Belarus should create a platform for the democratic transit of power.
Expert on foreign policy and security at the Ukrainian analytical center “Maidan of Foreign Affairs” Oleksandr Khara spoke about this in an interview with Editor-in-Chief of the website Charter97.org Natallia Radzina.
Oleksandr Khara held a number of positions in the central office of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, as well as in the Ukrainian Embassy in Canada, worked as deputy head of the Department of Foreign Policy Aspects of National Security of the Office of the National Security and Defense Council (NSDC).
– The Ukrainian media seem to refer to the topic of relations with Belarus more and more often recently. A lot is said about the threat of the country’s annexation by Russia, the dependence of the Belarusian dictatorship on the Russian resources is stated. Are Ukrainians starting to wake up and realize what the Lukashenka regime really is?
- This is a hot topic. However, it has not been properly thought of, elaborated, otherwise we would see a certain official reaction and some diplomatic actions of Ukraine, because for the time being we cannot take any pther steps. I do not think that the first person in our country understands the essence of your regime and that the agreements with it are not airtight.
In fact, 2/3 of the perimeter of our country is surrounded by enemies. I mean the Russian Federation, the occupied territories of Donetsk, Lugansk and Crimea, the occupied part of Moldova - the so-called Transnistrian Republic - and the great border with Belarus on the most important direction to the capital. Therefore, it is absolutely logical that Poroshenko is trying not to worsen relations with Lukashenka and invites him, meets with him, embraces, talks about their “good friendly relations”. I can understand this from the point of view of an attempt to prevent any actions on the part of Belarus.
But let's be frank. Does Belarus have an aggressive plan for Ukraine? Of course not! Does Belarus have the strength to strike any blow? Of course not! But Belarus is a platform that can be used against us by Russia, and this is absolutely obvious.
In strategic terms, all statements and documents on security issues in Belarus indicate that NATO is its adversary, NATO expansion to the East is a threat, and so on. That is, on the one hand, there is no potential for confrontation between Belarus and Ukraine, on the other hand, in fact, the entire philosophy of the Lukashenka regime is the opposite of what Ukraine claims.
And most importantly, we must remember the lessons of Ukraine in 2014, when our defense department and special services were headed by citizens of the Russian Federation, who weakened our ability to resist Russia's influence. It is difficult to say what level the infiltration of Russians into the Belarusian special services and the army has reached, and whether Lukashenka will be able (even if he suddenly has such an insane idea) to oppose Putin in his desire to use the territory of Belarus to attack Ukraine or destabilize the border situation.
– In NATO, they say it straightaway that the Belarusian army remains a part of the Russian armed forces. Correspondingly, the Belarusian special services are part of the Russian ones. Does the Ukrainian leadership rerally so naively hope that Lukashenka will somehow manage to defend the “independence” of his regime in such situation?
– I think that here, on the one hand, there is limited resources, because we need to somehow cover the border with Belarus, knowing that this is a potential danger in conditions of a real threat along the border with the Russian Federation, the occupied Crimea, and the so-called first and second army corps of the “DNR” and “LNR”. Perhaps that is why our government publicly can not act more decisively.
But, on the other hand, who forces Petro Poroshenko to talk about “friendly” relations, about some kind of “partnership interactions”, to praise Lukashenka for offering Minsk as a platform for negotiations with the Russians?
– Probably, there are certain trade and economic interests?
– Of course. However, if we are talking about Maslow's pyramid, then security issues are number one. It is clear why Poroshenko is trying to minimize the likelihood of deterioration in relations and any aggressive actions on the part of Belarus. However, I am not sure this will help.
You absolutely correctly said that the Belarusian army is actually part of the Russian armed forces. If we look at the military doctrine of Belarus, we will see what is written there: in the event of a conflict or some kind of threat, the Belarusian and Russian armed forces will act together.
Accordingly, Ukraine cannot be safe until such a person as Lukashenka and the like lead this state.
– Still, apart from security issues, what ties the Ukrainian and Belarusian authorities so closely today?
