Financial and economic sanctions will help to change the government in Belarus quickly.
Leader of the civil campaign European Belarus, former presidential candidate Andrei Sannikau stated this in the Studio X97 program. The host is Yauhen Klimakin.
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- I know that five or six years ago you met with Joe Biden as the Belarusian opposition leader, as the leader of the European Belarus. What impression did he make on you?
- Very good impression. Yes, indeed, we met. It was a representative international forum organized by the late Senator John McCain, a great friend of Belarus. And there I managed to talk with Biden about the situation in Belarus. He made a really good impression. These are not empty words because I immediately noted the school that is missing today. He did not just talk to me about Belarus - he was ready for this conversation. This conversation was followed by rather harsh assessments and decisions from the White House.
- Regarding the regime?
- Regarding Lukashenka's regime. It really seemed to me that he was sincere, open; he was an attentive listener and a very good conversationalist. And the fact that the conversation took place in Senator McCain's presence gave an inter-party character to this conversation, and it was very useful.
- What does Biden's victory mean for the regime and for the Belarusian people?
- First of all, Biden's victory means the United States' return to the international arena, which is important both for Belarus and for many states. In particular, for states with authoritarian and dictatorial forms of government. Unfortunately, even under Barack Obama, the United States' role in the international arena began to decline. Under Donald Trump, it has noticeably decreased and weakened, although President Trump tried to solve complex international problems, not always successfully, and sometimes successfully.
Biden's pre-election statement and some of the statements he repeated after he was elected President of the United States just give hope that the United States will return to the world, return to the international arena, return to ensure the leadership of a democratic world, including the region to which Belarus belongs.
- There is a hope that he will not be indifferent towards Belarus, like Trump, for example, right?
- There is hope because, in general, it was normal that he used the Belarusian situation in his electoral campaign. But the fact that he repeated his concern over the Belarusian situation is already a good advance for the new US administration to deal with the situation in Belarus because, as far as I know, Biden does not speak in vain. Many observers note that deeds usually follow his words.
- In 2010, you took part in the presidential elections. And now we often hear that in Belarus, after the overthrow of Lukashenka, fair presidential elections are needed. When they happen, will you participate as a candidate?
- You know, I am asked this question very often, and it does not depend on me - I am a team player. I do not think that I will make this decision based on ambition. I will make any decisions based on the political situation and based on what the team will decide. I have not left politics, and I am not leaving, so yes, of course, I will take an active part in all political processes.
- But nevertheless, if they didn't want to, the team would not have forced you. Therefore, I am asking you a question not as a leader of the European Belarus, but as a person.
- No, of course, there is a personal factor, but it is based on objective factors.
- Would you go to the government?
- You know, I don't really like to share the skin of an unkilled bear. The main thing for us now is to get rid of this regime. There are opportunities for everyone. And opportunities will open up that do not exist in Belarus today. If a person wants to be useful to his state and not to his ambitions, he will always find a place for himself.
- The actual leader of the last presidential race was Viktar Babaryka. How do you feel about him?
- I treat him well. I believe that his figure was very significant for this period. In my opinion, he was the most dangerous rival for Lukashenka; that's why he put him in prison.
Babaryka, in my opinion, would have been a fairly acceptable figure both for Europe and for Russia if they started talking about this among themselves, but this did not happen. Therefore, yes, this is a strong figure and a strong politician. But today, we need to do everything to s release him from prison.
- With whom do you associate the political future of Belarus? What persons? Who do you consider a promising politician?
- I will not give specific names now.
- It is not safe.
- For whom is it unsafe?
- For these people. I can name those who have declared their principles a long time ago and suffer because of this. These are Mikalai Statkevich and Pavel Seviarynets, this is Yevhen Afnahel, these are the guys from European Belarus who are being pressed in prisons today. I can say these names.
Everyone, probably, thinks today: who could enter such a group of wise men on the one hand, and a group of experienced politicians on the other hand, who would have moved Belarus forward after the fall of Lukashenka's regime. It will be necessary. 80% success will depend on how harmoniously the political democratic part of Belarus, that is, the majority, will operate. So I cannot now give a concrete answer to this question, simply because the authorities are hysterical, and today they throw themselves at everyone whose new name they hear.
