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Andrei Sannikov: Lukashenka Regime May Fall Even Before Victory Over Putin

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Andrei Sannikov: Lukashenka Regime May Fall Even Before Victory Over Putin
ANDREI SANNIKOV

The system will not survive.

He was an interpreter to the UN, held the Deputy Foreign Minister seat and later challenged Lukashenka in the presidential election. Andrei Sannikov went from a Soviet diplomat to one of the leaders of the Belarusian opposition.

Why is the unification of the opposition not a prerequisite for victory? How can NATO save Belarus from Russia? Ukrainian journalist Tetiana Ivanska took a big interview with the leader of the European Belarus for the «Meet» show on the Belsat TV channel. Charter97.org made a transcript of the interview.

— I'd like to ask you right away. You came with a book. What book is that?

— This book is about our relations, but first of all — about Belarus. It just came out. It was not presented yet. The title of the book is "Belarus in NATO". This means that I am trying to analyze the possibility of Belarus joining NATO after Lukashenka. This is a very interesting work, many experts contributed to it, including experts from Ukraine.

— Is it your own work?

— The book consists of collected works by our neighbors, primarily from Poland, Lithuania, Latvia, Estonia, Ukraine and other experts, for example, from Finland, the country that has recently joined the Alliance. The title is "Belarus in NATO", but...

—... but we also see Ukraine.

— This is what I am explaining now and have always been explaining. The problem in the region will be solved by the security of two countries — Ukraine and Belarus.

— You are a diplomat and act accordingly. But this bracelet on your hand stands out from the diplomat's image. What bracelet is that?

— This is a bracelet with our flag. This is a bracelet that my sister made when I was in prison in 2011.

— How old is this bracelet?

— It's 2024. 12-13 years

— Do you wear it all the time?

— Almost all the time.

— We usually start with stereotypes on my show. First stereotype: today the UN can only express deep concern. Should this organization be transformed or liquidated?

— Unfortunately, this is not a stereotype, but a reality, that's a fact. You know, I also worked for the UN. There is a joke: "How many people work for the UN? About 20%.”

— Were you among these 20%?

— I was an interpreter. That is, it was quite hard and serious work. Answering your question — it is high time to reform the UN, first of all — to do something with the Security Council, because two veto rights, China and Russia, they do not allow solving complex issues and serious problems, first of all — international security. We see this now in the example of Ukraine.

— Sure. I would like to clarify that Andrei Sannikov worked as an interpreter at the UN Secretariat in New York. You also represented the Belarusian delegation at the negotiations on nuclear disarmament and he was authorized to sign documents on behalf of Belarus. Hence the second stereotype: if Ukraine had not given up its nuclear weapons, there would have been no war. Did you feel responsible when you disarmed our countries?

— That's nonsense. Because it was impossible to keep nuclear weapons. You can devote a separate show to this because this is a rather complex issue, it must be considered in detail. However, that was not the mistake.

A serious mistake, even a crime, was that we gave Russia (and there was fraud on the part of Russia) a place in the Security Council and other international organizations. It was actually a crime. I believe that the foreign ministers of Ukraine and Belarus are responsible for this. Not even Kravchuk and Shushkevich, because they were not very experienced, but the ministries had to work there.

I attended the first summits, these were not summits of state leaders or state representatives, but it was like secretaries of regional committees meetings of Soviet times. And in Almaty they were given uncoordinated documents, they signed this waiver of claims to the UN Security Council. This was a crime. Imagine, there is no Russia in the UN. Then there were only two countries that functioned in the UN — Ukraine and Belarus.

— I want to talk about this and ask you later. But now I'd like to ask my first test question. I know the answer you will give, but I can't help but ask you. This is a certain marker today. "Whose Crimea is?"

— It's ridiculous to answer, because I personally made a statement, the European Belarus made a statement. I am friends with the Crimean Tatars. It is obvious that Crimea is Ukrainian. You know, when it comes to the fact that Crimea, under certain conditions, may remain outside the agreement to stop this Russian aggressive war against Ukraine, I support the only option for resolving the issue — the full restoration of the territorial integrity of Ukraine.

— Now let's talk about your own path. We've already started talking about the UN, it is actually very interesting. First, when you worked at the UN in New York, did you feel like a Soviet person or a Belarusian?

