Lukashenka’s regime poses a threat to the whole region.
The West-2017 exercises were officially declared over on September 20. However, international observers noted the non-transparent character of the maneuvres, and that made it possible for the General Staff of Ukraine to make the statement on the dissonance between the character of the exercises and their initial idea.
What was really happening at the territory of Belarus for a whole week, on September 14-20? Ex-presidential candidate in Belarus, leader of the civil campaign “European Belarus” Andrei Sannikov gave a complex assessment to the West-2017 maneuvres in an interview to the Charter97.org.
— What was the most characteristic feature of these exercuises, in your opinion?
— Two peculiarities worth mentioning, when we talk about the West-2017 exercises.
First, they happened after Russia had annexed the Crimea and unleashed an aggressive war against Ukraine, having in fact occupied its eastern territories, and continued combat actions. Thus, these exercises were held in time of the military actions in the neighbouring country, and were a part of the said military actions.
The second peculiarity is that the exercises took place at the territory of Belarus after the European Union had decided to lift the sanctions off the serial criminals, who are guilty of repeated falsiffications of elections, political repression, tortures in prisons — those who make the very essence of Lukashenka’s regime.
The West took the hasty decision to abolish the sanctions, having naively believed that it could create the “safety zone” in Belarus, to protect its own interests first of all. Like, let us turn a blind eye to the violation of human rights, and secure our own safety. As a result, it only got not just the large-scale human rights violations in Belarus, but also a direct military threat.
I think these two features give us a key to understanding what was happening at the territory of Belarus on September 14-20, and what it was needed for.
There really is no need to talk about "transparency", as at all other exercises conducted by Russia. And we cannot even talk about the goals unambiguously, because a "defensive anti-terrorist operation" was declared, but in reality it was a large-scale military exercise involving almost all the branches of the armed forces in order to prepare for a possible clash with NATO.
— Have these exercies really finished for Belarus? Will the Russian forces be fully withdrawn from our territory?
— First, we cannot talk about something which remains unknown: we have no independent institutions, capable of providing objective assessmnet; no independent press, which would be allowed to write about this.
Secondly, it’s not the thing of the first importance whether the Russian troops were left here now, after September 20. What is important is that Belarus remains the only territory, to which Lukashenka’s regime provides access for the Kremlin to practice a military operation in a very difficult for the whole region time. The Russian troops feel at ease in Belarus in the western direction.
It would be enough to recall the either disinformation, or information about the movement of the tank army, which the Belarusian General Staff knew nothing about.
The Kremlin demonstrated that it can handle the territory of Belarus militarily, as it wishes - with the full support of Lukashenka’s regime.
— From the point of view of foreign relations, what does it mean for the future of Belarus?
— This is an absolute threat to the sovereignty and statehood of Belarus under the current regime. This should be a serious signal for the West and our neighbors: the naive attempts to politically use Lukashenka against the Kremlin after these exercises should be terminated.
Lukashenka confirmed that he poses a threat to the region, that he is ready to provide the country's territory for the military aggression of Russia. Therefore, now a serious assessment should be given to what happened. I hope that Western experts and politicians will agree with the opinion of the Belarusian opposition: Russia has already actually occupied the territory of Belarus. And during the hybrid actions of September 14-20, which can be called a "hybrid occupation", the interaction with the armed forces of Belarus in a military conflict with the West was worked out.
— As a Belarusian politician, what do you think should be done in such a situation?
— First, we should note the role of our neighbours, who took these maneuvres seriously. Thanks to them, NATO also took counter-measures. I am speaking about Poland, Lithuania, Estonia, who took the preparation to the exercises and the maneuvres themselves with anxiety, and demanded that NATO should fulfill allied obligations, introduce additional military contingents on its territory and conduct synchronized exercises.
I think that this largely influenced the initial plans of the Kremlin in these maneuvers. For example, in 2013 there were no such retaliatory measures, after which there was an attack on Ukraine. This year, thanks to international attention, measures were taken to ensure that no surprises occurred. Therefore, to say that "nothing big was planned" is wrong. I think it was planned. But clear response measures prevented these plans from being realized.
It is clear that Lukashenka's regime is neither a guarantor nor a defender of the Belarusian independence. Therefore, both the opposition and the civil society need, first, to think about what measures we can take against this "creeping annexation." And we are thinking about it.
Our Western friends need to understand that this regime does not match their interests either. It was clearly revealed that the massive violation of human rights inevitably leads not only to the humanitarian, but also to the military threat at the territory of the state where they are committed.