– The essence of the Russian and Belarusian regime, as well as Mr. Poroshenko himself, is actually the same. They can not think of their, let us say, state activities without a corruption component.
The Belarusian regime benefited from the conflict between Ukraine and Russia. We are de facto at war, de jure we do not have this war. For example, in a recently adopted resolution of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe, Russia was called to release our sailors, without mentioning that they were prisoners of war. De facto, there is a termination of the transport communication, sanctions against the Russian banks (they are the property of the Russian Federation, but cannot export capital from Ukraine, although they actively did this in 2014-2015, having significantly affected our economic situation). And Belarus actually became a mediator.
This war gave the Lukashenka regime the opportunity to get out of the blockade, no one remembers the last dictator of Europe. It turns out that “you can deal with Lukashenka”. Although it is clear that these “tricks” will not lead to any change or mitigation of the regime.
What kind of friendly relations with Belarus can we talk about, what kind of easing of the regime? For example, Ukrainian Pavlo Hryb. The man was lured into the territory of Belarus, and then he “miraculously” ended up in a Russian prison. Who was responsible for the fact that our citizen was in the dungeons of the FSB? I'm not talking about Belarusians, about the arrests of oppositionists, about the persecution of independent journalists and the complete lack of media freedom.
– Let’s admit that Ukraine lost the Crimea and Donbas also due to the lack of serious informational work in that region. Russia’s influence was very significant there at the very beginning, and the Ukrainian authorities did not try to counterstand it. We see the same situation with regard to Belarus. Why doesn’t Ukraine support the broadcasting of alternative information to Belarus, or the Belarusian independent media? Belarusians learn about the events in your country mostly from the Russian television. Isn’t this an issue of security for Ukraine?
- This requires a key strategy with regard to Russia, but there is none. Yes, there are some political statements, there are some legal proceedings. Take trade: in the 11 months of last year, there was an increase in trade between the Russian Federation and Ukraine, and about 40% - an increase in imports.
Previously, we were told by the “porokhobots”: “It’s good that we sell our goods to Russians, which means that the taxes that are paid in Ukraine go to strengthening the army.” Now it turns out that we are strengthening the Russian army, since we are buying more from the Russians and taxes are being paid there. But we cannot trade with the country that kills us. 13 thousand Ukrainians have already died!
In addition, the presence of the Russian business in Ukraine, trade with Russia means that the authorities of the country do not need to invest in innovations, look for new markets for goods. The backwardness and raw materials orientation of our economy are being conservated.
And the most important thing is the delay in solving key issues of reforming the economy, which would allow Ukraine to be pulled out of the post-Soviet state and give impetus to the development of new spheres of the economy. Accordingly, the standard of living in Ukraine, which collapsed after the annexation and the war, will be at the same level. Because these are just economic categories.
We will lose the Russian market anyway. Russia has always defended its markets; it has never acted within the framework of the World Trade Organization or agreements within the CIS. The Russian Federation squeezed Ukraine out of all areas where possible, and dealt with import substitution where it was critically dependent on us. And if today there is no investment in new technologies and innovations, there can be no wage increases.
The second important point is the presence of the Russian business in the most important sectors. Alfa Bank feels good enough in Ukraine. From time to time the public is making a fuss: how is it possible, a bank of an oligarch close to Putin!
Recently, Renat Akhmetov consolidated his assets and bought from the Russians, who are under sanctions, their assets. Roughly speaking, gave them the opportunity to withdraw money from here. And Akhmetov’s ties with Russia, his role in the occupation of Donetsk is absolutely obvious.
If we take the two largest mobile operators in Ukraine - there is also the Russian money there.
In addition to this purely economic dependence, there is a corruption component. Unlike the American, the Russian business is corrupt. Accordingly, if we were to squeeze out the Russian business connected with Putin and the oligarchs, we would introduce not only new technologies, but also eradicate corruption. But this is not happening.
