- THE MAIN MISINTERPRETATION OF LUKASHENKA'S ROLE IN WAR
- KREMLIN'S FEARMONGERING: «GLOBAL HUNGER»
- HUMAN RIGHTS SITUATION IN BELARUS
THE MAIN MISINTERPRETATION OF LUKASHENKA'S ROLE IN WAR
Without Lukashenka, there would’ve been no massacre in Bucha. A single look at the map of the region shows that Russia’s troops had no other way to Bucha except for roads from Belarus. Bucha is located on the west bank of the Dnipro River, and it has been completely inaccessible from both Russia and Ukraine’s east bank of Dnipro throughout war. This important fact is totally overlooked by the West.
It was Lukashenka who opened the Belarusian-Ukrainian border for Russia’s troops. He and his subordinates are the co-organizers of the massacre and accomplices in the war crimes committed on Ukrainian soil. What happened in Bucha, Borodianka, and Irpin became possible thanks to Lukashenka’s position as the chairman of Kremlin-controlled puppet government in Minsk. Moreover, Lukashenka has been Putin’s accomplice and enabler of aggression since pre-war times. For some reason, the West is still silent about a very simple, but fundamental matter: Lukashenka and his subordinates must be tracked down, arrested, and punished for war crimes in Ukraine. The West must not let Lukashenka off the hook.
Resolving the problem of Lukashenka as a security threat is a crucial element of resolving Ukraine’s security threats on a greater scale: in both short- and long-term perspective. The International Strategic Action Network for Security (iSANS) has compiled a list of how Lukashenka has helped Russia’s troops reach Bucha:
– allowing the use of Belarusian airfields for Russian aircraft;
– allowing reconnaissance and missile launch positions;
– allowing no less than 633 direct launches of missiles from Belarusian territory and airspace that were spotted by Belarus underground);
– provision of Belarusian railway infrastructure for the delivery of Russian troops, equipment, and ammunition; and quartering of Russian military personnel in Belarus.
– provision of Belarus rail and auto routes for transport of property looted in Ukraine by Russian marauders.
Three months of Russia’s full-scale invasion in Ukraine is enough time to understand the role of Belarus and Minsk-based regime in Russia’s aggression. Yet, experts and decision-makers in both Europe and the USA often remain (or pretend to be) in denial of the big picture of war and basic knowledge of region’s geography. The resolution of Lukashenka issue remains excluded from resolution of Ukraine’s security threats again and again since 2014: although Lukashenka is the greatest immediate threat to Ukraine’s North. Lukashenka proved in Bucha that treating him as a harmless freak, a «peacekeeper», a «donor of stability», or a head of Belarusian state was a huge mistake.
After the massacre in Bucha and subsequent retreat of Russia’s troops from Northern Ukraine, Lukashenka rapidly changed his public position on war, and pretends to have no connection to attacks against Ukraine’s army and civilians (although he publicly acknowledged attacking Ukraine’s army in the first day of war). Despite efforts to represent himself as a neutral observer, Lukashenka still cannot resist a temptation to verbally threaten every country around Belarus – except for Russia – with armed attacks and the might of poorly motivated Belarus army (that is estimated to have a maximum of up to 30,000 soldiers with at least some kind of contemporary military training).
Although the territory of Belarus is still used for missile attacks, the main role the territory of this country plays in Putin’s game now is drawing away the attention of Ukraine military by holding military drills all the way along 1100 kilometers long border with Ukraine and creating mysterious «no entry zones» that pose no threat to Ukraine, but are pure image-making. However, it keeps part of Ukrainian army away from where every soldier counts: Donbas and Southern Ukraine, and thus helps Russia maintain its offensive in these areas.
On the other side, Belarusian pro-democratic underground continues its operations within Belarus, and a lot more people join Belarusian formations in Ukraine’s army. According to Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya, the number of Belarusian volunteers in Ukraine’s military formations grew to 1,500 soldiers, both female and male (an almost 300% increase compared to April 2022!). Many Belarusians join volunteer formations of Ukraine’s foreign legion aspiring to liberate Belarus through armed insurgency after they are done with removing Russia’s troops from Ukraine.
In light of what has transpired both internally in Belarus and Lukashenka’s support for Putin’s war against Ukraine, the international community is expected to treat Lukashenka as a thoroughly illegitimate puppet governor. Clearly, the political tactics of «normalization» that seemed relevant and acceptable in 2014-2020 are not an option on a table anymore. There is no space for dialogue with Lukashenka, «normalization» with Lukashenka, or deals with Lukashenka (unless it’s a deal involving his arrest). There is no space for portraying Lukashenka as a potential «guarantor» or «protector of Belarus sovereignty from Putin» – Lukashenka is definitely none of these. Lukashenka regime is an integral party to aggression – hence, it must be punished and isolated, not offered deals and bargains. However, Russia is now dragging the West into its fresh misinformation campaign to regain profits from war, lift sanctions from itself – and its puppet government in Belarus.
KREMLIN'S FEARMONGERING: «GLOBAL HUNGER»
Even though Lukashenka and Putin share 50+ years of joint cumulative experience in professionally fooling the West, it looks like the West again doesn’t learn from its own mistakes. In 2021, Lukashenka and Putin organized an artificial «migrant crisis» on the border of Belarus and neighboring Poland, Lithuania and Latvia. This time, Putin and Lukashenka threaten the world with «global hunger» if the world doesn’t lift sanctions from Lukashenka. What’s the catch?
