The fate of the whole of Europe is being decided in Belarus.
Two important events happened in Belarus over the last week.
The KGB arrested the Deputy Head of the Security Council and the former Chief Bodyguard of Lukashenka Andrei Utsiuryn, who was dismissed the day before by a dictator’s decree. This was the first detention of a security official of such a high rank in the history of Lukashenka’s reign.
Almost simultaneously, Belarus’s ambassador and presidential envoy Mikhail Babich was recalled from Belarus by Putin’s order, and Dmitry Mezentsev was appointed to replace him in Minsk. Some media reported that the decision was made by Putin at the request of Lukashenka at the Beijing summit.
What is really happening in the highest echelons of Belarus and how can these events be related to each other?
Coordinator of the European Belarus civil campaign Dzmitry Bandarenka is answering the questions of Charter97.org:
- These events show that the Lukashenka regime is wobbling. There are many reasons for this - economic, political, and psychological (one can even say mental) for the dictator himself.
The fact that there is a connection between Babich’s resignation and Utsiuryn’s arrest is, in my opinion, dead-set, all this was voiced almost on one day.
And the main reason for this chain of events is economy. For example, Belarus’s GDP in 2008 was $ 60 billion, and in 2018 it was $ 59 billion. And still, it has grown, because the indicator fell to 45 billion. For 10 years, the economy has only shrunk. This is just a disaster.
When the economy grows, such events do not occur, and when everything collapses, it manifests in such actions. Moreover, it can be predicted that these external and internal political changes, all these dismissals and arrests, are far from the last.
- The Russian media published the information that Utsiuryn was related to the activity of the Russian FSB in Belarus, and, possibly, was preparing an attempt at Lukashenka. How would you comment on this?
- There's no smoke without fire. The Russian special services, which actually rule in the Kremlin, are well aware of the state of affairs in Belarus. They have information about the real state of our GDP, which, I think, is even worse than official figures.
They are also well aware of the “abilities” of the Belarusian dictator to govern the country. They know how unpopular Lukashenka is, and they understand that his possible nomination for the seventh term in the presidential election may lead to a social explosion by analogy with Algeria, Ukraine or Armenia.
The Russian authorities are trying to avoid this unfavorable scenario for them and are ready to use any methods. They can squeeze Lukashenka at any time and press him home when they need it.
The same Utsiuryn is not the only pro-Russian security official of high rank in Belarus. Is Shunevich, who in the uniform of the NKVD worships the tsar policeman’s monument, a great Belarusian patriot? Or the head of the General Staff of the Armed Forces of Belarus Belakoneu - he is an absolute copy of Utsiuryn by his biography. Head of Security Council Zas is also not from Belarus, and he cannot be considered a patriot of our country.
Russians are trying to prevent another foreign political catastrophe for themselves in Belarus.
- Why then, at such a background, did Putin decide to recall Babich from Belarus? What could Lukashenka have promised him in Beijing in return?
- This is not significant. Because Russians, unlike the West, act in Belarus on a systematic basis. A report by Belarusian analyst Andrei Yeliseyeu was recently published, which showed how over the past few years Russians have successfully acted in terms of the information war in Belarus, how many pro-Russian sites were created in the regions of Belarus, how they cover events in the world and Russia.
Here Russia is really taking very strong moves. For example, “Sputnik Belarus”, an Internet portal that is part of the informational hybrid war of the Russian Federation, appeared in Belarus quite recently. And today, more than two million Belarusian users per month read it. Yes, this is due to a massive advertising campaign and large investments, yes, there are not so many views per visitor - but nevertheless it remains a fact. I don’t even speak about the dominance of Russian TV channels in our country.
And what is the West doing in this situation? It actually destroys Belarusian independent media, depriving the most successful projects, patriotic sites and media, of support.
At the same time, we see how many non-governmental pro-Russian organizations have recently been created in Belarus, how many young people went to “Orthodox” militarized camps - both in Belarus and in Russia.
And what do we see from the West? There is a financial strangulation of the civil society in Belarus, the cessation of aid under the slogan: “sit quietly, do not rock the boat, Lukashenka is the guarantor of the Belarusian independence.”
Nevertheless, we see that it is not Lukashenka who rules Belarus today, but his security forces, who are aggressive representatives of the Russian world. It was Makei, Utsiuryn and Shunevich who headed the dispersal of the Square in 2010 and the mass repressions and tortures against the opposition, that followed this. According to Andrei Dynko, the Editor-in-Chief of the Nasha Niva newspaper, Utsiuryn personally interrogated those arrested in the Akrestin Street detention center after the dispersal of the Square in 2006.
Babich was replaced by Mezentsev... If you look at his biography, he is a very serious media specialist, a close friend and colleague of Putin.
What does a media specialist in Russia mean? This means an expert in the field of information warfare.
Babich, judging by his visits, contacts, meetings at state and private enterprises, conducted an audit of the Russian economic property in Belarus. Putin is unhappy with how these enterprises are managed. No wonder the Belarusian authorities called Babich “an accountant”. He was an accountant and did his job - and now he can step aside.
