Updated at 13:40,04-04-2020

Why were patriots released?

Pavel Sviardlou, Euroradio

Why were patriots released?
Viktar Danilau meets his fiancee after three months behind bars. Photo: Euroradio
On June 30, Miraslau Lazouski, the last suspect in the 'patriots' case', walked out free after having spent three months and ten days behind bars. However, the criminal case against the former leader of White Legion remains open. He and other fellow 'patriots' face charges of forming an illegal armed unit. At the same time, it is hardly a coincidence that 11 people connected to this criminal case were released in the course of three days.

Why did authorities open the 'patriots case'?

The 'White Legion' criminal case (also known as the 'riot case' or the 'patriots case') was opened after Aliaksandr Lukashenka's statement about "a bootcamp to train rebels in a forest near Asipovichy." Detentions took place in the evening of March 21. The first detainees were the former White Legion leader Miraslau Lazouski, book seller Ales Yaudakha, and a Ministry of Emergency officer Andrei Dundukou. A total of over 20 people ended up in jail.

"The tasks that the regime planned to achieve using the 'riot case' have been accomplished," reckons political commentator Yury Chavusau. "It was mainly about propagana aiming to adjust public opinion inside the country. The case was opened in March 2017, the time when a wave of social and politial protests swept across the country. The protests were significant, prompting the authorities to return to the old repressive tactics: hundreds of detainees, dispursed demonstrations and the climax - Freedom Day on March 25 when an opposition action did not actuallytake place after security forces had blocked the city center in Minsk.

The authorites initiated this politically motivated case in order to adjust the image of law-enforcement agencies. State-run newspaper headlines lamented about a thwarted coup d'etat, while TV propaganda and fabricated videos showed 'horror stories' about "Belarusian radicals." The state simply invented this case in order to divert public discontent away from the law-enforcement agencies busy with suppressing social protests."

"I would like to remind you that detentions of [patriots] took place when Belarus de facto was in a grave economic situation. The oil and gas dispute with Russia had not been resolved yet," says political analyst Аles Lahviniec. The 'patriots case' was a clear signal to Moscow."

Patriots released before the Independence Day parade?

Why were the patriots released this week? Jokers on social media suggested that Lazouski &Co would take part in the Independence Day parade instead of Russian paratroopers who are not participating this year. However, on a more serious note political commentators link their release with the OSCE Parliamentary Assembly session that Minsk will host next week.

"There is a direct connection," believes Ales Lahviniec. "Obviously, the White Legion case was far-fetched. Now it is simply falling apart. In order to avoid protests during the OSCE Parliamentary Assembly session, the authorities have moved to release the prisoners. Based on the previous experience, authorities in Belarus release prisoners "in bulk" when they wish to please the West. The people who stayed for over three months behind bars were simply hostages. Now that they are released, the authoirites like as if they have made some progress."

"The protests have died out. In this situation, the 'patriots case' has turned into an obstruction at the foreign political scene. It is a fact that the European Union did not stop cooperation with Belarus but nevertheless European leaders expressed concern over the situation," Yury Chavusau continues. As a result, all of the suspects were cleared of the preparation for a riot charges. Does it mean that all the charges published on the front pages by state-run newspapers were lies?"

What do Belarus authorities want from Europe?

Minsk will bring its game it started three months ago to the end. However, it is too early to say that by releasing all the patriots the government will manage to mitigate all possible foreign policy consequences. Political analyst Andrei Kazakevich reckons the EU will obviously welcome the release of political prisoners and adds that the release of Lazouski has no specific purpose:

"This step is not about gaining something new. Rather, it is about not creating new obstacles for good dynamics that can be currently observed in the Belarus-EU relations."

Why were patriots released?

Andrei Kazakevich. Photo: Euroradio

"The patriots' case was a preventive psychological action against radicalization," Kazakevich continues. "[It was done] in order to demonstrate those who felt they had an opportunity to mobilize the population for more protests that there was no space for liberalization and that the authorities were prepared to respond. The case turned out to be psychologically effective. Foreign policy losses were minimal. The Belarus authorities have managed to preserve their face in relations with Europe."

Kazakevich reckons the patriots' case will not be closed and end up in court. But he expects no harsh sentences.