«Global food crisis» is widely presented by the Kremlin, UN-related speakers and pro-Russian players as an almost inevitable outcome of Putin’s blackmailing in the Black Sea including blockade on Ukrainian grain. However, three months into war there hasn’t been any adequate and reliable academic or economic analysis of how the reduction of grain supply (or potash sales from particular suppliers) may affect the buyers of Ukrainian grain, whether the reduction of supply by Ukraine may lead to global famine (and whether it may not) – and, most importantly, whether grain from Ukraine can be harmfully substituted by other food.
Last year, Putin and Lukashenka used Russia’s propaganda networks to create a manipulative image of a «major humanitarian disaster on the EU border» by luring a few thousand Middle Eastern migrants into Belarus and then pushing them into illegal crossing of the EU border. Despite clearly artificial nature of the «crisis» (that was led directly from Lukashenka’s office), the United Nations chose, inter alia, to blame Poland for «appalling» and «intolerable» treatment of illegal migrants – instead of focusing on the primary cause of the problem: human trafficking organized by Lukashenka regime and its counterparts in the Kremlin.
The «crisis» was unfolding a year after the United Nations completely failed to protect the rights of Belarusians and the victims of political repressions. For instance, the representatives of local UN offices never engaged in public communication with pro-democratic groups and their leaders. Neither they ever visited the victims of political repressions and torture – as if these people or up to 50,000 of people detained on political grounds never existed. Local U.N. offices didn’t engage in the problems of up to 200,000 civilians who fled Belarus fearing political repressions. However, in May 2022, the United Nations suddenly turned into vocal supporters of Lukashenka’s call «to prevent global hunger».
On 4 May 2022, the U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres threw the first stone in a chain of fearmongering statements about the upcoming «global hunger» and called for urgent need to restore the exports of food and fertilizers from Russia and Belarus. Suddenly, Guterres found himself on the edge of region’s problem-solving. The nature of Guterres statements was very intriguing, to say the least. The UN’s chief official provided no proofs to his statements, and no alternatives to cooperation with a war criminal in Minsk – although there is a wide range of them.
Guterres acted like a typical populist politician who oversimplified and hid the details of a bigger issue. For instance, when calling to lift sanctions against Belarus, Guterres mentioned the need to feed the countries that «cannot borrow because markets are closed to them». The U.N. Secretary-General, however, did not bother to explain that the markets are closed to these countries due to severe violations of basic human rights or inhumane treatment of their own citizens – exactly what Lukashenka does in Belarus and is offered as a «partner» in unique grain deal. By calling to cooperate with notorious war criminal and his entourage, Guterres deepens the problem – instead of solving its roots and supporting democratic aspirations of Belarus civilians.
After Guterres coined the topic of assumed «global hunger» into the public realm, both Lukashenka and the Kremlin unleashed active public and private communication with the UN offering their solutions of how to resolve scary upcoming «global hunger» that – by a lucky coincidence – is also feared to potentially cause new «refugee crisis» in Europe. This kind of threat replicated by Russia’s propaganda networks targets EU politicians and public – to make these people believe they will face even greater refugee burden than they already do in the aftermath of Syria-like bombing of Ukraine’s cities by Russia’s army. By June, Putin and Lukashenka completely synchronized their public messages on this issue – and the latter maintains regular communication with the UN Secretary General (who made no reasonable steps to end two-years-long internal crisis in Belarus, but now suddenly focused his work on Belarus).
In one sentence, the idea of resolving the «global hunger» that Putin and Lukashenka offer is as simple as that: lifting sanctions from Lukashenka regime, and granting him access to Baltic seaports in exchange to «transit corridor» from Ukraine into Baltic Sea. Presidents of Lithuania and Ukraine already stated that the territory of Belarus should not be used for grain logistics in exchange to sanctions ease. It’s a good sign that may help avoid a major mistake in Western policy towards Belarus. If the West is unable to make right decisions, there’s still plenty of space for symbolic steps that were not completed in the last three decades.
HUMAN RIGHTS SITUATION IN BELARUS
As of June 7, there are 1220 acknowledged political prisoners in Belarus (+91 over 8 weeks, full list of names is available here). Nearly a hundred civilians were illegally convicted in politically motivated cases in May 2022 only – and more new cases are on their way, including sham trial against BelaPAN News Agency team that faces up to 15 years in prison for journalistic work that is now labelled «extremism» and «high treason». the repressions target all social groups, including religious minorities.
The most recent change in repressive practices is the destruction of private property of dissidents who were forced to leave Belarus. Lukashenka-controlled armed groups led by the notorious GUBOPiK unit (also known as «the Main Directorate for Combating Organized Crime and Corruption of the MVD of the Republic of Belarus») label the destruction of housing owned by dissidents «searches» – while intentionally damaging its facilities and interiors.
In the last two months, Lukashenka-led armed groups attacked the housing of politicians Valer and Veranika Tsapkala (photos here), cyberactivist Yanina Sazanovich (video here), blogger Andrei Pavuk (photos here), and one of the leaders of Belarusian volunteer formations in Ukraine, Vadzim Prakopyeu (photos here). In addition to these practices, the regime is widely using arbitrary punishments against families of activists as well as direct threats to relatives’ lives that are being delivered to opposition activists along with images made during shadowing of their parents and other family members.