Therefore, I affirm that today Ukraine has no strategy towards Russia and, accordingly, there can be no separate strategy towards Belarus. This should be considered in conjunction: issues of security, economy and so on. Therefore, there can be no uniform information policy, broadcasting of any special content to Belarus in order to play on the territory of the sphere of influence of Russia. But we should have done the same for Kazakhstan, we should have developed an information policy for the regions of the Russian Federation in order to transfer the informational war to the territory of the allies of Russia and Russia as such.
– Ukraine holds presidential election in a couple of days. Why all the presidential candidates, with the exception of Roman Bessmertnyi, refrain from speaking about Belarus?
– We have a lack of objective information about Belarus. In addition, a sufficiently large number of citizens still have post-Soviet thinking. I often see on Facebook how videos are posted where Lukashenka crucifies some factory director and orders someone to be fired if he doesn’t do something. And they write: “Look, how wonderfully he is running the country.”
Excuse me, but why Lukashenka, this “eternal” president of Belarus, for this “eternity” did not restore order so that it was not necessary to come and reprimand someone? This is just pure logic, and I’m not even talking about the fact that the president should not be engaged in the economic activities of individual enterprises.
In Ukraine, we also had our own “strong manager”, Yanukovych, he recently received his deserved 13 years in prison.
And the second moment. Of course, we have more domestic and foreign policy issues that are more important for the majority of Ukrainian citizens. First of all, it is a question of war and peace. The distrust to the government today is crazy. It is difficult to measure something. In general, skepticism about the power is probably a distinctive feature of Ukrainians.
Belarus is not a priority in the programs and speeches of candidates due to the fact that there are more important topics that worry most of the citizens - war, economic problems and internal issues that presidential candidates try to use to gain some sympathy. Belarus is not a factor that could add advantages to the candidates.
Although, on the other hand, if we are talking about such presidential candidates as Anatoliy Hrytsenko or Ihor Smeshko, these people clearly understand the problems of Belarus and know what is a potential threat. I am sure that the policy towards Belarus as a satellite of the Russian Federation, if these candidates come to power, will be changed. They would definitely not embrace with Lukashenka and would not talk about “friendly relations”.
– How do you see the development of the situation in our region?
– The chaos in which we live will soon increase. The Russian Federation will destroy the foundations that formed the order, founded in 1945 and 1991.
It is very difficult to predict something. I think destructive forces will act in both developed societies and those developing or living under authoritarian regimes, there will be dissatisfaction with the current system, since we are witnessing crisis after the crisis, and there is still no light at the end of the tunnel. On the other hand, artificial crises and pressure will be created. Russia will use this to show itself as a center of power that the West must reckon with, above all the United States, which, however, will not make deals with Putin about “selling” Ukraine or redistributing spheres of influence. American politicians, primarily the Congress and the military, will not do this, regardless of Trump's opinion.
I do not know whether 2019 or 2020 will bring financial or economic crisis for the Western system, a and how this will affect us. Some economists say that this is exaggerated, the European financial system has a margin of safety, the lessons of 2008 were taken into account.
For Ukraine, the year will definitely be a crisis, because there will be large payments on foreign debts. We do not see fundamental changes in the internal economic life, which would give us a reason for optimism. In any case, whoever the new president is, there will be some reconfiguration of the economic flows.
The presidential election will not be decisive. The parliamentary elections will. Naturally, they will try to use this in Moscow, it is possible that there will be a big conflict with Ukraine in order to “finally solve the Ukrainian question”.
In this sense, Belarus will not remain out of conflict, because the country's authorities have already taken the side of the Kremlin. Despite the fact that Lukashenka says that he is trying to act as an intermediary, we do not see his independence or pro-Ukrainian nature. Belarusian diplomacy in all forums votes in unison with Russia. All Lukashenka's rhetoric is anti-Western, there is no independent brokerage here. Therefore, Belarus will be involved in this conflict, no matter whether it wants to or not. And while Lukashenka is at power, the country will definitely not be on the Ukrainian side.
