The Belarusian revolution is the European values incarnation.
Why didn't the West listen to those who warned it about the essence of the Putin regime? How will the tribunal for Lukashenka become one of the security guarantees in Europe? Should the Russians face consequences for what their army is doing in Ukraine? The Charter97.org website spoke about this to Nicolas Tenzer, a former employee of the French government, professor, and expert in the field of international security.
Background: Nicolas Tenzer held a high position in the French government. He is an expert in foreign policy and Visiting Professor at Sciences Po Paris, Chairman of the Centre for Study and Research for Political Decision (CERAP), a visiting senior fellow at the Center for European Policy Analysis (CEPA), director of the online magazine Desk Russie and blogger at the Tenzer Strategics. Nicolas Tenzer is the author of 22 books and 3 official governmental reports.
— How come that after the words "Never again" we have witnessed terrible events again?
— There were all the signs since 23 years that Putin’s Russia didn’t care about human life. Just remember what we were already witnessing in Chechnya, Georgia and, of course, in Syria where Russians killed more civilians than ISIS did. The first Ukrainian war started in 2014 and a lot of war crimes have already been committed then, without even mentioning the tortures, forced disappearances and imprisonment of Ukrainian people and among them, notably, Crimean Tatars.
Very unfortunately those, who were warnings about what Russia was doing and demanding to stop Russia, were not heard, neither in France, nor in Germany, or in many other countries, including the US. Also, there were all the warnings from the Russian dissidents themselves: my friend Vladimir Kara-Murza and many others, some of whom have been killed: Anna Politkovskaya, Natalya Estemirova, Anastasia Baburova, Stanislav Markelov, Boris Nemtsov. Even if what happened in Bucha, Irpin, and especially Mariupol — more than 100,000 are likely to have been killed there — was on a larger scale, it was absolutely predictable. No one could predict when, where, and if, but it came with no surprise. I think one of the main questions we must ask is why not all those alerts about Putin’s regime have been taken into account. It may somehow reveal indifference to crime.
With regard to the question “how it could happen”, it was because the democratic world leaders turned a blind eye to what was happening for 23 years. Even if some world leaders are talking about war crimes, crimes against humanity, crimes of genocide and crime of aggression, it doesn't seem to be the very center of their own stance about Russia. They mention it but sometimes sounds as a secondary issue. They consider first of all the aggression, they say rightly that we have to stand with Ukraine, protect Ukrainians, arm Ukraine (even though not doing that sufficiently), but they are not talking extensively about the crimes committed by Putin, by his army and by the Russian people.
Also, many Russians, even some dissidents (not all of them, but even some dissidents) are not considering enough, in my view, that the Russian people should feel a kind of guilt for what their government is doing, even if they are not directly responsible for the crimes. This feeling and the full acknowledgement of the crimes committed by Putin’s regime — and by Stalin before him — is the only path to democracy and the rule of law.
— I presume, after this war people again will say "never again". Should we expect another tragedy in the future?
— Many leaders were repeating "never again" and talking about the commitment for any state to comply with the international laws regarding human rights, war crimes, crimes against humanity, but when this occurred, they hardly said something.
In my view, the Syrian war was a kind of a turning point. When the Russian army was slaughtering civilians, the world leaders were blaming Assad — rightly so —, but they never said publicly that Putin’s Russia was equally guilty of war crimes and crimes against humanity. If the world leaders do not talk, they are basically just observing (all of those crimes have been committed in plain sight) then it becomes difficult to consider that the words "never again" are taken seriously by them.
I cannot say what to do to prevent this from occurring again, because unfortunately I absolutely have no miraculous receipt — actually, no one has. A tragedy could happen and probably it will happen again in 3, 10, 50 or 100 — I don't know. Just see what happened in other places in the world. In Belarus (even if it’s not the same scale as in Ukraine) the dictator Lukashenka is jailing and torturing people. Consider what is still happening in Syria, what happened in Burma. See what happened in China with the Uighur camps. We have many examples — very unfortunately — and they are not enough alerts — they often fall into the holes of oblivion as Hannah Arendt put it.
In my view, the first thing to do, if we try to prevent this, is that all the human rights activists have to speak loud and clear and join their fights: the Belarus opposition is doing that with Ukraine, and does Syrian opposition. But we have also to join with the human rights activists in Hong Kong, Turkey, Venezuela, Cuba. We must state very clearly (and some leaders still need to state it with the regard to Russia) that all those who are responsible or guilty for those crimes must be brought to court: either to the International Criminal Court or to a special tribunal for the crime of aggression that is able to incriminate the head of Russian regime. If there is no justice after what Russia is doing in Ukraine and no justice for what Lukashenka is doing in Belarus, then, I think, "never again" will become just a very grim mockery.
