On August 5, CNN released a report on a “possible prison camp for political dissidents” located outside of Minsk. The Belarusian government didn’t respond to requests for comment prior to publication, CNN said. But on August 6, both Belarusian state television and the Defense Ministry denounced the article as “fake news.” Defense officials maintained that the site is the location of an arms depot for the Belarusian air defense forces, which was built in the 1950s. The independent news outlet Zerkalo.io also reported that CNN’s article got “everything” wrong. That said, opposition activists in Belarus have previously warned that the Lukashenko regime may try to construct prison camps.
In an article published on August 5, CNN released footage of a “possible prison camp for political dissidents” located in Novokolosovo — a village about an hour away from Minsk. CNN described the facility as “recently constructed” and protected by “three layers of electrified fence.”
The news network cited witness statements and videos as evidence that the site could be a potential detention camp, while recalling that opposition activists have previously voiced fears that the Belarusian authorities were trying to build prison camps for dissidents. The report also underscored that the Belarusian government didn’t respond to CNN’s request for comment prior to publication.
But on August 6, both the Belarusian Defense Ministry and state television refuted the report, claiming that CNN had released “fake news” and that the site is actually a military arms depot. “Every child in the village of Novokolosovo, Stolbtsovsky District, knows this military base very well. It’s been there since the 1950s,” the Defense Ministry wrote in a lengthy post on Telegram.
Defense officials claimed that the site is the location of the Belarusian military’s 25th arsenal of rocket and artillery weapons. The Defense Ministry also cited a comment from the arms depot’s head, Alexander Babenko, who said that radio-technical troops, air defense, and anti-aircraft missile troops are stationed there. “Basically, officers and warrant officers serve in the arms depot, [and] civilian personnel. We only have contracted forces,” Babenko said, as quoted by the Defense Ministry.
The Belarusian Defense Ministry also published a comment attributed to a “local resident” named Dmitry Shinkov, who said that “everyone knows this arms depot very well,” since it’s a “city-forming” military base.
The ministry also criticized CNN’s reporters for “focusing during filming on ‘peeping’ shots taken from a distance,” claiming that “a large sign with the inscription ‘Military Base’ didn’t end up on air.” The statement concluded by saying, “the Belarusian Defense Ministry is prepared to receive the CNN film crew so that the journalists can complete their ‘investigation’.”
Earlier in the day on Friday, the Belarusian state TV channel ONT also claimed that “CNN released a fake.” ONT showed drone footage of the military base’s territory, as well as video footage of the arms depot’s interior, where military equipment is stored. The state television channel cited the exact same comments from the arms depot’s head Alexander Babenko and purported local resident Dmitry Shinkov as the Defense Ministry. CNN subsequently updated its report to include the claims made by the Belarusian state television channel.
The independent Belarusian news outlet Zerkalo.io (recently founded by journalists from the prominent publication Tut.by), also identified the “camp” from the CNN article as the 25th arsenal of rocket and artillery weapons. Novokolosovo City Council Chairman Dmitry Korshunkov said that “equipment and weapons are stored here, conscripts, contract soldiers, and civilians are working.” “I don’t even know what to call it,” Korshunkov told Zerkalo.io, when asked about CNN’s article. “It’s a fake on such a scale, I don’t even know.”
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