20 January 2018, Saturday, 4:13

Sasha Koulaeva: No illusions about Lukashenka


The release of Ales Bialiatski does not mean the Lukashenka repressive regime has changed.

Sacha Koulaeva, the Head of the Eastern Europe and Central Asia at the International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH), said it in an interview with charter97.org.

– Human rights activist Ales Bialiatski has been amnestied. Why, in your opinion, was it he who was chosen from the other political prisoners to be released?

– I can suggest that his offence was the easiest ground for the release. Unlike “political” offences, his offence is included in the amnesty if he doesn't have violations. As experience of the last two years shows, the same offence did not fall under amnesty unless it was needed. Now, even 12 violations were not an obstacle to free him.

In my opinion, this again confirms that even such positive decisions as the release of an innocent person from jail are arbitrary, illegal and depend on political will and a desire to prove something to someone.

I think in this particular case it was the will to make a step for a number of geopolitical reasons, which have some relation to the situation in Ukraine and in Russia, and, perhaps, with the situation relating to the European Union. In my view, these, not the illegal arrest, trial and imprisonment, were the main reasons. It was pure pragmatism.

We are happy about the release of Ales. I learnt about it on Saturday, and I was on a plane on Sunday. I am now in Minsk, and I am happy to be sitting next to Ales right now. However, it fills us with indignation that he spent almost three years in prison for no reasons. We are also indignant at the fact that the rest political prisoners are still in jail, suffering from the outrage dictated by the regime.

– What does Lukashenka expect in return?

– I don't know what particular things he expects in return and who he holds negotiations with. But I'd like our point of view to be taken into consideration: By no means should the release of one person, even the one we love and appreciate so much, be considered as systematic changes of the situation. The regime has not changed and will not change its strategy as long as at least one political prisoner exists. There are more than one, two or three political prisoners in Belarus. We think it is the matter of principle to seek the release of other political prisoners and systematic changes that could prevent such situations.

– The Belarusian dictator has been trading in political prisoners for a long time. The country's economic situation is deplorable. He obviously waits for loans. Does the West understand it?

– I think the West understands it. Anyway, the situation is clear for many politicians and diplomats of different levels we worked with when we rased questions of all political prisoners and the systematic human rights violations. Nevertheless, geopolitics is not always guided by ideological and principled positions. It is rather guided by systems of mutual benefits and arrangements. European politicians try to achieve at least minor things.

But the more principled a position is, the more it is effective. We are trying to convey this message to European politicians.

– The West has hopes Lukashenka can become its ally amid the Ukrainian-Russian war. Why are they being so naïve about the first dictator of Europe?

– Frankly speaking, taking into consideration the current events in Russia, I am not sure the title of the “first dictator” still belongs to Lukashenka. However, it's obvious that he is one of the most serious dictators of Europe. But it seems to me that no one has any illusions. There's a struggle of drawing allies to someone's side. Ukraine and entire Europe are artificially divided into two opposite camps. All are trying to attract as more people as possible to their camp.

Russia has powerful tools to influence Belarus, and the West understands it perfectly. I don't think Lukashenka is regarded as an ally. However, I haven't met this point of view.