— What about Russians? Should they bear some consequences for what the Russian Armed Forces are doing in Ukraine?
— First of all, they cannot look away. I met some of them, and they were saying, "We are very concerned. That is very unfortunate." But they are not very conscious about the very significance of the war crimes committed in their name. Although, they are not supporting Putin, they are not revolting against Putin. Of course, I know that it’s very easy to say this from Paris or Berlin, because those who are demonstrating in Russia are taking a lot of risks. Some actually did, and according to some data, 14,000 have been put in jail after February 24th. But still many are looking away and basically accepting. Some seem to be concerned now by the Ukrainian victories, but they are blaming Putin for his mismanagement of the war, not for declaring it and perpetrating crimes. The deadly question here is: how to jump from this state of denial to the feeling of guilt? It may obviously take decades. Eventually, the Russian will have to feel that kind of guilt that most of the Germans, who were supporting Hitler, experienced after World War II. Not all of them did, and, probably, there were not enough trials, but still, if you ask the young Germans, they are not proud of their past. Exactly something just contrary is happening in Russia. The day it will change we will have democracy in Russia — of which no one can have certainty yet.
For me, the main signal was the dissolution of Memorial. There were two linked organizations: the first one was just working on the historical truth about the crimes of Stalinism, and the second one was defending dissidents and human rights activists. But most of the Russian people did not pay attention to the dissolution of the Memorial. Many of them were happy to praise Stalin. We all too-well know the reason for which Putin’s machine has launched Stalin's rehabilitation process. Because if you whitewash the crimes of the past, you legitimize the crimes of the present. If the crimes of the past are no longer part of the common memory, everything could happen again — and it actually has.
— What's your position regarding the visa ban for Russian tourists?
— I approve it and no one disputes the fact that the doors must remain open for the dissidents. I also think that the ones who opposed Putin already left: the brain drain is already impressive. Sometimes I hear some people saying: “It’s not appropriate. If they come to Europe, they will better understand." But in fact, most Russians are coming to Europe or the US just to enjoy holidays, the sun, the sea, the mountains or the shopping do not even want to get the kind of awareness about the crimes that some were expecting. It doesn’t change their mind; they do not even wish to be better informed. I myself experienced that they don’t want to hear about the war.
In my view, you have a lot of good reasons for the visa ban: security reasons, because there could be spies among them, they could have very aggressive behaviors — cases have been reported in some countries — and some could also endanger the security of the Russian dissidents and of the Ukrainian refugees in our countries. And there is something which is very moral: those people cannot enjoy vacations while their own country is slaughtering people in Ukraine, in Syria, and protecting Lukashenka’s regime — that’s not acceptable.
Let’s add that most of the Russians going on holidays in Europe are not poor people. They are rather rich people, the upper middle class, people who have received at least some kind of education, and from whom we could expect some kind of historical and moral consciousness. But they don't have this kind of moral consciousness. Apart from the Russian dissidents, there is none.
— How do you see the events unfolding in Belarus?
— I would say that the fate of Belarus will be decided in Ukraine. If Ukraine eventually wins the war, which means it recovers all its lost territories, both Donbas and Crimea, if there is a full and radical defeat of the Russian army and Putin’s regime, then there will be better days for Belarus. Because of the internal weaknesses of the Russian regime, it will be more difficult for Russia to support Lukashenka, and then without this support, Lukashenka's regime won’t last long. That’s the kind of hope we may have. We will likely witness some sort of very positive snowball effect: if Russia is defeated, all the governments who are either supported by Russia or banking on Russia (not only Belarus, but, for instance, Serbia or even Hungary) will have a less comfortable position, and could, at least, revise their alliances.
I have great admiration for the incredibly brave people of Belarus, Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya and the people around her, and some others. It is very impressive to see their determination.
In the beginning, just after the peaceful revolution of August 2020, part of the opposition was very cautious in not making geopolitical statements. I was saying for my part, “You have first of all, to defeat Russia and you must have an European ambition.” For me, when Belarus will get rid of the Lukashenka regime, on that very day the doors of the EU must be open to Belarus. Indeed, what the people are doing since the revolution of August 2020 is basically embodying the same kind of European values as demonstrators at Maidan in 2014. This stance of the opposition has now changed. It perfectly assumes to oppose Putin’s regime and many Belarusians are fighting alongside the Ukrainian forces — and some sadly paid with their lives their commitment to freedom. I fully back the demands of the opposition to be the next on the EU candidate status list when Belarus will be freed.
I know that opposition abroad continues the fight. There are also activists at home, there are people, sabotaging the railways. I suppose also that the Belarusian Army is not eager to go to war to support Putin's regime in its offensive against Ukraine. I think that the success of the revolution of freedom will certainly come after Ukraine’s victory.