There are several options for the developments in Belarus.
Editor-in-Chief of the Charter97.org website Natallia Radzina became a guest of prominent journalist Yevgeny Kiselyov on his YouTube show. The main topic of conversation was the sudden death of Lukashenka's Foreign Minister Uladzimir Makei.
— Natallia, please tell me, do you admit that Makei's death could have been non-accidental, but violent?
— Sure, I admit it, because his death was really unexpected. Still, a 64-year-old man, but he had never complained about his health before, and as far as we know, he did not consult doctors. Therefore, Makei's death was unexpected for everyone and, judging by the reaction of Lukashenka and his entourage, for them as well.
— Who could benefit from it? It is a classic question, you know: the one who benefits from could be guilty.
— A classic answer to a classic question. It was beneficial to everyone, since Makei was a regular scoundrel. He was really a man of no principles, a cynical person who has served the Lukashenka regime for 20 years. Makei, in general, was his right hand and competed with Viktar Sheiman in his influence on the dictator. Lukashenka has relied on these two men - Sheiman, the former secretary of the Security Council, and Makei, the former head of the Administration, his personal assistant, and also the Minister of Foreign Affairs for the past 10 years. It was a "grey eminence", a man who interacted with the West, was the main negotiator with the West, a man who personally traded political prisoners.
— What do you mean "traded"? Can you explain, please?
— It's very simple. Lukashenka took people hostage, he imprisoned political activists and presidential candidates, as it was in 2010 or during the 2020 protests, when mass arrests hit the country. Until 2020, there was an active trade in political prisoners in exchange for the lifting of sanctions. After 2020, as far as I know, Makei again turned to the West personally with a request to lift the imposed sanctions in exchange for the release of a certain number of political prisoners. Human trafficking has been a common practice for the Lukashenka regime.
— But if we talk about Russia, for example?
— I am familiar with Leonid Nevzlin's version that there is a possibility that Makei was poisoned by representatives of the Russian FSB, that it was beneficial for the Kremlin, and that now there is serious pressure on Lukashenka so that the Belarusian army enters the war against Ukraine. I think that this is a probable version, and it may be justified. All this also proves that the Lukashenka regime is completely incapable of making decisions on its own, that he is really a puppet, and that Lukashenka's fate and life today depend on Putin.
— I would like to know your opinion. I have read an article by well-known journalist Artsiom Shraibman. He wrote it for the website of the Carnegie Endowment in Russian. He claims that in the past, the late Makei allegedly offered the West to lift sanctions on Belarus in exchange for a commitment not to enter the war against Ukraine on the side of Russia. Is it possible?
— It's possible, of course, any negotiations. We know that Makei is such a cunning bastard who negotiated with Western politicians, most likely with both Europeans and Americans. Of course, he could offer it, but who would believe it? Because it is obvious to everyone today that the Lukashenka regime has lost any legal personality. Lukashenka, I think, is not able to get out of this war, in which he got involved along with Putin.
— What do you think, Putin's loss, military defeat in this war, in this adventure, how will it affect the future fate of dictator Lukashenka?
— Naturally, this regime will sink along with Putin's regime. Maybe even earlier.
— Fine, but in practical terms, what scenario do you see? It is clear that Putin, having lost the war, will not just say "I've lost". He will try to save his face and, for example, declare to the “Urbi et Orbi” “that's it, we have completed the task, the goals of the so-called special operation have been achieved, we are leaving”, “we are showing goodwill”, or something else will come up. What will happen in neighbouring Belarus after that?
— You see, in any case, the regimes of Putin and Lukashenka will begin to collapse. They lost this war and this is an undisputed fact.
The question is how long this process of ending the war will last and how Russia will emerge from it. However, these regimes are on the verge of half-life, this is a fact. The fact that Putin will pull Lukashenka along with him is also obvious to everyone.
Speaking about versions of the developments in Belarus. There could be several options. There may be some kind of establishment coup. Today, Belarusian officials are extremely confused, they understand that Lukashenka is dragging them to the bottom, and that this war will be lost anyway. It is quite clear that if the Putin regime is not able to exist for a long time, it will also crumble. Therefore, there may be some establishment conspiracies.
Depending on how events develop, whether there will be another invasion of Ukraine from the territory of Belarus, only Russian troops will go there, or Russian troops together with Belarusian ones, perhaps Belarusian volunteers who are fighting in Ukraine today will enter the battle in Belarus.
I'm talking about the Kalinouski Regiment and other Belarusian units. This option, too, cannot be ruled out, it is quite likely.
We are to be honest now: what are the other ways to change the situation in Belarus, the country is under a tough dictatorship and, in fact, is occupied by Russian troops today. I guess we have a military option.
— Listen, and the late Uladzimir Makei, could he not accidentally be at the head of some kind of nomenklatura conspiracy? After all, it often happens that the right hand of its owner can betray.
