It's time to impose European economic sanctions against the regime.
Recently, the Belarusian NPP has been receiving a lot of news about the so-called planned shutdowns of reactors; a few weeks ago, the plant's website was hacked, where a message about its unsafeness appeared. Charter97.org spoke with MEP Petras Aushtrevičius about how Lithuania and the European Union react to such reports, and what to expect from the new package of European sanctions against the Lukashenka regime.
- How does Lithuania react to news from Belarus about malfunctions and shutdowns of the reactor at the BelNPP?
- Absolutely negatively, this once again confirms that the nuclear power plant in Astravets is unsafe. First, how can hackers break into an official website that needs to be protected to the highest cybersecurity standards? Therefore, there is no such protection. Secondly, the content of the message is very worrisome (on the hacked site, a text was published on behalf of the station workers about its danger and the possibility of a serious accident - ed.). If this is true, and we have reason to believe that it is so, then this message speaks of major flaws in the safety of the station itself.
We know that the nuclear power plant was built at the cost of safety, there is no nuclear safety culture in Belarus. Moreover, the Russian Federation is exerting strong pressure to start repaying loans because the station must start working from an economic point of view, generate income. All this puts the operator of a nuclear power plant in such a position that he has to work at the cost of ignoring safety measures.
- What steps have been taken today at the level of the European Union to counter the Belarusian NPP? Does the EU understand that this station poses a danger not only for Lithuania but for the whole of Europe?
- The February resolution said that the nuclear power plant threatens not only the countries of the region such as Lithuania or Poland but the entire European continent. We have a dubious situation from the point of view of the European Commission, which initiated stress tests. They believe that this is enough, but only partially take into account aspects of Astravets' nuclear safety.
The main focus of Lithuania is on the location of the nuclear power plant. It is too close to the Lithuanian border and the largest city in Lithuania, it is contrary to the Espoo Convention. Belarusian nuclear scientists have not completed any public hearings on this matter. Recently they tried to initiate something similar again, but it was again fake. I've seen reports that no one has been able to ask questions. This is absolutely unacceptable and is a violation of the principle of public hearings.
There is no certainty about the design that covers the nuclear reactor from above. It was built only to withstand the crash of small planes. Not to mention the technical condition of the nuclear power plant.
I would like to add that the International Atomic Energy Agency is lobbied by Rosatom, which participated in the construction of Astravets. I have no illusion that they are biased. These organizations are not lobbying for clean energy but nuclear power. I reserve the right to question their objectivity, and I am very worried about the penetration of Rosatom employees into this organization.
- The USA has restored sanctions against 9 Belarusian petrochemical enterprises. The media have already reported that Russian oil companies are refusing to supply the same amount of raw materials to Belarus in May. How effective are US sanctions?
- They are effective because they are real. Such sanctions impose restrictions on individual enterprises that are linked to Lukashenka's budget. I must admit that the EU has not yet been able to come up with proportional sanctions. We are talking about our support, solidarity with Belarus and the opposition, but we must stop the regime from violent actions against its own people. I appreciate what the US has done, it is a good example for the EU.
- The European Union plans to introduce the 4th package of sanctions against the Lukashenka regime. What should Belarusians expect?
- During a meeting at the European Council, we talked about strengthening sanctions against the regime. I think this is inevitable. The Lukashenka regime didn’t respond to Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya’s invitation to start negotiations. On the contrary, they began to use an even more brutal set of persecutions. The number of political prisoners is growing rapidly. We have not seen this before. We did not give a clear signal to Lukashenka, so we need to do much more in this direction. I am looking forward to applying for the Magnitsky Act to include Lukashenka. The time has come to increase the pressure on the Lukashenka regime, and we have no opportunity to abandon this strategy.
- What effective instruments do you think the EU has not yet used to bring the Lukashenka regime to life?
- The regime's representatives on the sanctions list should not be 86, but more, especially on the part of law enforcement agencies, those who are responsible for the persecution, intimidation of people, and the commission of crimes against humanity.
I think we should consider the issue of economic sanctions because there is no way forward unless we put more economic pressure on the regime. It is unacceptable for me when companies or people seek economic benefits through the Lukashenka regime. This is unacceptable, these businesses should be punished.
- What advice can you give to people in Belarus fighting for democracy and freedom?
- We cannot forget our common history, and it begins with the Grand Duchy of Lithuania when freedom was of the greatest value. At that time, people were fighting a great fight to protect their country, but they also fought for their freedom. It was a normal European state. We must understand that these values and historical traditions have not disappeared. If Belarus wants to be called a European state, it must base its modern history on the past not only of the Soviet Union or from 1941, but from a much earlier time.
My message for Belarusians is this: there is always a ray of hope, even in the worst situations or circumstances. You will never lose what you have, and you must see it. We fought, we were punished, many suffered, but we knew why we were doing this. This is not for a better tomorrow, no, it is for a better future that is different from today.
We knew what we wanted - to be a normal European country, which is politically, economically, and, by all means, integrated into European culture, and not into a Eurasian culture based on disregard for human dignity, rights, and opportunities.
We have chosen the right path, and I believe that our example should inspire the Belarusians, who so often visit Lithuania and see how we live. These are undeniable differences in economic, political, and social development. I hope our practical example inspires Belarusians.