The dictator should be denied access to the "hydrocarbon doping".
Estonian-based Russian activist Yevgenia Chirikova told Charter97.org about what methods, in her opinion, could be really effective against the authoritarian regimes of Lukashenka and Putin, and why the Russian opposition should learn from Belarusians.
- You are known for your many years of struggle to protect the Khimki forest near Moscow. Back in 2009, you transferred environmental activism to the political plane and demanded that the then Russian President Medvedev resign the Putin government. Since 2015 you have been living in Estonia. How has the Russian regime changed during this time?
- You know, it has changed in the direction of deterioration. In my opinion, in general, the cost of protest has grown very much, the level of repression has grown very much, too. The methods of power have become completely different. That is, 15 years ago, when I was an activist, it was not as dangerous as it is now. According to the Constitution of Russia, you have the right to peaceful protest, without weapons, this is your constitutional right. But now, if you go out to a rally several times, for example, then according to the new anti-constitutional (we call it "Dadinskaya") article, you can be fined for every time you take to the street. In the event that you are detained several times, then further it develops into criminal prosecution. That is, if you have several fines, this is a reason to initiate a criminal case against you. This was not the case for peaceful actions 15 years ago. Now those who go out to protest are real heroes.
I am always very offended when activists are devalued, when they say "oh, they don’t decide anything anyway, they just went out there and stood with posters, how ridiculous". In fact, these are very heroic people who risk their lives and health, because the Russian prison is a place of torture.
And the regime, unfortunately, during this time only struggles, nothing good has happened to it yet. They continue to interact with it, and this is the biggest tragedy. I believe that one should not constantly "express deep concern" about the plight of human rights in Russia, and pump this regime with money from the sale of hydrocarbons. This is terribly disingenuous.
- In 2020, Belarus became the arena of large-scale protests against the protracted rule of Lukashenka. What can you say about the political situation in Belarus? What is common and different in authoritarian regimes and methods of resistance to them in the two countries?
-So far, it seems to me that Lukashenka’s regime is more paranoid and terrible. It seems to me that what is happening in the Akrestsin Street detention center has spread all over the planet and Akrestsin Street has become a common noun. It's really scary, that's why people are fleeing from Belarus now. I regard Lukashenka simply as a maniac. In my opinion, he is a mentally unhealthy person, at the same time he is somewhat terribly cunning, sly and sneaky. For many years, roughly speaking, he was leading Putin round his little finger. He managed to sell oil products under the guise of paints and varnishes, and thereby deceived Russia for millions of dollars. I don’t really feel sorry for Putin’s Russia, but it shows that he deceived Putin.
It seems to me that Lukashenka is more inclined to what is called "making decisions in one person". Something else is holding back Putin, he still has some clans with which he at least consults. Lukashenka makes decisions alone. I may be wrong, but I think so. I also see that now, when everyone has turned their backs on Lukashenka, he has completely become dependent on subsidies from the Kremlin. And the worst thing is that Europe continues to feed Putin. That is, he continues to buy oil and gas from him - and thus, it turns out, he feeds the Lukashenka regime.
It should be understood that Nord Stream 2 is such a "wonderful" opportunity to pump money into Lukashenka’s regime. Therefore, to everyone who says that it is too expensive for Europe to switch to some other energy sources, I would like to say: “Guys, how much do you assess the lives of Belarusians?”. For me, this is a perfectly obvious correlation.
- Lukashenka has several ecologically dangerous projects on his account: a nuclear power plant on the border with Lithuania, a number of harmful enterprises in Belarusian regions built by the Chinese, poisoning water and air in Brest. Battery plant ... How do you assess such "initiatives" of the authoritarian government?
- It is quite obvious that, being an ecologist, I am categorically against it. It is especially offensive that Lukashenka built a nuclear power plant. Thus, he hacked the project of normal renewable wind energy, he forced the Belarusian people to accept this burden in the form of a huge loan to Russia. Everyone is in debt, so he also put Belarus on a dangerous source of energy, completely unpromising. It is clear that the civilized world will move away from nuclear energy. And spending a lot of money in order to plunge people into payments when the economy is stagnating is some kind of short-sighted decision, to put it mildly.
I just don't know about other projects. Because, unfortunately, what is happening now with human rights in Belarus simply covers all other topics. I read the other day that Siarhei Tsikhanouski was jailed for 18 years. After such stories, you don't want to read about any ecology. 18 years of the reinforced-security regime is generally monstrously. And this is very scary, because against the background of such a level of problems with human rights, you can do absolutely anything with the environment. Society will no longer react to this. This is very bad.
- In recent months, the Lukashenka regime has been using migrants from Iraq and other countries to destabilize the situation on the border with Poland and the Baltic countries. How do you see this situation - as a Russian activist living in Estonia?
-It seems to me that this is useless blackmail, playing with people. Of course, I think that Lukashenka is a scoundrel, but the fact that he uses people in this way is simply beyond criticism.
On the other hand, I see that the Poles are trying with all their might to prevent a catastrophe, they are simply trying to prevent a war.
On the third hand, it seems to me that you cannot do this with people, you need to somehow resolve this conflict. I don’t know a simple solution, but at least we need to arrange for them some kind of hot meals and some kind of accommodation in the territory where Lukashenka invited them, that is, excuse me, on the territory of Belarus.
But in the long term, the most important thing is to support the normal forces in the countries from which these migrants came. If you support pro-democracy movements, then you support a normal situation in these countries.
Maybe everything has already been cleaned up, I am not such a great specialist in them, but it seems to me that it is necessary to carry out appropriate explanatory work with these people. We need to explain to them that they are just victims in this game and that this is not an option: to storm the borders of the European Union like this.
