Interview by Pavel Latushko with the Spanish publication Descifrando la Guerra
Original article in Descifrando la Guerra
— Is Belarus an independent country?
Belarus is a country occupied by the Russian army, Alexander Lukashenko is under the control of Moscow and has no independent policy. Putin [president of the Russian Federation] is using him. So it is very important for us to give Belarus the status of occupied territory at the international level.
Putin started a war and has only one ally — the Lukashenko regime. That is why we consider it necessary to impose the same sanctions against him as against Putin’s regime. We have repeatedly seen him betray the Belarusian constitution. Let us remember that Lukashenko rigged the elections of 2020, organized mass repressions, thousands of people were arrested. Every day we see more and more examples of torture and repression in Belarus. Besides, there are thousands of Belarusian exiles because of the political situation in the country.
— Polls are banned in Belarus and it is impossible to know the state of public opinion in the country. Do you think that the society supports the opposition’s calls for sanctions and withdrawal of foreign companies?
The sociological analyses we have seen, including the one conducted by the Kremlin last year, tell us that only about 20% supported Lukashenko. 97% of Belarusians living in the cities are against the war in Ukraine and do not want our country to be involved in it. But Lukashenko allowed the use of civil and military infrastructure to carry out the Russian invasion of Ukraine. He opened the border so that Russian weapons and the Russian army may be stationed in Belarus.
Inside the country we see an anti-Lukashenko and anti-war atmosphere prevailing. Since the 2020 elections, Lukashenko has imposed many restrictions on society — all political leaders are in prison or in exile — so it is impossible to organize events inside the country, they can only take place clandestinely. We understand that sanctions are a tool to change the situation.
I have often warned European politicians about the need to impose tough sanctions against the regime in order to support the Belarusian society. If these restrictions are introduced gradually, Lukashenko will use this time to find solutions. We know that before the war 50% of the society was against the sanctions, I don’t know what percentage is there now, but I think the majority of the people in Belarus are in favor of international restrictions.
— Do you think the top military officials in Belarus agree with Russia’s invasion of Ukraine?
This question is complicated. Before the war in Ukraine, many Belarusian officers dreamed of the idea of a common army with Russia because of the high salaries, military equipment, the opportunity to participate in military exercises on the territory of the Russian Federation… A considerable part of Belarusian officers were in favour of Russia, but today the situation has changed. It may not be a cardinal transformation, but it is a process of changes.
This is because they themselves observe that the Russian military is ineffective in Ukraine — even Russian generals died in this war — sanctions will lead to a reduction of military salaries, Russian commanders can be accused of war crimes… Many in the ranks of the Belarusian military are changing their opinion for all these reasons.
Lukashenko’s situation is very difficult at the moment, Putin is giving him financial assistance despite the debt between the two countries. The Russian president is financing him, and for this reason Lukashenko has to send soldiers to Ukraine. However, we know from our sources that many Belarusian soldiers do not want to take part in the war in Ukraine, and if they are sent to fight on Ukrainian territory, they may refuse and say: "We are not against Ukrainians, we are against the dictator". Sending the Belarusian army to Ukraine is fraught with risks, I think that is why he has not yet decided to order the Belarusian army to take part in the war.
— There are Belarusian volunteers fighting in Ukraine. Is an attempt of armed conflict possible in Belarus after the war in Ukraine?
As I said before, we are trying to have Belarus declared a temporarily occupied territory, which means, according to international law, that a national liberation movement may exist on Belarusian territory. If so, members of this possible national liberation movement could fight.
On the other hand, as a diplomat, I find it difficult to imagine that Ukraine, Poland, or Lithuania would open their borders and agree that all the Belarusans who are fighting for the freedom of Ukraine could enter the Belarusian territory with their weapons through these countries. But no one knows what will happen in a dramatic situation.
