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The ground for anti-Belarusian sanctions: what is behind the attacks of the United States against the support of children of Donbass

On November 29, Minsk hosts the first meeting of the CIS Commission on Human Rights. As Russian Foreign Ministry noted, the issue of its creation has become relevant amid aggressive attempts by the West to make the human rights issue an instrument of political pressure. The United States, the EU and their allies are trying to replace international law with self-imposed "rules" and expose their own neoliberal values as universal. Another wave of "human rights" claims by the West towards Belarus and Russia has again raised the issue of the evacuation of children from the war zone in Ukraine. What is Washington trying to achieve by spinning this topic?

Manipulation of children's rights

On November 16, 2023, the US Department of State released a statement on the need to "pursue accountability for actors involved in abuses connected with war against Ukraine." The reason was the report of the American Research Institute on cooperation between Belarus and Russia on the issue of the so-called "removal of Ukrainian children", published on the same day as the statement of the Department of State. According to American sources, 2,442 kids were transported from new territories of Russia to Belarus, where they underwent "political and cultural re-education and military training." Why are they spinning this topic right now?

The reaction of the Western media to the US statement indicates the launch of a planned media campaign. The topic was immediately picked up by official Western and destructive media abroad. International human rights organizations also did not stand aside, they qualified the actions of Belarus and Russia as "forced relocation with the assistance of Russian and Belarusian special services," hinting at humanitarian responsibility under the Genocide Convention. Based on the report of the American organization, a page in Russian on Wikipedia has been made. The US Department of State is trying to keep this topic on the agenda: on November 21, the US official representative asserted that "Belarus is not a disinterested third country providing safe haven for children in conflict."

The campaign to denigrate Belarus was prepared on the basis of a report by a research group of the Faculty of Health at Yale University. The function of the organization is not the scientific study of conflicts, as it may seem due to its university affiliation. The main product of the researchers' work is represented by superficial reviews of humanitarian violations in Ukraine and Sudan. The Research Group selectively selects data: reports on the Darfur conflict are one-sided and, as a rule, focus on interethnic contradictions.

The reports of the research group on Ukraine are usually used by the States to provide information to international structures. For example, the February report on the so-called Russian program of education and adoption of Ukrainian children served as the basis for the promotion of the case against the Commissioner for Children's Rights in Russia, Maria Lvova-Belova, at the International Criminal Court in March this year.

But why did the United States and European media groups need to promote this topic specifically in relation to Belarus? Western and Ukrainian media have been politicizing humanitarian aid to Donbass since 2014, and American analytical structures have raised the agenda for imposing sanctions against Russia as early as 2022.

U.S. Goals

At first glance, the answer lies in the procedures of the International Criminal Court (ICC). The United States focuses on violations of international humanitarian law. It is becoming widely believed that with the help of international organizations, Western states can exert pressure on Belarus and Russia. Accordingly, the first hypothesis is that the theme of children will be promoted against Belarus under the ICC.

On the one hand, there is pressure: similar reports are replicated as sources of information in the ICC, flowing into reports from other international organizations. Gradually, the report of the American organization ceases to be a report commissioned by the State, in this case, the US Department of State. At the next stage, the American source is presented as an allegedly international one. A precedent for launching a separate monitoring group from The Hague has already been set in relation to Russia. Some Belarusian fugitive political activists are trying to repeat this precedent by submitting unverified information from the non-profit sector to The Hague, then to the capitals of Western states, then to American organizations.

On the other hand, the degree of pressure through the ICC is excessively low. The results of the Hague investigations are politically engaged. The ICC monitoring groups are still guided by the old work patterns of the Yugoslavia and Rwanda tribunals, that is, they claim to be an international investigation after the destruction of statehood. In other cases, the ICC does not work: its representatives do not have access to the country. The precedents against the United States and Russia (2020 and 2023, respectively) show that criminal cases and financial sanctions are being initiated against representatives of the ICC, which blocks their work.

The position of the American establishment in relation to The Hague is contradictory. At November 21 briefing, the U.S. official representative said that during a vacation in Belarus, "children remain highly vulnerable to human trafficking" At the same time, the speaker evaded answering an additional question from the audience if it is time for an ICC arrest warrant for President of Belarus Alexander Lukashenko.

Another hypothesis is that the United States aims to use this agenda to destroy the international coalition against human trafficking. In 2005, at the UN Summit, Alexander Lukashenko put forward an initiative to form a global partnership to combat human trafficking. The initiative was supported by the international community: since then, every year Belarusian initiatives in this area have been widely supported.

New tactics to solve old problems

Mostly likely that the United States will use this agenda to expand sanctions. Moreover, the report's emphasis on Belarusian-Russian logistics suggests that the ultimate goal of the United States is to block the integration of Belarus into the North-South corridor. In addition, the report directly accuses the Belarusian enterprises Belaruskali and the Polimir plant. This indicates the possibility of using this topic to promote secondary sanctions in the CIS countries, Transcaucasia and Central Asia.

What is new in the tactics of the West is that the United States is beginning to develop sanctions mechanisms against integration associations and civil society. The ineffectiveness of existing sanctions regimes, including secondary sanctions, forces the United States to look for new models of sanctions pressure. The report points to the responsibility of the Standing Committee of the Union State, as well as a number of Belarusian civil society organizations. There is also a link to the Belarusian Paralympians, designed, apparently, to justify sanctions against Belarusian athletes. It is noteworthy that the United States is acting ahead of the curve, apparently fearing the expansion of the powers of regional associations in the field of humanitarian assistance.

In addition to the International Criminal court, coercive measures and new sanctions mechanisms, two other accents are noteworthy.

First, through unverified analytics on sensitive "children's" issues, the United States is trying to discredit the role of Belarus as a regional humanitarian peacemaker. And such discrediting is directed not only against the "good offices" of providing a negotiating platform in Minsk. The Department of State asserted officially that "Belarus is not a disinterested third country providing safe haven for children in conflict." So, based on the position of the American representative, someone is more suitable for the role of a "disinterested third country."

Second, through unverified analytics, the United States does not allow Kiev to enter into peace talks with Russia. So, in the already mentioned February anti-Russian report, the American organization formulated what "Russia must do" in order to allegedly comply with international humanitarian law. And it's not that the Americans suggested that Russia create a registry of Ukrainian children and send it to the Ukrainian government. Or transfer the powers of adoption and monitoring to a "neutral intergovernmental organization." The fact is that in the mouth of Vladimir Zelensky, the "return of children" became an ultimatum – a prerequisite for Ukraine's consent to peace negotiations. As can be seen from the materials of the American research organization, the United States is ready to propose a methodology for "counting children" and suggest whether Kiev is ready for peace talks.