— You know, I hardly believe in this, because Makei faithfully served the Lukashenka regime for more than 20 years. Despite the fact that in 2020, despite the fact that he had such a reputation as a liberal, revealing some kind of soft politician (I never considered this perfectly professional, that this is a mask), he fully supported Lukashenka, and justified all this massive repression. Makei lied just before the offensive from Belarus that the Russian troops would return after the exercises in the Russian Federation. He threatened civil society with total destruction. So no, this person completely took the side of the dictator, the side of evil, and I don’t think he was able to weave any conspiracies and try to overthrow Lukashenka.
— If I understand you correctly, the rumors that circulated in 2020 that Makei could go over to the side of the protesters had no basis?
— I don't think so. We know that his son then opposed Lukashenka and left the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, but Makei personally remained faithfully serving his master.
— All these talks that he is pro-Western, that he doesn't really like the Putin regime, is it all complete nonsense?
— I think it's really nonsense. I understand what you are talking about. I believe that you also watched Dmitry Gordon, who concludes that Makei is “pro-Western and does not like Russia” based on the fact that he once talked with this man and then invited him to dinner. You know, there's too little reason for that.
— I do not know Dmitry Gordon’s commentary on this topic, but I admit that sometimes people, having met personally with some foreign politician, and not even with a foreign one, take a "good mine in a bad game" for reality.
— Yes, I think this is the same case. Makei was a cynical, ignoble person who was just playing, who was just pretending, who was just brainwashing Western politicians and conducting human trafficking at the same time. It simply attempted to deceive the West in order to avoid serious sanctions.
That's what Makei was doing. He was not a liberal, he was not a pro-Western politician. Moreover, I will say that 2010 was marked by the arrests of almost all independent presidential candidates, Uladzimir Makei headed the Lukashenka Administration and personally supervised the repression of presidential candidates, members of their headquarters, opposition activists, and journalists. By the way, I appeared in the KGB prison at that time. We know that Uladzimir Makei personally controlled our fate and cruel treatment of us (and people were already tortured then).
— Well, when they began to free you, was he involved, as some say? I have already mentioned this in passing. I'm talking about his participation in some negotiations on the release of those arrested in exchange for some steps that pleased the West.
— At the moment, human trafficking has begun, which I have already mentioned. Political prisoners were released under the condition that the West would not impose serious economic sanctions and even lift visa restrictions that were imposed earlier. However, those released from prison continued to be subjected to serious pressure. In fact, they were forbidden to actively participate in the opposition movement, people were massively recruited by the KGB, forced to sign papers on cooperation and simply broken psychologically. This is what it really looked like.
— For example, as far as I understand, you had to emigrate, like many others, didn't you?
— Yes, for this reason I had to flee the country, because I understood that they would not leave me alone, because I was repeatedly and very persistently offered to also sign papers on cooperation with the KGB.
— Some are now quoting words, if indeed such words the late Makei said that he wanted Belarus “to be such an Eastern European or post-Soviet Switzerland, a neutral prosperous country that will not be on the side of Russia, nor on the side of the West”. Did he really say that?
— He could say that, but how could it be under a dictatorship? This is just rubbish, nothing more, which is not worth paying attention to.
— Maybe he meant that this is possible after Lukashenka?
— I still think that he had Lukashenka in mind.
— Did he mean with Lukashenka?
— Certainly. This man faithfully served Lukashenka for more than 20 years. When he spoke about “a kind of Switzerland”, he apparently meant that very notorious multi-vector approach that he had been pursuing together with Lukashenka for these 28 years, as long as the dictatorship has been ruling in Belarus. This is called extracting wealth from the West, crushing, repressing the opposition within the country, and also feeding on Russia. Actually, this is how they existed with Lukashenka until 2020. Then relations with the West were spoiled due to the falsification of the results of the presidential elections and the defeat of the opposition. Then the war began, and the multi-vector approach was over.
— Do you think the protest opportunities that we saw in 2020 after the completely rigged presidential elections have been completely exhausted or is it real?
— No, the protest resources were not completely destroyed, you are to see the difference between the situations in Russia and Belarus. The majority of the Russian population, unfortunately, supports Putin. In Belarus, the absolute majority does not support the Lukashenka regime. Yes, after 2020, thousands of Belarusians ended up in prisons, today we can talk about at least 4000-5000 prisoners of conscience. Yes, hundreds of thousands of people were forced to flee the country, but those millions who voted against Lukashenka still remained inside the country.
The potential for protest remains, even though the country is now ruled by a harshly repressive regime. Such a state of emergency has been established in Belarus today, because arrests have been going on for more than two years and do not stop for a single day, people are detained for every reason. It also proves that the Lukashenka regime is so afraid of its people, because if it were good for him, if the people really loved him, then there would be no mass arrests.
