The exiled head of Belarus’s shadow government explains why Alexander Lukashenko must be sanctioned for his part in the invasion of Ukraine
Original in "The New European"
There is one leader in Europe who has been in power even longer than Vladimir Putin: Alexander Lukashenko.
There is one leader in Europe even more corrupt than Putin: Alexander Lukashenko.
There is one leader in Europe who oppresses and tortures his people even more than Putin: Alexander Lukashenko.
There is one leader in Europe who has managed to crush all domestic opposition to his dictatorial rule even more successfully than Putin: Alexander Lukashenko.
Lukashenko has ruled Belarus for 27 years, at the end of which Putin, Russia’s ruler for 22 years, is his last remaining ally in Europe. He, in turn, plays the same role for Putin. Lukashenko has allowed Putin to turn Belarus into a Russian puppet state, and in the process has become Putin’s puppet leader.
Switch on the TV, radio or a device connected to the internet anywhere in the world right now to find out who and what is making news, and the name Putin is everywhere. Putin, Putin, Putin. The whole world is talking about Putin, and of course, it is accurate to call this Putin’s war. But Lukashenko is very much his partner in crime.
And I choose those words carefully. His partner in crime. One criminal helping another, by allowing his country to be used as a platform for the Russian invasion of Ukraine, by providing political and military support as
Putin orders the missiles to be fired on schools, hospitals and kindergartens, as he seeks to subjugate a proud sovereign nation to his will. Putin has rightly been condemned the world over. But Lukashenko deserves far more global opprobrium than has come his way. He may be Putin’s pawn. But he is also a major player in this horror show, and it is time the West realised it, and acted accordingly. Both of these monsters need to be held to account.
My name is Pavel Latushka, and I am writing this article from political exile in Warsaw, the capital of Poland, currently welcoming vast numbers of Ukrainians fleeing war. I am in exile because after the rigged presidential elections in Belarus in August 2020,
I spoke out against the stolen votes, the corruption and criminality, the violence and torture used against those who dared to call out the election fraud for what it was.
From having been a minister of culture in the regime, and having served as an ambassador overseas, I was now labelled a terrorist, and faced seven trumped-up criminal cases against me, one of which carries the death penalty as punishment.
My 27-year-old daughter, Yana, also has a trumped-up criminal case against her, and my cousin, Anatoly, is among the 1,100 political prisoners currently being tortured in Belarus. It goes without saying all our assets have been seized by the state. All main opposition figures are either in jail, or abroad.
It is of course impossible to prove a historical counterfactual one way or the other. But while Putin is now viewed as a war criminal the world over, the case can be made that he would not have been in the position to launch the invasion, and plunge the world into such chaos, without his partner in crime joined to his hip.
And if either of them genuinely believed in democracy, of course Lukashenko would now be history. Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya would now be president and she would have opposed Putin’s illegal war, whereas Lukashenko helped to launch it.
There is not an independent election observer or opinion pollster on the planet who believes Lukashenko defeated Tsikhanouskaya, let alone by the huge margin awarded by the Electoral Commission — its members personally appointed by Lukashenko — which announced that he won with 81% of the vote. Unsurprisingly, people who knew their election had been stolen took to the streets. Unsurprisingly, the protests were brutally crushed.
Hundreds were tortured. Many were raped. Briefly, western leaders and diplomats spoke out, promised to support us in our fight for democratic rights. Then, as so often happens, other issues pressed, the caravan moved on, Lukashenko was allowed to carry on, unpunished by the world, with Putin looking on approvingly.
Long before the first tanks rolled into Ukraine, we had gathered a mass of evidence of Lukashenko’s crimes, which we have passed to the relevant authorities, and which must be properly investigated. It was encouraging to see that two former British prime ministers from different parties, Sir John Major and Gordon Brown, were forming a coalition of experts to map out the process by which Putin could be brought to justice for his war crimes.
Lukashenko must be included in any such case, and I am ready to present our case against him. Lukashenko must be brought to justice. As for current heads of government, there is one important step they can and must take if they are truly serious about doing everything necessary to bring this awful war to an end, and deliver on their pledge to make Putin fail, and be seen to fail. And that is to apply the same sanctions currently being targeted at Putin and Russia to Lukashenko and Belarus. Personal sanctions, sectoral sanctions, broader economic sanctions. It is the right approach for Russia. It is the right and necessary approach for Belarus.