— I always felt like a Belarusian. You know, when I was studying, it was very prestigious to enter Russian universities. For example, when it comes to international affairs, it was MGIMO or the Maurice Thorez Moscow State Pedagogical Institute of Foreign Languages [Moscow State Linguistic University - Ed.]. It never attracted me. I refused even when I got a job offer from the Soviet Foreign Ministry of those times. Because I always felt like a Belarusian. I was always proud of the fact that it was written "пашпарт" [passport in Belarusian - Ed.] in my passport along with the word "passport".

— What language did you speak?

— In Russian. Russian is the working language of the UN. Unfortunately, there was neither Belarusian nor Ukrainian.

— Ukraine and Belarus, as we know, were co-founders of the United Nations. The following stereotype: they were taken only so that the Soviet Union had not one vote at the General Assembly, but three. Were our countries puppets in the UN?

— Yes, they were puppets. And that was Stalin's plan. He wanted to involve all 16 republics, the total number for the time of creation of the UN. Of course, they were puppets, but there was a kind of formula, which, by the way, was supported by both US Secretary of State Edward Stettinius and Winston Churchill. The formula was as follows: the states most affected during the Second World War — Belarus and Ukraine — have the right to be co-founders of the United Nations. And the fact that there was no independence, I can confirm, because I was working in those days, we served the Soviet Foreign Ministry. It was such a "sinecure", for some people — an attractive "sinecure".

— Did you feel your inferiority at the UN? Did the Russians who worked with you emphasize your inferiority? Was there a different attitude towards Belarusians or Ukrainians?

— No, I think they are less valuable. Because Belarus had a very good Institute of Foreign Languages, very good training. We were more Western-oriented, we knew what was going on in the world. There were a lot of good people there, but obviously there were also place-hunters who were making a career, rather than mastering their profession.

— Were there many imperialists among the Russians?

— Always. They are everywhere, even among Democrats as we know it.

— The so-called liberals. How can we use our position at the UN today? Or, returning to stereotypes, should we reform the UN? Maybe even destroy it? Ukraine is also present there now. Ukraine has its own voice. What voice does Belarus have in the UN?

— There is no voice. What official delegations, representatives do is not the voice of Belarus. How can I use it? Ukraine can support certain issues that are important to raise at the UN, you can even seek some documents. For example, the story of children from Ukraine who were kidnapped with the help of Lukashenka and his regime. It is necessary to move this case further, more decisively through the UN, through the International Criminal Court. It's possible to make a draft resolution with the help of Ukraine. Because Ukraine has an official representation.

Obviously, now, during this shameful war of Russia against Ukraine, this is what Ukraine's representation in the UN is doing. But we need to take a broader view, I repeat my idea, which I always talk about: there will be no independent, free and safe Ukraine without a democratic Belarus.

Taking advantage of the official position of Ukraine, the official capabilities of Ukraine, it is possible to promote Belarusian affairs in the UN. I wish them success and believe that the Ukrainian delegation works a lot and very well, they do not disregard a single trick of Russians who simply deceive and try to influence the decisions of the General Assembly with fake news, but I see that there is support for Ukraine, and support is very strong.

— Who do you connect with among our Ukrainian colleagues?

— I knew all the foreign ministers personally. Do you know who was the first?

— I can't remember the surname.

Anatoly Maksimovich Zlenko.

— Yes, Zlenko.

— The one who signed the surrender of our positions. And before him was Volodymyr Oleksandrovich Kravets. We were good friends. The outstanding Minister Hennadiy Yosypovych Udovenko. We've got acquainted back at the UN. I met him almost in the first days after my departure when I vacated the office, although he was already a minister. Pavlo Klimkin, one of the former foreign ministers, he also took part in the writing of the book "Belarus in NATO". I have good contacts. I keep in touch and we are discussing very serious problems.

— Who was the first person you called when the full-scale invasion began?

— I made a statement, and I don't even remember whom I called first. But I didn't call diplomats, but my friends.

In 2014, when the Russian-Ukrainian war began, did you understand what would happen next?

— Yes, I understood.

— Was this discussed in diplomatic circles?

— Not so much. But I not only understood, my friends and I, we were discussing it. Because preparations for a full-scale invasion of Ukraine were carried out on the territory of Belarus.

— How?

— Since 2009, during all Zapad maneuvers, not only preparations for a war against Ukraine were underway, but there was also a scenario of a nuclear strike on Warsaw and a tank breakthrough through the Suwalki corridor to Kaliningrad.

We understood that they were getting ready for a big war. More and more exercises were held on the borders with Poland and Ukraine. We understood that the war would begin very soon. But it was very difficult to explain this to our Western colleagues. I remember that only in 2017 we explained: look what Russia is doing, this is not only the Zapad exercises on the territory of Belarus, but also maneuvers in the northern seas, this is Syria. This is the Russian army.

