An interview by Pavel Latushko for the Polish edition of Interia. pl
Original article in Interia.pl
Latushko: Lukashenko is afraid for his life. There are two generals who may overthrow him.
— Putin wants to draw Belarus into the war against Ukraine. If there is a democratic coup in the country, Moscow may intervene militarily. Russia is already putting pressure on Lukashenko. From the information we have, we know that there are several generals in the Security Council of Belarus who are in direct contact with the Russian General Staff," former Minister of Culture and Belarusian Ambassador to Poland Pavel Latushko told Interia. According to him, a Belarusian government in exile may be established in Warsaw.
Marcin Makowski, Interia: is Belarus officially under Russian occupation?
Pavel Latushko, former Minister of Culture and Ambassador of Belarus: — Yes. Our lawyers and diplomats working for the National Crisis Management have analyzed in detail the current situation from the perspective of international law and practice. We are convinced that at present Belarus is under temporary military occupation by the Russian Federation. Alexander Lukashenko, for his part, is the head of a puppet government in Belarus, subordinate to the Kremlin. In fact, he has lost control over most of the state. He has no influence over what the Russian troops do.
What are the practical consequences for the Belarusians themselves?
— Fundamental. The legal recognition of the country as a territory under temporary occupation guarantees its territorial integrity. The thing is that Belarus or its part cannot be ceded, for example, to Russia or become one of the republics. Moreover, recognition of the occupation means that no agreement signed by Lukashenko with other entities will be recognised in the international arena.
Who then will make political decisions on behalf of the state?
— For a year now, we have been urging Svetlana Tikhanovskaya that we need to establish a Belarusian provisional government in exile. Our appeals finally found fertile ground, and a few weeks ago, Ms. Tihanovskaya expressed her wish to create such a body. At the moment, we are working with her office to form the first cabinet, which would cut Lukashenko off from the world. It is also necessary to form a Belarusian national liberation movement. The government and the movement will be the basis for the restoration of state institutions in Belarus.
How would a government in exile function?
— We need real action, not a "shadow cabinet". I believe that Svetlana Tihanovskaya should be the head of the government, and the most important ministries — foreign affairs, defense, finance, economy and regional policy — would be created. We are talking about representation of interests of Belarusians in the world on quite specific issues. When the question of security guarantees for Ukraine is raised, who else, on behalf of sovereign Belarus, should apply for the withdrawal of Russian troops from our territory? In the long run, when the day of the collapse of Lukashenko’s regime finally comes, we will be ready to proceed to the political and administrative management in the country.
So far you have mentioned one name with a democratic mandate. Who would form the rest of the government in exile when elections cannot be held?
— It would include representatives of institutions recognised in the West — including the aforementioned Popular Crisis Management, associates of Tihanovska and members of the Coordinating Council. This does not mean that other initiatives would not be represented or allowed in the composition and work of the government. We must build the broadest possible coalition of democratic forces.
Where will the main office of the Belarusian government-in-exile be located?
— This is a logistical question.
Symbolic, I think.
One does not preclude the other. The National Crisis Management Office is based in Warsaw, Svetlana Tihanovskaya’s office is in Vilnius. I don’t know if the government will have one seat, but there could be two. In Poland and Lithuania.
Do you think Lukashenko is aware of the situation he is in? Does he know that he cannot govern Belarus anymore?
— I think he knows that his life is in danger. He is struggling not to preserve the remnants of Belarusian sovereignty, but for his political existence. Even temporarily, because he is in direct dependence on Vladimir Putin, which was clearly visible during the rigged constitutional "referendum" at the end of February.
You speak of the political vassalisation of Belarus, but how is this to be understood militarily? Russian troops are standing in your country, missiles are falling from its territory to Ukraine, but the Belarusian army is not going on the attack together with the Rosgvardia.
— So far, the Belarusian army doesn’t have to go to war, because the country’s territory itself is an important strategic asset for Russia. Lukashenko recently confessed at a meeting with a Russian governor that if he had not retained power and suppressed democratic protests, there would have been no "special operation". I agree here. Without Belarus it would have been virtually impossible to attack Kiev. That is why, when I meet with foreign politicians, I always say that without Lukashenko this war would not have happened. This is a crime of the two regimes, and both must be surrounded by a thick wall of sanctions. Alexander Lukashenko was preparing for a Russian offensive against Ukraine back in 2021, when he began provoking Poland and destabilizing the eastern flank of NATO in a hybrid way — by destabilizing the border. I am also aware that a provocation in the form of a simulated attack by Ukraine on Belarus was planned in order to create a legal basis for a counter-offensive from the territory of an "allied country".
Why didn’t it happen?
— Because Lukashenko, like Putin, did not have full information about the condition, discipline and morale of his army. Many commanders did not want to go to war, there was a great risk that the order to attack from the ground would be ignored. Then what? Before the war, military intelligence in Belarus analyzed the moral state of the troops in terms of their motivation to go to war with Ukraine. This document was presented to the Security Council in Minsk and its conclusions were ambiguous. Many commanders showed no initiative or desire to fight.