And of course, you cannot support dictatorial regimes. Because by buying hydrocarbons from them, you thereby support these cannibalistic regimes. That is, decarbonization is actually wildly cool, it is what will move the world towards improvement.
-At the very beginning of Lukashenka’s rule, the diagnosis was "mosaic psychopathy". Now even analysts restrained in their assessments doubt the adequacy of his actions. How do you assess the level of regional danger posed by the regime in Belarus?
-I am not a psychiatrist and cannot make diagnoses, but this is not the behavior of a healthy person. Lukashenka is actually holding onto power with blue fingers, he is ready to drown the country in blood in order to keep this power.
The situation when such a person is in charge of a large country is dangerous for those around him. We have already seen the refugee crisis on the border with Poland and Lithuania, and this is the result of Lukashenka's unhealthy behavior.
-In recent months, Lukashenka and his officials have turned into international outcasts thanks to the sanctions. What other measures can the West take to protect itself from the unpredictable actions of the Belarusian regime?
- The most important thing is the refusal to buy hydrocarbons from Putin. If Putin has no money, Lukashenka will have no money either. That's all.
I can give simple advice, but shifting Europe to renewable energy sources is not an easy task. And as a matter of fact, we must first of all cope with this task. That is, to think about how Europe should not depend on such regimes as Putin's.
Everyone is interested in this, including Ukraine and Georgia. Because this Putin regime corrupts everything around it and supports such regimes as the Assad regime in Syria, or, for example, Lukashenka, and other most unsuitable regimes.
It's terrible when they start dictating something. In fact, this is all done with the money they receive from the sale of his hydrocarbons. Russia is a huge colony, unlike Belarus. In fact, natural resources are taken away from the same Khanty-Mansi and from other indigenous peoples, and no one shares anything with them. These natural resources are used for disgusting purposes.
Of course, the transition to normal renewable energy sources will greatly improve the situation. Recently, our portal Activatica.org has published information about new standards. These are green social standards for doing big business, what is now accepted in Europe and in the civilized world in general. They are called ESG standards.
What are they? This is the standard that assigns a certain rating to large business. If you have a good rating, that is, you are decarbonized, socially friendly and eco-friendly, then you have excellent access to investments, you have a good reputation.
If you have problems with this, that is, if you shit on the environment, if you have a large carbon tracet, if you destroy nature, like Rosneft, for example, with pipes breaking every day - in this case you get a very low rating and it's hard for you to get any additional funding.
This has a number of distinct negative business implications. And it is very cool that such standards have appeared, this gives us the opportunity to influence largee monsters-companies.
Because very often an ordinary person cannot influence them. And in case we learn how to do it, it will be wildly cool. If we learn to influence the same Rosneft, all of us will be better, including the Belarusians, oddly enough.
Because the more green our energy sector is, the less money Rosneft will have, roughly speaking, the less money the Lukashenka regime will have.
Now all that remains is to understand how to influence these standards to work for civil society as they should. But the fact that they appeared in Europe is very good.
- In 2011, you met with the then US Vice President Joe Biden. Then he presented you with the US State Department's Courage Award. Now they hope for Biden's position in relation to Putin for de-escalation of military tension on the border of the Russian Federation and Ukraine. Do you think the US President will be able to prevent a military invasion of the Kremlin?
- I am not such a big political scientist to assess American politics. I am very grateful for this award. And it's great that Biden also awarded Maryja Kalesnikava, it's very good, it's an honor. You know it's nice when not only nasty things are said about your work, when there is someone who positively evaluates it. It is a pity that this is not happening in your native country, that it is not the Russian, so to speak, power that rewards you for all the good, but the American. This is a shame, of course.
It's hard for me to say whether Biden will be able to stop the conflict on the border with Ukraine. Where the pipeline runs through the territory of Ukraine, hostilities are abruptly stopped there. And this Nord Stream - 2 goes exactly bypassing along the bottom of the Baltic Sea. And if the transit of gas does not go through Ukraine, then please - attack it as much as you want. Putin does not risk anything in this case.
And there is such a strange thing: under Trump, sanctions were introduced against Nord Stream 2, which has a direct impact on the conflict with Ukraine. And under Biden, for some reason, these sanctions slowed down very sharply. He, roughly speaking, passed carte blanche to the Germans, who were very interested in this. They would immediately become a gas hub. This political somersault is completely incomprehensible to me, I just cannot understand why he did it.
Maybe this is some kind of very wise decision, but I don't see wisdom in all of this. I would sting further and stop Nord Stream 2 with all my might. These actions look strange to me.
- Your defense of the Khimki forest impresses with its uncompromising scale and scope: the protesters built barricades and more than once put the authorities in a difficult position. What would you like to say to Belarusians who continue to fight for changes in our country?
- You know, I would like to learn from Belarusians myself. Because, to be honest, we have not been able to achieve such a level of solidarity.
In addition to the fact that I was the leader of the defense of the Khimki forest, I was also a member of the coordination council of the Russian opposition along with Borys Nemtsov and Alexey Navalny. And we tried to advise society in the same way. I even had an attempt to organize a kind of peaceful Maidan. I set up a tent right in front of the Kremlin. But it did not last long there, for a minute, probably, they took me out very quickly then and imposed a fine, some nonsense for those times. But in fact, our attempts to unite civil society, to bring people to the streets, were not as successful as among Belarusians. Therefore, it seems to me that it is not me who needs to give advice to Belarusians, I need to learn from them.
I can only say that I admire and very sympathize with those who fell into the clutches of this regime, it's terrible. I really sympathize with Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya, whose husband is in prison. I can't imagine how she handles it, what it is. I really sympathize with Kalesnikava's parents, because God forbid that your child goes to prison, even though she is an adult woman. My children are already grown-up, I can imagine how everything is going through. So admiration and sympathy for those who fell into these millstones.