- In 1995-1996, you were the Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs of the Republic of Belarus. In your opinion, how should Belarusian diplomats behave now?
- Leave the service because the Foreign Ministry has long ceased to be the Foreign Ministry. I have been counting since 1996, when a referendum was held, resulting from which Lukashenka usurped power. After that, the Foreign Ministry, as a foreign policy department, ceased to exist. And after 1999, when opposition leaders were killed, it completely switched to serving the regime. That is, it has become an external propaganda part of the regime.
Therefore, to say that "we tried to work for Belarus" is an excuse. No excuse can serve as a reason to continue working in the civil service simply because the regime has become criminal, simply because the regime has become a killer. Therefore, I would advise them to leave as soon as possible.
- Nevertheless, it seems to me that most of them have chosen the tactic "we'll wait." I don't think there are people there who zealously say, "yes, Lukashenka is the one Belarus needs," but decided to wait it out. Who are they to you? Traitors?
- Any neutral position, any position like "let's wait it out," the position of collaboration is working for the regime. Now, during the revolution, especially. What kind of neutrality can there be? How can you work in a state institution if today's state institution is associated with an illegitimate criminal regime? The world does not recognize Lukashenka, which means it does not recognize any of the officials appointed by him. Hence, it does not recognize any appointments in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs.
- Completely illegitimate story.
- Yes, and it will continue. We demand from our friends and partners in the West that they continue this line on the regime's illegitimacy in all directions, not only in relation to Lukashenka, so that they deported today the ambassadors who remain in service abroad. Because, yes, they sit out. And for the people's money. And for a lot of money. Therefore, they are the same criminals as those AMAP officers who wave their truncheons.
- After the overthrow of Lukashenka, do you admit the scenario that he is provided with guarantees of certain immunity, and he remains in Belarus, in one of the sixteen residences, somewhere, for example, in Belavezhskaya Pushcha? He walks through the woods, gathers mushrooms.
- I do not like and consider it useless to talk about providing guarantees. Because today there is not a single force in Belarus, there is not a single force outside of Belarus, to which Lukashenka could listen. Talking about guarantees and giving him any advances is not just stupid; it is very harmful and dangerous.
I will be able to talk about Lukashenka's fate when Lukashenka doesn't cling to power with blue hands and leaves. Then you can talk. Today we need to build up strength and act from a position of strength. If something happens to Lukashenka, from a position of strength, this is not my problem; he is driving himself into this corner today. It is he who does not trust the security forces today and is afraid that they might do something with him. Not me, I'm not interested.
- Should he be tried?
- Of course, all criminals should be tried. I participate, among other things, in these processes, in collecting information and searching for ways to try the regime's crimes during this period. Of course, they should be tried.
- Tell us more about the collection.
- Documentation is being prepared, first of all, because this is the basis for imposing sanctions, for investigating the regime's crimes. There was a very good report within the framework of the OSCE Moscow Mechanism, which directly calls for an international investigation, the creation of an international tribunal on crimes during this period, pre-election and post-election. There is an accumulation of not only an information array, a database, but also a morally political one. This is not an easy task, but it will be accomplished. I'm sure of it.
- On how many years of conviction has the database been compiled for him?
- Judging by American laws, it is already on over a thousand years.
- Does the West press the regime and Lukashenka today?
- Very weak because they are playing the game "let's introduce only targeted sanctions." Targeted sanctions mean restrictions on travel to Europe, where these criminals do not go anyway. Therefore, the pressure is weak.
I constantly demand in conversations and in public speeches, in articles, the imposition of tough economic sanctions, the imposition of tough trade and financial restrictions.
- What specific sanctions should the West impose?
- When in 2008, the United States imposed sanctions against the oil and petrochemical industry of Belarus, Aliaksandr Kazulin was immediately released, who was a presidential candidate at that time and who was imprisoned. The same thing happened in 2011.
The developed world has quite a lot of serious tools in the hands because they have the money, and no Russia can support this criminal regime, which is getting more and more into debt. The West can influence today. Financial sanctions, trade sanctions, and disconnection from international banking systems will instantly solve the regime's problem.