If Lukashenka tries to more actively oppose the Kremlin’s desire to swallow Belarus, he may lose his place. I do not really believe in defending the independence by the Belarusian dictator. But if there is a conflict, Ukraine can hardly come to the rescue and confine itself exclusively to diplomatic statements. There is no potential, and no tools are created to influence Belarus. Therefore, in this possible large-scale conflict between Russia and Ukraine, Belarus will not be involved on our side, and the probability of the loss of independence by the country remains extremely high.
– Вprotest moods are increasingly growing in Belarus today. Lukashenka has no support of the population, the level of life has seriously dropped. In this situation, the people can fight for both freedom and independence.
– I believe that people will protest. Thia is what Venezuela is now showing: people cannot live like cattle and the desire to try to change something is absolutely natural.
In Belarus, there can definitely be mass protests. At the same time, there’s no need to ask questions of the Russian agitprop: “Do you want it to be like in Ukraine?”, “Do you want like in Venezuela?”. Or maybe people want something else? They are tired of such a life. They do not want war, they understand that it was not the Ukrainians who brought the war into their own home, but the Russians.
Therefore, I do not exclude the possibility of protests in Belarus, I do not exclude that Lukashenka may lose power.
– What should the West and Ukraine do in this new reality?
- If we are talking about the year 2019, then Ukraine should build influence instruments to change the perception of Belarusians. It seems to me that the Belarusians do not yet understand that in any case they will be at the epicenter of the conflict, in any case they will have to decide their fate, because the life, which was until 2019, will not continue.
There is a factor of the exhaustion of Russian resources, unwillingness to share these resources with Lukashenka and reluctance to support his “economic miracle” at own expense. They want this bill paid. Therefore, for Belarus, I think this will also be a decisive year. It all depends on how well Belarusians are ready to take to the streets to defend their constitutional rights.
Today, the West should initially talk about the inadmissibility of the use of force against participants of any potential street protests in Belarus. This is necessary now to overcome the impending crisis, engage in dialogue and plan a bloodless transfer of power. Because we understand that democracy is based on the turnover of power. Lukashenka actually came to a deaf impasse and the fact that he had to leave was already an open question.
If he loves his country, if he loves his people, as he says - he must go away, without leaving Belarus in ruins, without driving to bloodshed. If he does not want it to be like on the Maidan, then he should not prepare for a forceful confrontation, but should create political grounds for transferring his presidential powers in a democratic way. And Ukraine in this sense should play a positive role. Because intervention is often the sister of revolution. Accordingly, both Europeans and Americans should talk about the need to create in Belarus a favorable platform for the democratic transit of power.
Such should be proactive steps. Ukraine has missed a lot of time without creating leverage over Russia through its allies. It would not be worth informing the citizens of Belarus about what is happening in Ukraine, what our intentions are, that we want to live in a different way, and not in a pseudo-social camp. We see that in fact all these dictatorial pseudo-socialist regimes are not successful anywhere, they live at the expense of external resources. But these external resources are running out.
And therefore, the soft power of Ukraine should be in the Belarusian direction, in the interests of not only Belarusians, but also ourselves, in order to weaken Belarus’s dependence on Moscow.
This has not been done so far, not only because we lack resources. It could be due to the fact that Poroshenko had no desire to somehow anger Lukashenka and undermine his position. But this is a short-sighted policy, because the dictator is not a reliable partner in a long-term game. In the short term, we have provided mediation with Russia, Minsk today is, first of all, a trading platform, and in the long run this will not turn out to be good.
And here we must say not about our sympathy for the Belarusian people. Of course we have it. But if we think about security issues and the future, we should talk about the threat posed by the dictatorial Lukashenka regime. When this regime does not exist, when Belarus is predictable, the power there will be democratic and replaceable, then it will be possible to talk about our sympathies and the similarity of cultures in order to build relations on this solid foundation. Now the pyramid is turned, and there are interests of the regime, which subjugate all these friendly undertakings. They just hide behind this screen. Such “friendship” will not last long.
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