— Explain to me please, Europe does not want to see and understand this? Or do our European partners consider themselves weaker than Russia, so they do not want to react?

— No. They consider themselves the smartest. They “know everything.” You know, corruption is terrible, they did not immediately begin to help democracy in our countries, but began to earn money.

— Russian money?

— Russian, and in Belarus, and in Ukraine. Because a huge market opened up, there was no need to report to anyone how they earned this money.

They did their business and earned a lot of money under the guise of consulting. No, there were also sane people who were really interested in development, but it was possible to count on fingers those who thought strategically, and not only in terms of money.

They do not even think with such categories like "Russia is stronger". They felt so comfortable when the Soviet Union disappeared that they immediately began to work for their own benefit, and not help our democracy.

— Is that why they are afraid of the collapse of Russia now?

— They are afraid of everything, but in February 2022, they began to understand something. However, there are those people who cannot live without stereotypes, who are guided only by stereotypes that you can get something from Putin or Lukashenka, that you can talk to them, that they will promise something and fulfill this, and we will return to "business as usual" again. There are such people. The world has changed but not the politicians.

— Is this naivety or stupidity?

— Both and even more. That's their short-term attitude first of all. Because the migration crisis has demonstrated that there are hybrid means against NATO member states and the European Union: against Poland, Lithuania, Latvia. They are preparing the same against Finland now, because Putin, who helped Finland become a member of NATO, is now dissatisfied with this.

— That's true. I'd like to talk about your life experience now. You left the office after the referendum...

— Before the referendum. This is essential.<

— Before the 1996 referendum. Did you believe that something would change, that your voice would be heard? Was there still a belief that something could be changed?

– Yes. I resigned without consulting anyone. And only after that I learned that, perhaps, I influenced Prime Minister Mikhail Chyhir, a very decent person, who also resigned. This news came after I announced my departure.

— However, this did not change anything.

— Nothing has changed, because this crisis was not taken seriously. First of all, none of our partners in the West. And again, as I have already said, it was more comfortable to believe Lukashenka, who said that "this referendum is consultative", "nothing will change". He promised the same to the Russians, who came with their own goals, but also came to extinguish this crisis. However, it was the imperialists, the Russians did nothing when Lukashenka deceived them.

I would like to remind you that it was not Putin who started the game of the "union state", but Yeltsin.

To summarize, the first half of my answer — I was hoping. The second half of my answer — it wouldn't change anything. I wouldn't work in this system anyway.

— Have you talked to Lukashenka before? Have you seen the image of this man? Did you understand that this person cannot be trusted?

— Yes, of course, but I...

— Excuse me, I'd like to clarify right away. What did you immediately admit for yourself?

— He immediately showed that it would be either an authoritarian leader or a dictator. However, there was still euphoria after the first presidential election, which was recently held. We are a unique country, we did not have a president until 1994. And we were in euphoria that we had chosen a president and would also re-elect him. But that wasn't what I was guided by. I could have left earlier, probably. But I still wanted to finish the disarmament issues.

The question was not only about nuclear disarmament, but also about the conventional armed forces in Europe, there was a treaty under which we also had to disarm, there were certain quantitative levels that we had to fulfill, this is the first one. Secondly, I took and wanted to take part in the creation of a professional Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

— And now nuclear weapons have returned to Belarus. Russian, but it's back. What do you think Lukashenka feels at the same time? Does he feel his power? What is it all for?

— He would like to have control over it, but it will never happen. And I'm not sure that these nuclear weapons exist. Because I see a lot of bluff, I don't see any evidence yet that it was delivered. The fact that he and Putin said that it would appear in three months was impossible. Because building a storage facility for nuclear warheads is a difficult task. Again, the West should have reacted more harshly and not to say, as NATO did, that “we do not see any circumstances because of which we should change our position on nuclear weapons.”

— Lukashenka's path to "eternal rule" began after your departure. Let's hope that this “eternal power” will soon end. How many traitors were there around him and around you? How many of your colleagues defected to Lukashenka's side? Are there any that you are personally disappointed in?

— There were people in whom I was personally disappointed, but there were not so many of them. First, when I resigned, I said that it was my personal decision. It was 1996. I was still hoping that it would be possible to do something in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. I consider the Ministry of Foreign Affairs one of the main ministries in an independent country, if not the most important, it is possible to do something through it. I called on my subordinates to say that resignation is my personal decision.