- Nevertheless, when we hear about such large-scale sanctions, some start yelling that "well, of course, this will hit the Belarusian people first of all."
"We've been hearing these groans of the regime's "bleachers" for quite some time. Even recently, I saw somewhere insolent people wrote about the "ineffectiveness" of the sanctions, someone from Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya's inner circle also says that the sanctions do not help. This is a lie, a deliberate lie, deliberate work for the regime. Only sanctions can help.
I always say: well, our logic is not very clear to you, although our logic is caused by the existence of murderers in the power of Belarus. Let's talk about only one issue - the release of political prisoners. It is moral to impose any sanctions while people are in prison. It is moral to demand all political prisoners' release and the end to all repressions and link all economic, financial, and trade sanctions with this. This is highly moral. Let's talk about this, and then we'll talk about what may or may not affect the economy.
Let Lukashenka, if he cares about the economy, and he cares to support his regime at least somehow, release all political prisoners - there will be a different story. No, they start chatting up the problem, they begin to say that it will cause damage. It is simply impossible to do more damage to the economy than Lukashenka had already done. He killed the Belarusian economy.
Everything that counts there and what is customary to brag about for propaganda purposes has nothing to do with the economy. We created a Hi-Tech Park, but it's a sharashka. This is a "sharashka" where people who do not have freedom work to serve Lukashenka's regime. Wherever you go, all the flagships that were in Belarus are in a deplorable state. Neither the Tractor Plant nor BelAZ can sell their products. There are no high technologies. No industry called high technology can exist in a backward economy. That's all.
- You mentioned political prisoners. What can the Belarusian people do for them now? You yourself were a political prisoner. What is important for the person behind bars?
- The Belarusian people are doing incredibly much for political prisoners and for themselves. These are protests that have been going on for more than three months. Today, we just need more often to put forward slogans to release political prisoners because many of those who have declared themselves leaders don't do it. We must see these slogans in the streets and demand all political prisoners' release, go out with their names.
Human rights organizations are also a little afraid. They are good at collecting information, but they are afraid to give assessments; this is understandable because they are located inside Belarus. They talk about 120 political prisoners, but Interior Ministry officials themselves talk about more than 600 criminal cases. It is immediately possible to add 600 people to the list of political prisoners automatically, and there are many more. Therefore, yes, we must demand release on the streets, we must go out with photographs, with posters, as it always was in Belarus.
- Is it important to write letters?
- This is very important, but it is to support political prisoners, and we are talking about the release. I would like to see them free as soon as possible. And writing letters is extremely important for two reasons. Firstly, it is a huge support for political prisoners when they receive letters, although the regime is trying to exclude this. Most letters ...
- ... censorship does not allow, huh?
- No, letters, especially if they are written by famous people from all over the world, are simply insolently sent to the repository. If after 2010 all the storage facilities were filled with letters that they wrote to us, now they are probably overflown. Maybe they are being burned. But writing is very important. This is huge pressure on the jailers. They understand that every political prisoner is not forgotten. The entire administration of the colony sees these letters. They even read them. Not just censors. Then they report to the DEP - Department for the Execution of Punishments. And they also know about the quantity and content of these letters. Writing is very good.
I know that many people write specifically for the administration of the colony and not for political prisoners because they express everything they think without being afraid to sign their full name and indicate their address. I know this for certain because there is contact, including with former prisoners.
- Russian Federation. How will the Kremlin behave after the overthrow of the dictatorship?
- It seems to me that the Kremlin factor is exaggerated in the sense that everything depends on the Kremlin. It's nothing like this. The Kremlin congratulated Viktor Yanukovych several times back in 2004, Viktor Yushchenko became president. The Kremlin gave, if I am not mistaken, 60 billion to Yanukovych in order for him to abandon the agreement with the European Union, Maidan took place, and Petro Poroshenko became president. And all this was recognized.
The Kremlin really did not want Mikheil Saakashvili to be president in Georgia, but they recognized him. Whether it wants and does not want, the Kremlin will recognize the legitimate president of Belarus.
- The position of Ukraine. Until August 2020, both at the state level and at the level of ordinary people, one could often hear: "Oh, what a wonderful president is in Belarus," which brought the Belarusian people to a very restless state. How adequate is their behavior now?