If we add to this the current situation, i.e. Russian losses in men, equipment and ammunition — the reluctance for war in the Belarusian army has only increased. As far as we know, most lower and middle-ranking officers and junior cadres do not want to enter Ukraine. Lukashenko’s nightmare is the scenario where part of the army arms itself on enemy territory or organizes a military coup in Minsk.
Do you think Russia, despite internal resistance, could force Belarus into war?
Such a threat is real. Putin is already putting pressure on Lukashenko. From the information we have, we know that there are several generals in the Security Council of Belarus who are in direct communication with the Russian General Staff.
Do we know their names?
— Yes. For example, there is the Secretary of State of the Council, General Alexander Volfovich. He was born in the Soviet Union in Kaluga, then graduated from the Moscow Higher Military Command School, the so-called "Kremlin School". He later made a career in Belarus. Volfovich and his men have very good contacts with Nikolai Patrushev, secretary of the Security Council of the Russian Federation. Volfovich is one of the "shadow generals" who can be used if Lukashenko is to be overthrown. The other is Pavel Muraveiko, a friend of Wolfovich’s, also after "Kremlin". There are more such people, who can act in the interests of Russia, in the Belarusian army. As these names have reached us in a confidential way, and now they will reach the media, they are probably on Lukashenko’s desk too. I’m not talking about taking responsibility off him. He is a criminal who brought the whole country into this situation by his own decisions.
What could be the future of Belarus if the war with Ukraine was suspended? Would Moscow need the regime in Minsk?
— As long as it maintains a stable internal situation, like in prison, and obeys the orders of the Kremlin — it will remain in power. These are the two factors that guarantee its future. If any of this falters, there is a risk of a coup. However, this situation is not a stalemate for the Belarusians. Two Belarusian military units, independent from the regime, have already been established in Ukraine — volunteers and former officers, including those from special units. These individuals pose a real threat to the regime. As the military and economic situation in the country deteriorates, discontent is growing. On Thursday, 31 March, 38 railway workers were detained, accused of sabotage against Russian troops. Cyber-guerrillas are working, leaflets are being distributed, the Peramog plan has been created, a group of former prosecutors and investigators — the Baypole initiative — are all ready for the day when power is restored. These are real instruments of action.
But do the people also have the will to resist when street protests have been brutally suppressed?
— Unfortunately, Lukashenko has managed to intimidate the public, but not all. Time is working against him because sanctions, similar to those in the case of Russia, will sooner or later hit Minsk too. We are in contact with the former British Prime Minister Gordon Brown who is forming an international coalition of former prime ministers and presidents to launch criminal proceedings against leading politicians and the Russian military. We are doing our best to make sure that Alexander Lukashenko and his generals are among those names. We act in such a way that his life will not be easy.
Do you know anything about his mental state, his routine, his inner circle?
— Our contact with his special services informs us that in the recent weeks Lukashenko’s personal guard has been strengthened by 30%. He fears not only assassination attempts but also attacks with hand grenades when he travels in the country by helicopter. He no longer flies close to the country’s southern border. His helicopter must be accompanied by one or two military helicopters — as a human shield. I don’t think he sleeps well with this realisation.
Let’s assume for a moment that there is a ceasefire in Ukraine and a democratic overthrow of power in Belarus. Could Russia intervene militarily in such a situation?
— This is a realistic scenario and our biggest problem and threat. Therefore, wherever possible, we call for one thing — to include the postulate of withdrawal of all Russian troops from Belarus into the peace talks. What peace with Ukraine will be, how reliable the security guarantees will be, when the Russians still have tanks a day’s journey away from Kiev. Without an independent Belarus, Ukraine will always be in danger. Putin will not simply let us go, but when a million people come out to celebrate in the streets of Minsk after Lukashenko’s overthrow, will he dare to order an attack?
Why do you think the West largely ignores Belarus when imposing sanctions against Russia?
— I think this is a consequence of a strategic mistake made by the EU and the USA in 2020, when not only in cities, but also in villages, hundreds of thousands of Belarusians risked their lives and health protesting against Lukashenko’s regime. No sanctions or pressure were immediately imposed then, and the West did not do everything in its power to bring a democratically elected president to power. If that had happened, perhaps we would not be talking about the war in Ukraine today. Meanwhile, the West, two years later, is stuck in the same mistake — focusing all its attention on Moscow, without noticing that it is easier to deal with Belarus at the same time, causing a domino effect that could stop the war. Most Russians are for Putin and the war. Most Belarusians are against the war and Lukashenko. It is enough to draw conclusions. Why western strategists don’t make them — I don’t know.
But you can guess?
— But I can guess. Before the war, we submitted to the Hague the documents, collected by the Belarusian opposition — 40 thousand pages — proving the crimes of Lukashenko’s regime. Torture, murder of people, mass repression, aeroplane hijacking, hybrid warfare with the EU. Now there is complicity in armed aggression. What else do they need? I ask as a politician of the democratic forces of Belarus. What arguments should we use, if even this is not enough?
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