But, unfortunately, then there was such an erosion of morality, erosion of professionalism, and now many people stayed with Lukashenka.

— Are you disappointed in them?

— I don't think in these categories. There is no state, but let the people work. They are working against me, and I know it. I'm not in touch with them. They made excuses saying that they would try to do something when we met. But nothing could be done nothing.

— Perhaps there was an episode when you resigned, and someone came and said that you should not do this?

— They did not only come to me. They came and said that they were losing a professional, they put pressure and promised money.

— Big money?

— Big at the time.

— Who offered it?

— Some from the administration. It was undesirable for Lukashenka because I was engaged in quite difficult and serious issues. It was obvious that this would affect relations with the West. The "West-oriented" welcomed my resignation initially. My colleagues, deputy ministers from various Western countries, too.

— After such a long and respected journey (you worked at the UN and were a diplomat), you were beaten and ended up in prison. How is it possible?

— Predictable.

— How did you feel? Was it despair or fear? Did you feel the usual human fear?

— I felt a very strong fear for my wife, for my son, who was only three years old, for my mother, for my relatives in general. Not for myself. As for me, I felt pain. And physical pain allows you to get rid of other fears. I felt great fear for my relatives. There was a great disappointment because we did not expect that the dispersal would take place on the first day of the protests, it had never happened.

Lukashenka always waited for international observers and journalists to leave the country, and then began to beat us. Then he was so frightened that he personally gave this order for beating.

— What was harder in prison: waking up in the morning or falling asleep at night?

— Morning doesn't bring anything good. But you know that you can almost always relax at night. If the day is over... Here, as the convicts say: lived to Wednesday — lived a week.

— Can you call yourself a convict?

— I was living the life of a convict. I did not stand out in any way, the attitude towards me, perhaps, was tougher than towards other convicts. But I felt, firstly, interest, and secondly, support on the part of the prisoners.

— Did you have conversations in the evenings with convicts, not with political prisoners, but with ordinary criminals?

— I had no others there. It is now that political prisoners are with political prisoners in prison. I was isolated, the convicts were not even allowed to talk to me.

However, they still talked and expressed support to me, even took risks and went to another squad, to another camp, and this is always stressful for the convict, when they pull him out and say: "That's it, you're going under convoy." So, there were people who greeted me aloud and intentionally did it, and the “vertukhais” [prison guard - Ed.] heard everything. There were conversations, I did not keep anything secret. I always honestly answered that I was against this regime and would always be against it.

— How many convicts were against the regime and understood what was happening? So, there were also those people who had been in prison for several years and perhaps did not understand what was happening in the country.

— Firstly, it is impossible to evaluate convicts in this way: "for" or "against". Convict's life is hard, each prisoner decides for himself how to live in prison or in a colony. Secondly, I believe that the majority was against it, because the life of convicts did not improve, but worsened.

Because food there cannot be called food. Because all our prison facilities are "red zones". What does the "red zone" mean? This means that they are fully controlled by administrations. Almost every prisoner is a snitch in the "red zone". There are convicts who snitch within certain limits, there are convicts who go beyond these limits. This always becomes known, because the "Convicts' telegraph" works perfectly well.

So, I don't see any support for Lukashenka. They could demonstrate it when they snitched on me or on others, but not in conversations.

Even those prisoners who received long sentence terms were interested in changing this regime. When there is a regime of a mentally ill tyrant, this is reflected at all levels — and through the prison administration too. Sadists also lead the administration. They introduce tougher rules. It affects the convicts and they do not like it for sure.

— Your son was kidnapped from kindergarten and taken to an orphanage. How did you know that? What did you go through then? You have already learned about this after the fact, I understand.

– Yes. By the way, the head of the KGB detention center Arlou told me.

— Why did he tell you that?

— He wanted to scare me, but he saw my face and immediately began to turn on his smartphone to show that "everything was fine", and "they fought for my son". And when he showed the so-called independent media, which I did not trust, he saw in my face again that I did not trust, and he opened the Charter webpage. I was without my glasses and could not see well, but I saw certain words.

— But why did he decide to calm you down? Why was he scared?

— They are playing their own game, they need not only to put pressure. Their game is to invite you to the office, offer a cup of tea, and talk about how I evaluate my friends.

— Lukashenka pardoned you. Not everyone is so lucky.

— This is not Lukashenka, but the international community. Because there was pressure then. Unfortunately they created such circumstances for me that the only way out was not for me, but for other people. Secondly, there was real pressure on Lukashenka — they began to impose economic sanctions — and this was for the first time. Lukashenka was scared and didn't know what to do about it. I was released under pressure from the international community. Otherwise, the scenario would be different.