Judging by Lukashenka's boorish statements regarding the Ukrainian leadership, their position is more or less normal, that is, non-recognition of the election results and support for the assessments that the European Union made regarding the Belarusian regime. It's good. They could move further, but we understand that there are some constraining factors; they are understandable.
As for the general attitude, so to speak, of public opinion about Belarus, yes, it has changed dramatically. But you were absolutely correct in pointing out that he was the most popular politician in Ukraine, even more popular than Merkel and other European politicians. This tail remained. Many do not understand: "How is this so? He was so successful, and this is what is happening now. How did it happen? We wanted you to have order, but now it is clear what is in Belarus." That is, these are the mixed feelings. On the one hand, the heart is on the side of the people who are protesting today. On the other hand, there is a desire to see the very order that was under Lukashenka.
We don't need such an order. Therefore, yes, indeed, there were a lot of offenses on the part of Belarusians that there is such an attitude towards Lukashenka. But I think that Ukraine could seriously help in this situation. The same economic sanctions, only from the point of view of Ukraine. From the point of view of putting things in order.
- More specifically, what do you mean?
- It's no secret that there is cigarette smuggling, it's no secret that Russian diesel fuel goes to Ukraine through Belarus, and both Ukrainian tanks and terrorists use this fuel in Donbas. Many people always profit from war. And until now, based on its practical needs, Ukraine has allowed this to happen.
Today, there is an opportunity to put things in order so that there is no immoral supply of terrorists and this situation to obtain some economic benefits. We need to support the Baltics, primarily Lithuania, in the issue of selling electricity from the most dangerous nuclear power plant built in Belarus today. By the way, there are already problems with it. Only Lukashenka boasted that Belarus was already a nuclear power, accidents immediately began to occur, as they had happened before. The nuclear power plant is simply dangerous for the entire region. This is his dream. It is not the first time that he has said that he would like to have nuclear weapons.
- What are the weak spots of the regime that society should now put pressure on?
- And he has no strong spots. The use of force against unarmed civilian civilians is actually not strength but weakness. It is necessary to put pressure on the regime's power segment because there are no others left. There is no government; there is nothing but the security forces. So he tries to keep them in some way, including money, including blood oaths, and so on.
The weak sides of the regime are the economy, and if today the workers understand how important a strike across Belarus is, there will be no regime. There is a lack of determination. The weak side of the regime in the economic segment is finance - there is no money. If today people refuse to feed the regime by any means (it is up to everyone to decide), then very soon, there will be no regime. We must understand that there is nothing left but these truncheons. They will also wave against Lukashenka, as they wave against peaceful demonstrators now.
- After the overthrow of Lukashenka, what is the first decision to be taken? In addition to the release of political prisoners and the return of the Constitution, state symbols. What needs to be done?
- Economy, economy, once again, the economy. Based on this, all other decisions. A clear reform program will be needed. It will be necessary to understand the priorities of Belarus, the place of Belarus in the international division of labor. What niche can we occupy? We can take a lot, but this is a separate conversation. Belarus has a fairly strong potential, still preserved, despite all Lukashenka's efforts to bury it. In our country, in general, wherever you go - there is a wedge everywhere, for whatever you do - there are failures everywhere.
We urgently need to deal with the education system as a whole. Because it is more and more obvious that the education system has become ideological; therefore, more and more private schools appear. From under this press, more and more people get higher education outside Belarus, so this is the most important thing. There are a lot of priority tasks, but this is great because Belarus is already so stagnating in this regime that it will be very interesting to deal with these priority problems. This will give a lot of strength and energy to individuals and the entire society and the state.
- The last and, perhaps, the main question. How to win?
- In general, the regime is gone. I never tire of repeating this. Today we need, we really need the well-coordinated work of everyone to win. When they say to me: "and now we are going to write economic programs" - goodbye, guys! We don't need you now. Today we need everyone's responsibility and everyone's dedication. And everyone's participation in these three simple designated stages: Lukashenka's resignation, the release of political prisoners, and elections. The people formulate them; they did not artificially come from somewhere.
We need to focus on doing this, and then everything will work out. A completely unprecedented rise in society should lead to victory.