We know that Lukashenko is very concerned about his own security. There are signals from Moscow that some of Lukashenko’s closest generals are working closely with their Russian counterparts. This tells us that at any moment Lukashenko may be ousted as an illegitimate president.
— What is your opinion about the position of the EU and NATO in the Ukrainian conflict? Are they reliable partners?
We are not satisfied with the position of the EU and the US on Belarus. It was a strategic mistake. In 2020 I told many foreign ministers and other Western colleagues that if they had used all available instruments of pressure against Lukashenko’s regime — when thousands of Belarusians were in the streets — we could have changed the situation. However, they did not do that. If Svetlana Tikhanovska or another democratic leader had been in power today, it would have been difficult for Putin to start a war against Ukraine, because he would not have been able to use the Belarusian territory. Now they repeat the same mistake: they all point to Putin, but do not mention Lukashenko. Moreover, they do not impose the same sanctions against both countries. Russians can take advantage of this situation to go to Belarus and buy goods that are no longer sold in Russia. We must not forget that Lukashenko also supports Putin.
Before the war, I pointed out that an independent Ukraine can’t exist without an independent Belarus. Now we have a puppet government of Moscow in our country.
— Viktor Babariko was the candidate with the greatest popular support in 2020 and has created his own platform; last year you also announced that you would create a new party, despite the fact that Svetlana Tihanovskaya declared herself the leader of Belarus a few days ago.
We are fighting for the release of Viktor Babariko and all political prisoners. My cousin Anatol Latushko is also a political prisoner in jail. We struggle for liberation of all potential leaders of the future Belarus.
Svetlana Tihanowskaya stated a few days ago that she wanted to form a government. For two years this has been the strategy of the People’s Crisis Management Committee, which I head, and I myself have recommended many times that Svetlana should be inaugurated as President of Belarus. Everybody understands that she was the winner of the last election. She said she wanted to create a governmental cabinet in exile and this is our idea. Now we are waiting for other steps, for example, to declare temporarily occupied territory. Svetlana, in cooperation with other democratic forces, will create a cabinet government as an alternative power structure to Lukashenko’s regime.
— The new constitution of Belarus does not allow any of the current opposition leaders to stand for election. Will the opposition accept this legitimacy?
This election was rigged. Our colleagues in Europe and America said that they would not recognise this constitution, and of course we will not recognise it. The status of neutrality has been changed, allowing Lukashenko to deploy nuclear weapons on the territory of Belarus. Moreover, Lukashenko will have immunity, so we cannot accept this legality.
Constitutional reform was proposed to Lukashenko by Putin in September 2020, ostensibly to meet the demands of the people, Lukashenko decided to postpone constitutional reform as long as possible. The new constitution did not establish a genuine democratic transformation.
Political parties, as well as NGOs and all independent media, have been banned in Belarus, a situation that remains unchanged to this day.
— If Lukashenko were to step down from power, do you think steps would have to be taken to preserve the unity of society, including those who support the current leader?
Belarusian society is united. 80% of the people want Lukashenko to leave so that they can build a new Belarus according to democratic standards. Belarusians are tired of the regime. In no other country in Europe for the last 15 years have we seen such a level of repression, which has been taking place in Belarus since 2020. Now all democratic forces are united, but when Lukashenko is out of power we will have a normal situation and we will create political parties. We will all cooperate in the most important areas, such as independence and sovereignty of Belarus. Of course, everyone will have the right to fight to come to power in a democratic way, as it happens in European countries.
— What will the foreign policy of Belarus look like when Lukashenko is no longer in power?
We are discussing this question right now. There are two options: on the one hand, we are aware of Russia’s aggressive role — Moscow wants to build the Soviet Union again — and this will be a problem for our sovereignty. Given that Ukraine is now discussing the status of neutrality, this would be one of the possible strategic lines of our foreign policy. However, this neutral status would be based on democratic values and human rights. The people will decide what the future development of the country will be, and they will probably choose pro-European development. The answer will come when Lukashenko is no longer in power.
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