At some stage now, Russia will act in Belarus more quietly, but not less systemically and harshly.
- You have mentioned the increase of the Russian Federation’s informational war against Belarus. The detention of head of Beltelecom Sivayedau remained in the shadow of the high-profile arrest, and the recall of the Russian Ambassador. Can this be connected with the events that we are now dicussing?
- Probably, there is such a connection. Beltelecom is an absolute monopolist in Belarus, but much of the Belarusian traffic goes through Russia.
And the hopes of some Belarusian IT specialists and the people who have a wealth in the economic reserves of Belarus or, thanks to business cooperation with the authorities, that they will succeed in sitting it out, look naive. They will not succeed: if the law on autonomous “runet” comes into effect, then it will inevitably affect Belarus. We must be aware of this.
I repeat: this is not the last arrest and not the last dismissal in Belarus.
At any moment Putin, when it becomes profitable for him, will replace Lukashenka. Russians simply understand the danger of sudden movements in Belarus. They know that we have very strong pro-European sentiments. They know that Belarusians have very strong ties with the Ukrainian patriots, with the Ukrainian volunteer battalions. In addition, after the war with Ukraine, the main communications of the Russian Federation with the West go through Belarus, and destabilization of the situation in our country can cast a very serious blow to the interests of the Kremlin and the economy of entire Russia.
The Russians under Lukashenka are doing everything they want in Belarus, and some drastic changes can occur when Russian generals decide to deliver a final blow not only on Belarus, but also on the Baltic States and Ukraine. Putin's headquarters is simply preparing a guaranteed situation for this.
- What conclusions can the patriotic forces of Belarus draw in connection with the latest events?
- First, we must realize the seriousness of the situation. Many Belarusian patriots, who today explain their passivity by saying that “Lukashenka should not be fought, otherwise Russians will come,” must understand that they will come if Belarusians do not demonstrate their strength. In the case of complete annexation, many “constructive” oppositionists can be simply sent to Siberian or Mordovian camps - just as today they send Crimean Tatar and Ukrainian patriots from the occupied Crimea there. And it can even go as far as physical destruction, as in “LNR” and “DNR”. First of all, they will destroy the cultural elite. And if under the current government it somehow survived, then after the Russian occupation it will be destroyed first of all.
Secondly, it is necessary to look for international allies. I agree with Zianon Pazniak in assessing the policy that the West is pursuing in relation to Belarus - that it is not very smart.
But we need to explain to the people in the West what is actually happening in Belarus and what their policies lead to. The financial strangulation of the civil society in Belarus, independent media, the lack of reaction to brutal repression against the political opposition and the gross violations of human rights - such a policy simply pushes many Belarusians into the arms of Russia.
Lukashenka is an extremely unpopular politician in Belarus. An absolute majority of the population hates him, and Belarusian independent media do not write about this either. Instead, we read about “Vitya on a motorcycle”, “Kolya and the Golden Hockey Puck”, “Kolya and girls” ...
I was very touched by the material of one of the independent media, where at Easter a photo of Lukashenka was published along with Kolya and with candles and the material was called “Quiet, family-like”. Isn’t it Lukashenka who recently destroyed the crosses in Kurapaty in a satanic way?
Danger concerns everyone. There are attempts at discussion to realize the seriousness of the situation on the part of both Uladzimir Matskevich and Sviatlana Alexievich, who has been making quite sharp political statements lately. We must all realize the danger of the moment and come to unity through discussion.
In my opinion, consolidation is needed around those leaders who, with their life and struggle, proved that they are devoted to the ideals of freedom and independence of Belarus. I'm talking about Mikalai Statkevich, Pavel Seviarynets, Andrei Sannikov, Uladzimir Niakliayeu, Zianon Pazniak and others.
A clear unified proposal from the healthy patriotic forces of the country to the West is needed, that if they want to see Belarus independent, then the Belarusian authorities must be influenced (and there are tools for this) - that they should conduct real internal negotiations and hold truly free elections.
Lukashenka cannot go for the seventh term - it will simply end in disaster. It is necessary to put pressure on Lukashenka: if he wants to somehow save his life, as well as the safety of his family and his entourage, let him remember the fate of the “leaders” of the occupied Donbas. If the clan ruling in Belarus today wants to somehow remain in politics, it must nominate its new representative for the presidential election of 2020 and be ready for a fair fight with the opposition leaders. These people will no longer have the best opportunity.
Only internal consolidation can save Belarus today from the hottest scenario of events and armed conflict that can be inspired by Russia.
- What would you like to tell our readers, who, according to the statistics, are watching the development of the events in Belarus in the recent days with alert?
- We all need to stop being spectators and start realizing that we only have one country and we will have no other.
Belarus has always been a key country in terms of the regional security, not only the eastern European, but also global. The destiny of the entire Europe is being decided in Belarus, as it often happened in history before.
We, Belarusians, should unite. The West can be mistaken, as they did many times before. We have no right to make mistakes.
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