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«Recognition of Belarus as an occupied territory – how can this help to stop Russian aggression?»

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A bloody war has been raging in the heart of Europe for a second month already. On 24 February, Russia attacked Ukraine and one of the key springboards for the attack was the territory of Belarus.

In the course of active military operations on 16 March the National Anti-Crisis Management, the leader of which I am, made an official statement stating that Belarus was under Russian occupation and that Lukashenko’s regime was a puppet government fully controlled by the Kremlin. On 17 March, Svetlana Tihanovskaya voiced a similar position during her speech at the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva.

Belarus must be recognized as a temporarily occupied territory — this is the united position of the leaders of the Belarusian democratic forces. Both Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya and I, we stress that this step is extremely important to stop the Russian aggression and ensure security in the region.

Why weren’t such statements by the leaders of the Belarusian democratic forces made before?

It was with the outbreak of the war against Ukraine that it became obvious that the regime of the Belarusian dictator Lukashenko had lost control over the territory of Belarus, which is the most important sign of the sovereignty of any state. With the full assistance and connivance of Lukashenko’s illegitimate government, military control of the Belarusian territory passed to the Russian Federation, which needed it for military purposes. And the fact that Lukashenko has allowed Putin to occupy Belarus without firing a single shot, indicates only that his regime is not only illegitimate, but also non-self-governing and a puppet. However, this in no way cancels the very fact of such occupation, which in the modern world is called hybrid and non-belligerent. And international recognition of this fact is the starting point for dealing with its worst consequence — aggression against Ukraine.

How may the international recognition of Russia’s occupation of Belarus help stop Russian aggression?

It is a colossal mistake to believe that in the current circumstances Belarus can be seen as a country pursuing an independent policy capable of resisting the influence of the Kremlin on its territory. It is this mistake that underlies the failure to apply external pressure measures to Belarus in the same way as to Russia. The sanctions applied to Belarus today are an order of magnitude weaker, which has already led to the emergence of the "Belarus offshore", which allows the Kremlin to partially circumvent the sanctions and its puppet Lukashenko to actually make money from the war.

And this is the first contradiction that must be resolved by recognising Belarus as an occupied territory and the marionette status of the so-called Lukashenko government. By imposing sanctions on Russia and Belarus it is necessary to stop treating the two countries in isolation from each other and acknowledge the fact that the Belarusian economy today works just as much for the war as the Russian economy and ensures the existence of Lukashenko’s proxy government, which has provided and continues to provide Putin with a key springboard for his war with Ukraine as well as the ability to partially circumvent sanctions imposed on Russia.

The second important aspect of the international recognition of the occupation of Belarus is the creation of an incentive to transform the anti-war movement of the Belarusians into a national liberation movement — with its subsequent international legal recognition. For example, the Belarusians are already waging a "rail war", which limits Russia’s ability to use the Belarusian railways for the transportation of troops and armaments. However, for actions of resistance against the occupiers to be interpreted as a legitimate struggle of the Belarusians for liberation, it is necessary as a first step to recognize the fact of the occupation of Belarus by Russia, which would certainly promote the determination of the leaders and participants of this struggle.

Furthermore, under international law, recognition of the occupation of the territory of any country provides a legal basis for requiring occupiers to leave it unconditionally. For the time being, the international community is only limited to demanding that Lukashenko stop allocating the Belarusian territory to the Russian Federation, which is essentially "empty noise", given the Kremlin control over him and lack of independence in making such decisions. Moreover, ignoring the fact of the occupation of Belarus also restricts the civilized world in its influence on Russia, including in terms of preventing the placement of Russian nuclear weapons on the territory of Belarus, the indefinite deployment of Russian army, aviation and missile bases and units, and the prevention of other security threats.

Thus, we firmly believe that the recognition of Belarus as an occupied territory is one of the most important steps towards ending the war in Ukraine as soon as possible and countering the Russian aggression and the threats it poses throughout the European region.

As long as Lukashenko’s pro-Kremlin puppet regime operates in the center of Europe and as long as Russian occupier troops remain in Belarus — neither Ukraine nor Europe will be safe.

Pavel Latushka,
Member of the Presidium of the Coordination Council, Head of the National Anti-Crisis Management, Ambassador, ex-Minister

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