Just as Putin lies, and has others repeat his lies for him, so too does Lukashenko. But when it comes to the war, he has condemned himself from his own mouth, finding it impossible not to boast that he had been the first to order the attack on Ukraine, by launching missiles from Belarus at 23:00 on February 23 at Ukraine, around five hours before Putin’s troops crossed the border. Missiles, attack helicopters and fighter jets have all been launched from Belarus at Ukraine.
Lukashenko must stand in the dock with Putin. The Russian president may have initiated this war, but by giving his troops a platform for invasion, Lukashenko has facilitated it, not least by shortening the route to Kyiv for those troops. The Russian border is 250 km from Kyiv, the Belarusian border 180 km.
Western brands are rightly coming under pressure to stop dealing with the Russian market. They need to take the same approach to Belarus, and politicians, media and the public need to press them to do so. Otherwise, believe me, for all the selfcongratulatory talk about the toughest possible sanctions on Russia, you are leaving a massive loophole, allowing Belarus to become an offshore zone for Russia, meaning Russians still have access to all these western brands.
Why am I so sure of this? Because that’s exactly what happened in 2014, when certain sanctions were imposed on Russia after it annexed Crimea.
Let me give you a particularly ridiculous example. Under the sanctions regime, the supply of seafood from western ports to Russia was outlawed. Lukashenko imported seafood to Belarus, changed the label and sent it on to Russia. Belarus was exporting shrimps galore. Problem solved; Lukashenko’s cronies pocketed millions.
A reminder… Belarus is landlocked. We have no sea. We have no seafood. Be in no doubt, the same tricks and more are being pulled now. Lukashenko’s corrupt business cronies will get richer, and he will have more money to fund the repressive state apparatus, not least to deliver on his recently announced pledge to increase spending on police, intelligence and security services.
The West risks making an enormous error if it fails to see that Belarus must be treated in the same way as Russia when it comes to sanctions. Not to do so presents him with the opportunity to make money from the misery he and Putin are inflicting on their neighbours in Ukraine as he exploits this offshore role. It also allows him to continue to provide Russia with the territory to carry out military actions against Ukraine and thereby "pay off" his former debts to the Kremlin.
For the proof, again look at their words and actions — on Sunday, the Belarusian Ministry of Finance announced that their debt repayment to Russia has been postponed by five years. See it for what it is… payment by Putin to Lukashenko for his participation. Lukashenko is a co-aggressor in the war against Ukraine, and it is time the West treated him as such.
Before the war in Ukraine, my team at National Anti-Crisis Management collected evidence that would classify Lukashenko as an international terrorist. How else to describe the May 2021 hijacking of a Ryanair flight from Greece in order to get exiled Belarus journalist Roman Protasevich back on home ground, where he could be punished and silenced?
Again, briefly, international opinion was outraged. Again, briefly, the leaders of the major countries of the world expressed anger and promised action. Followed by symbolic non-detrimental sanctions. Again, no accountability. Again, the caravan moved on.
Likewise, the very deliberate creation of a migrant crisis on the Belarusian border with the EU last November, all done with Putin’s help; again, widespread outrage, again followed by symbolic sanctions that made for a few headlines, but little impact, and again, no accountability.
On these and other incidents, including evidence that he ordered mass repression through torture, intimidation and jailing of protesters after the rigged election, with the help of a Polish lawyer we delivered 40,000 pages worth of evidence to the international criminal court in The Hague last month. This evidence has been received; no investigation has yet started. This, too, we intend to disseminate more widely as we seek to awaken the world to the need to understand that Lukashenko is an integral part of the Putin war machine.
I am grateful to The New European for giving me the opportunity to make this case. We will be sending this article, with the evidence we have gathered, to the leaders and diplomats of the major powers at the United Nations, and to the media around the world. The West needs to understand Lukashenko is a serious player in Putin’s war games. The West needs a serious response; prosecution for past crimes; sanctions for his current crimes.
Anything less is playing his and Putin’s game. The people of Ukraine, and the people of Belarus, deserve better.
Pavel Latushka is head of National Anti-Crisis Management of Belarus, the country’s shadow government in exile. He is a former Belarus minister of culture and has served as the country’s ambassador to France, Spain, Poland and Portugal
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