There are two factors.
Former Deputy Foreign Minister of Belarus, presidential candidate at the 2010 elections, former political prisoner, leader of the European Belarus civil campaign Andrei Sannikov told Radio Liberty why he prefers fighting against evil over theorization.
— Radio Liberty correspondent in Brussels Rikard Jozwiak reports that a new package of sanctions against the Lukashenka regime is being discussed these days, but there is no agreement on this. Recently, Belarusian opposition politicians have been arguing about sanctions — some say that they should be strengthened, others — that they do not bring fruit but only cause harm. What is your position in this regard?
— My position in this regard has always been consistent — the strengthening of sanctions. There are two factors that I consider to be the most important in this case.
First, the release of political prisoners. I believe that any sanctions are morally justified, because we have more than 5,000 political prisoners, they are tortured every day, and there is repression. Demanding to release them, when it is not backed by sanctions, is just making empty noise.
And secondly, the participation of Lukashenka's regime in the war. Lifting sanctions means helping the aggressor Putin and co-aggressor Lukashenka to wage an aggressive war against Ukraine.
I have never had any hesitation about this, because only through sanctions can political prisoners be released, and my personal experience shows this.
— The same Rikard Jozwiak reported that Belarus was not included in the latest sanctions packages of the European Union, because this is Ukraine's position. He has quite serious sources in Brussels. Therefore, assuming the truth of this information, how can it be evaluated?
— I also believe that Rikard Jozwiak has quite serious sources — he was almost never wrong in his “insiders”. I tend to believe that some kind of game is taking place, including with the participation of Ukraine.
But the latest decisions of President Zelensky — to impose sanctions against major branches of industry in Belarus — are supposed to disrupt this tendency, if it existed.
However, the game continues — we know that Ursula von der Leyen did not mention Belarus when she was talking about the tenth package of sanctions in Kyiv. Maybe it was accidental, maybe not.
I believe that a mistake is being made again. Even in such a serious situation, when Lukashenka helps Russia and even actually fights with Ukraine, someone tries to play the old game: “Let's try to distract Lukashenka from Putin.” But how is it even possible, when the territory of Belarus is fully used for the war against the Ukrainians and is controlled by the Kremlin, not Lukashenka?
— Yesterday you spoke critically about the new plan of the Council of Europe to support Belarusian democratic forces and civil society. Could you briefly explain the main problems with this plan?
— I know how it works, and it doesn't help. And I didn't mention another dangerous factor there, and I think that it will emerge, because there are indirect signs of it — these events are planned with the participation of regional and local authorities of Belarus.
As support for Belarus, they offer gender issues, the fight against violence against women, the abolition of the death penalty, and so on. This is their agenda, not ours. Our agenda is crimes against humanity in Belarus and war crimes. This is the war in Ukraine and help for the people who are not only victims of the war, but also victims of Lukashenka's regime — for children, for the sick, and humanitarian programs.
This is partly within the mandate of the Council of Europe, and partly it can be the initiator of such coordinated actions. There was a decision of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe to establish an international war crimes tribunal. In relation to Lukashenka, a tribunal should be established not only for war crimes, but also for crimes against humanity.
So far, all that has been done is PR from certain opposition groups who do not know how the International Criminal Court works.
As for the announced plan, it is clear in our situation that there will be no abolition of the death penalty under this regime. Will they be able to campaign against violence against women in our prisons or colonies? No.
We know the main problem of Belarus is the Lukashenka's regime. For some time, the Council of Europe persistently offered Lukashenka a moratorium on the death penalty, and then Belarus was promised to be accepted into the Council of Europe. They didn't even go for a one- or two-month moratorium — and I know that there were also such proposals.
How much longer do we have to prove the essence of this power? Criminal power. A full-fledged, brutal, absolutely anti-people dictatorship. There will be no changes in the implementation of the agenda of the Council of Europe under this government. That's why I always prefer fighting against evil over theoretizing.
— And you wrote alternative proposals there — what, in your opinion, European structures should do to support Belarus. Please tell me what you think is most important?
— I know that nothing will happen, because,unfortunately, the Council of Europe is in contact with fraudsters. On my behalf, on behalf of Belarusians, they approved this plan, but I did not agree to it.
The proposals are simple: documenting the process of universal jurisdiction — creation of an international tribunal; assistance to political prisoners, campaign for the release of political prisoners.
Members of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe wrote letters to 1,302 political prisoners. But why 1,302? And the remaining four and a half thousand — who are they? I talk about it all the time. I know what happens to people who are truly political prisoners, but they are not on the list. This is a good initiative, but it should be a pressure campaign on Lukashenka, not a one-time action “for the lulz”.
— How do you see the main tasks of Belarusian democratic politicians who are currently abroad? What should and can they, including you, do to really contribute to changes in Belarus?
— They should and can do a lot. It is not always possible to talk about it publicly. I myself cannot always say publicly what I do.
First, we must admit that we have more than 5,000 political prisoners. I often hear something like: “You have certain figures there — more than a thousand, and that's it.”
Secondly, it is necessary to constantly keep this issue on the international agenda. When sanctions are discussed, it is sometimes said that Ukraine believes that it is possible to somehow prevent Lukashenka from allowing the Belarusian army to cross the Ukrainian border. But they do not mention that we also have prisoners.
There is a war in Belarus, the regime is at war with the people, and there are prisoners of war — they are political prisoners, they must be released. They should also be included in the agenda of negotiations between Ukraine and the West. After all, these people support Ukraine. Among the political prisoners, only a few do not support Ukraine.
We also need help for the families and children of the victims. After all, we have parents with many children imprisoned.
I have a negative attitude to the idea of establishing negotiations between Lukashenka and the West. Because this will lead to maintaining the regime.
Campaigns in support of political prisoners are harmed by the creation of lists. There may be such lists, but they cannot be published and one cannot talk about the criteria — who of the political prisoners are “true” and who are not. Let me repeat: we have more than 5,000 political prisoners, and we must constantly remind everyone about it.
And we must demand solidarity from Western politicians — public statements about the system of torture in Belarusian prisons, a public investigation of what goes for export, and the announcement of the names of those responsible for the situation with political prisoners. It is necessary that international organizations demand visits to prisons, and meetings with political prisoners.
— You told the Ukrainian Youtube channel “Fabryka Novyn” that you do not rule out your participation in the new presidential elections after the fall of Aliaksandr Lukashenka’s regime. What would you say to those who say that the future president — whoever he or she is — is now in any case inside Belarus?
— We can recall prominent politicians — Toomas Ilves in Estonia, Valdas Adamkus in Lithuania, Vīķe-Freiberga in Latvia — there are many such examples. And the decision to participate in the elections will be a team decision. My team consists not only of those currently abroad, but there are also my people in Belarus. Some you know and some you don't.
When the Baltic countries regained their independence, people who were abroad worked as ambassadors, and then as foreign ministers — I worked with such people. After all, foreign experience, if people are not detached from the situation in Belarus, is very useful.
I believe that especially young people who will come to Belarus with foreign experience will be in great demand in the new situation.