The economic situation now also helps to ensure that this protest matures, matures, matures, and in the end, I think this lid over the boiling cauldron will still be thrown off, and the protests will resume to some level.
— What needs to happen to make this possible? What should be the catalyst or the spark?
— Anything can become a trigger, starting from the worsening economic situation, we have already seen such riots in small businesses due to salary delays, we have seen that entrepreneurs began to protest, closing their market outlets due to serious pressure from the authorities, increased taxes, ending with the Lukashenka regime entering this war and sending Belarusian soldiers to Ukraine. This can also become the trigger that will change the situation. It also cannot be ruled out that Lukashenka will end badly with the fact that missile attacks on Ukrainian territories continue from the territory of Belarus. It is possible that Ukraine will respond and strike at military facilities in Belarus. We believe that Ukraine has every right to take such a retaliatory step. And it will also cause a reaction within the country.
— Many who follow the events in Belarus after February 24 cannot get rid of the impression that Lukashenka in every possible way is resisting the start of hostilities by the ground forces of Belarus together with the Russian troops against Ukraine. You are welcome, we are ready to make any political statements in your support, and we will provide territory, but in no case will we go into battle. Don't you think that the murder of Makei could be, if it was a murder, a kind of warning for Lukashenka, that this could happen to him too?
— It is possible. We know that Lukashenka is extremely anxious today. Sources say that he is panicking, that he replaced his bodyguards, and that he has changed his cooks and servants. This happens, perhaps, because Makei's death was completely unexpected for him.
We also notice that the Belarusian state media write very little about Makei. The news itself passes somehow suspiciously imperceptibly: no one made an emphasis on it, sometimes it is reported simply in one line.
Firstly, this testifies to Lukashenka's attitude towards his people, and secondly, it also says that they are afraid to even attach any importance to this death, to discuss options.
— Maybe they just don't know, still haven't figured out the cause of his death?
— Maybe it is. Lukashenka, of course, is afraid for his life and understands perfectly well that he actually depends on Putin. The dictator is now surrounded by people closely associated with the Kremlin. I think that if one of his people were given a choice between Lukashenka and Putin, no one would choose Lukashenka.
— Belarus is still an independent state. Yes, it is highly dependent on Moscow, on the Putin regime. But, as for me, it is still hard to believe that the top Belarusian officials want to turn into Russian provincial officials.
— If we are talking about ordinary officials, then it is unlikely that they would like this. If we are talking about those who actually govern the country today besides Lukashenka, representatives of law enforcement agencies, all of them are fully controlled by Moscow. All of them, from the Secretary of the Security Council Aliaksandr Valfovich to the Minister of Defence, the Chairman of the KGB, the Minister of Internal Affairs and others.
— Natallia, you said “controlled”, what do you mean? Do you mean that Moscow knows about all their actions, about all their decisions, and has spies that follow everything that happens? Is Moscow really controlling them?
— You know, both of those things. Among the leaders of law enforcement agencies, and people close to Lukashenka, there are a lot of people from Russia, almost all of them studied in Russia, almost all of them have close ties with Russian special services and ideologically they are absolutely close to Putin.
Even Aliaksandr Valfovich, Secretary of the Security Council of Belarus, a native of Russia. There is information that he even causes some irritation in Lukashenka, but he cannot do anything with him, since Valfovich receives orders directly from the Kremlin. Sometimes Lukashenka may not even know what order Vafovich received from Moscow.
— Lukashenka cannot remove him, am I right?
— No. That's the thing he can't do. This speaks of the complete lack of independence of Lukashenka.
— Tell me, please, what will happen now in Belarus, when there is no such figure close to Lukashenka, who he had been relying on, as you said at the beginning of our conversation, for 20 years? How will Lukashenka act now without a person who had faithfully been serving him for 20 years, when such a gap appears nearby?
— I don't envy him, it will be hard for him. It's bad for him and good for us. I think that now the regime is entering such a zone of turbulence and will tremble until it collapses completely. You know, when I read the news about Makei, I just thought that soon we, journalists, will write about Lukashenka's death in the same routine. This is only part of what will be happening in our region. Therefore, Lukashenka lost his legal personality a long time ago, nothing depends on him, and we need to think about how to protect Ukraine, liberate Belarus and do everything so that this criminal Putin regime in Russia finally collapses.
— I don’t want to wish death on anyone, but imagine that Aliaksandr Ryhoravich just, as they say, ate mushrooms, and then died of apoplexy, as happened in the old days with some monarchs who sat on thrones. Who will replace him?
— Temporarily there may be some protege from the Kremlin, temporarily there may be someone from the country's establishment. But it won't last long. I think that serious events will take place in Belarus, and Belarusian volunteers may enter Belarus in this situation. People's protests will start, and people's uprising will definitely happen, and I think there will be a serious chance for democratic forces to take power in Belarus.