May 2022, Lukashenko signed a law so that any attempt to commit “a terrorist act” would be “punishable by death”.
The Investigative Committee of the Republic of Belarus said in a statement on Wednesday, 29th June: “The investigation of the criminal case against the men who carried out the act of terrorism on the railway was completed.
“The Main Directorate for the Investigation of Crimes in the Sphere of Organised Crime and Corruption has completed the investigation of the criminal case against traitors to the Motherland.
“According to the investigation, a 29-year-old resident of Svetlogorsk in February of this year, on his own initiative, joined the extremist formations ‘BYPOL’ / ‘mobilization plan’ ‘Peramoga’, from whose leaders he received the task of disabling the railway infrastructure in the Gomel region.
“The administrators of the criminal community sent the man detailed instructions on how to make tools and how to commit crimes, as well as recommendations on conspiracy measures.
“The man was not taken aback and offered to his friends to join the criminal community. Two men (33 and 51 years old) agreed to the dubious offer. To motivate them to commit a crime, representatives of extremist groups paid them all the expenses for preparation, and also transferred money ‘for the work done’ to an electronic wallet. In total, the defendants were paid a little more than BYN 1,000 [GBP 245].
“Having discussed the plan, the group of terrorists assigned roles among themselves, discussed options for conspiracy and escape routes. At the appointed time, at night from 28th February to 1st March, according to the assignment received, the attackers set fire to a relay cabinet with equipment, which is a signalling device that ensures the safe passage of pedestrians and vehicles, which caused the risk of catastrophic consequences, including the collapse of trains and the death of passengers.
“During the investigation of the criminal case, it was established that all this was a planned crime to the smallest detail, and each defendant was responsible for his own ‘task’.
“The men went about their ‘business’ in the car of a 51-year-old member of a criminal group. In order not to attract attention, the foreign car was left in the nearest village. The driver also stayed there for insurance purposes.
“The young people went to the place of arson on foot. Having fulfilled the criminal plan, they returned to the accomplice. After that, the extremists fled and tried to take all possible measures to conceal the traces of the crime.
“The investigation established that the criminal actions of the defendants, including those to assist a foreign organization in causing harm to the national security of the Republic of Belarus, are a betrayal of the Motherland – treason to the state.
“Thanks to the well-coordinated and efficient work of law enforcement officers, members of the criminal group were identified and detained. When conducting investigative actions with the participation of the accused, the investigators were able to reconstruct the picture of what happened every minute of the way, as well as find discarded evidence.
“Fortunately, the catastrophe and human casualties as a result of the terrorist attack on the railway were avoided, but the damage caused by the criminal actions of the defendants amounted to about BYN 55,000 [GBP 13,448].
“Currently, the members of the criminal group are taking every opportunity to compensate for the damage and cooperate with the investigation.
“As part of the case, about 20 expert studies were carried out, the conclusions of which confirm the involvement of men in the commission of crimes, the accused and witnesses were interrogated, and testimonies were checked on the spot.
“As a result of the investigation, the men were charged under a number of articles of the Criminal Code of the Republic of Belarus:
Part 3 Art. 361-1 (participation in an extremist formation);
Part 3 Art. 289 (an act of terrorism committed as part of an organized group, entailing grave consequences, creating a threat of death to people and causing bodily harm to them);
h.h. 2.4 art. 309 (deliberately rendering the means of communication unusable, which entailed grave consequences, and also created a threat of collapse, accident and death of people);
Part 1 Art. 356 (treason against the state).
“A measure of restraint in the form of detention was applied to them. The property of the defendants was seized for a total amount of more than 57 thousand rubles.
“Men who commit these acts can face the maximum penalty, up to and including the death penalty.
“The investigation of the criminal case has been completed, the materials have been handed over to the prosecutor for sending to the court.”
Under Belarusian law, these charges carry a maximum penalty of being put to death.
Unconfirmed reports state that by mid-June, according to the Belarusian human rights centre Viasna, at least 11 people had been charged with an “Act of Terrorism” in connection with sabotage on the railway.
Russia invaded Ukraine on 24th February in what the Kremlin is calling a “special military operation”. Today marks the 126th day of the invasion.
The General Staff of the Armed Forces of Ukraine reported that between 24th February and 29th June, Russia had lost about 35,450 personnel, 1,572 tanks, 3,720 armoured combat vehicles, 781 artillery units, 246 multiple launch rocket systems, 103 air defence systems, 217 warplanes, 185 helicopters, 640 drones, 142 cruise missiles, 14 warships, 2,598 motor vehicles and fuel tankers, and 61 units of special equipment.
Turkey has agreed to support Finland and Sweden’s NATO membership after having initially opposed the countries’ bids to join the military alliance.
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan had met with Finland’s President Sauli Niinisto and Swedish Prime Minister Magdalena Andersson at the NATO summit in Madrid.
Jens Stoltenberg, the NATO Secretary General, said: “I am pleased to announce that we now have an agreement that paves the way for Finland and Sweden to join NATO.”
US President Joe Biden congratulated the three countries, saying: “Congratulations to Finland, Sweden, and Turkey on signing a trilateral memorandum – a crucial step towards a NATO invite to Finland and Sweden, which will strengthen our Alliance and bolster our collective security – and a great way to begin the Summit.”
The Russian bombing on a shopping mall in the central Ukrainian city of Kremenchuk has been described by President Zelenskyy as one of the “most brazen terrorist acts in European history”. Over 1,000 people are said to have been inside the building when it was hit by missiles.
The toll has risen to 18 people confirmed dead, with another 59 injured and 25 being treated in hospital. Some 36 people are still unaccounted for.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy has urged the United Nations to visit the site and has demanded that Russia be expelled as a permanent member of the UN Security Council, accusing the country of having become a “terrorist state”.
Russia claimed on Tuesday that it had hit a nearby weapons depot, with the explosion sparking the shopping mall blaze.
NATO is planning to boost its quick reaction forces from 40,000 troops to over 300,000 troops.