— You are not the first Belarusian politician with whom I talk in this studio in Warsaw and at other events. I learned, that's my personal research, that the Belarusian opposition could not unite in Belarus, cannot unite now. Why?

— What's the question? I believe that the unification should be real. I have participated in various associations since 1997, when we created a shadow cabinet with Henadz Viktaravich Karpenka, who was also killed by the regime. We did everything to unite, but to unite on the basis of actions and on the grounds of real work. Because when the physical unification began, which, for example, Hans-Georg Wieck, who headed the OSCE office in Belarus, tried to do, then the killings began. Hanchar was killed, Zakharenka was killed, Krasouski was killed. Because it was beneficial for Lukashenka. Let's imagine such a body in which half of the Lukashenka centers and half of the opposition ones, are not as radical as we were, for example.

— A picture.

— A picture which allows you to do anything in the country. However, I was involved in most of the really unifying processes that I found useful. A joint body for protests. A joint body for the release of political prisoners. Different associations. There are not even serious proposals for unification, there is no ground for this.

— But if there was such a proposal, and you were offered to become the leader of this united democratic force that would enter Belarus after the fall of Lukashenka, would you agree?

— Who's proposal?

— On the part of the opposition forces.

— That's impossible now. Again, a tricky question, let's discuss the opportunities. And the opportunities are in Belarus and the understanding of the situation by our partners. There is no understanding and the situation in Belarus is difficult. Therefore, I don't even think about any artificial proposals, but I think about how to create a situation for unification, to help our people, the heroes who are now in prisons, to create a situation where we can unite all together and free Belarus from dictatorship.

— Will this situation happen with the victory of Ukraine in the war?

— It can happen even before the victory of Ukraine in the war.

— Is the "Black Swan" coming?

— And the "Black Swan" will come, and Lukashenka will disappear, and Putin too. That's possible, because, for example, we were preparing the 2020. No one believed it. There are almost no analysts left in Belarus, because they work for the fact that "nothing will work out." All analysts write the same thing.

Everything is bad. Even the Western media are now saying that everything will be bad.

— This is a very convenient position. If something happens, fine. And if nothing happens: "I predicted that it would be bad." They have been predicting that everything will be bad for 20 years. We are working to make sure that everything is not bad. We created a window of opportunity in 2020.

— Is it still open?

— It's closed now. But the resistance potential has increased. The real leaders are in prisons. Why is it so important to release them? Because real leaders, mature leaders — Mikalai Statkevich, Pavel Seviarynets, Yauhen Afnahel, Palina Sharenda-Panasiuk — are aware of what is happening, they are aware of what needs to be done. All our efforts are aimed at this.

Why am I talking about Belarus? The situation is simple In Belarus because the "Black Swan" may be something else. If you increase the pressure on the regime, if you achieve the release of our political prisoners, then the regime will begin to collapse. And since it is the most personalized of all those that we know around us, the system simply will not stand, then a window of opportunity will appear that can help Ukraine.

Why? Because if there is a dictatorship in Belarus, even if Ukraine achieves something now, even if it wins over the Russians, this will not eliminate the danger on the borders of Ukraine from Russia and the Lukashenka regime.

— Let me be clear this time. You are the first person who says that it is not the victory of Ukraine that will bring freedom closer to Belarus, but on the contrary, freedom from the dictatorship in Belarus can bring victory closer to Ukraine. You're the first.

— I am generally Belarusian-centric.

— This, I think, is normal for a real Belarusian diplomat. When you return to Belarus, who will you visit first?

— First, of course, my relatives, acquaintances, those whom we will release from behind bars.

— Will you and your family return to live in Belarus when it becomes free?

— I was lucky with it. My son now, who is forced to study outside Belarus, just dreams of when he will return.

— What can you remember from your childhood in Belarus, what influenced you and what calls you home all the time?

— Oh, a lot of things. I love nature very much, I love the forest very much. We do not have a sea, so lakes and forests for me are what gives strength. Our forests first of all. I can walk for hours in the woods.

— How will Lukashenka end his journey?

— He won't finish well. Because he doesn't do anything humanly. You asked about the prison. And there you can do something for yourself and something for people. And when you do something humanely and for people — you will be supported, respected, and if you do it only for yourself and for your own selfish purposes — there will never be any respect for you. Lukashenka does nothing for the people.

— Thank you for meeting us!

— Thank you.

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