Are Belarusians ready for such turn of history?
Coordinator of the European Belarus civil campaign, former political prisoner Dzmitry Bandarenka turns 55 today.
Natallia Radzina, the Editor-in-Chief of the website Charter97.org, talked with the politician the day before his birthday about the situation in Belarus, hegemonic wars, probability of Russia's downfall and the role of a person in history.
- Today, many have a feeling that some new stage in the Belarusian history has started. It is obvious that the Lukashenka regime has exhausted itself, the country is in deep economic crisis. The discontent with the authorities grows. What will come to replace the current situation?
- The best illustration of the fact that new stage has come is people's joy to the news that Lukashenka had apoplectic attack. Belarus' geographic position is such, that there can't be any separate changes in our country alone. The changes in Belarus throughout centuries were normally connected with regional or world processes. And there have really been some tectonic moves in the world. Now we are witnessing the continuation of the downfall of the Russian Empireе, which started from the collapse of the Soviet Union.
There are objective reasons for that. If the Soviet Union had an economy which made 10-15% of the world GDP, than now Russia, according to different methods of calculation, has 1,5-3% at the most. In 2001, Russia had GDP bigger than China's, for 1%. Now, 17 years later, Russia's GDP is ten times less than in China, and 15 times less than the GDP of the European Union and the United States. Putin's statement on the pension reform is caused by the fact that, as Russian officals confessed, there is 1,1 working citizen per each pensioner in Russia today. This is total catastrophe.
As for Belarus, it is not part of the European Union, but, fortunately, it is not a part of the Russian Federation either, so the processes that will take place in our country are closely linked to the world.
- The threat to Belarus from Russia is escalating: the influence of the Russian propaganda grows, the economic leverage of pressure is used, the new odious Russian Ambassador has come. Why did they send exactly Mikhail Babich to Minsk?
- He was ordered to prepare the incorporation of Belarus into Russia. Many Russian media openly say this. At the same time, public opinion is being prepared for this in Belarus and Russia. But it is clear that Babich is not coming to integrate, for example, Belarusian and Russian agriculture. No, it's about incorporation. Everyone understands this.
- Which way can it happen?
- I do not want to talk about it, because the idea is material. We must think about how to counterstand this.
Our main task is to preserve the independence of Belarus and gain freedom. This is both a wish and a program of action for all citizens of Belarus. In 1918 it did not work out, now history repeats itself and depends on us whether we succeed.
- Recently, Arkady Babchenko said that Belarus will be next in Moscow's expansion plans and linked it with the military exercises "East-2018", which became the largest maneuvers in Russia since the times of the USSR. How are these events connected?
- As Zbigniew Brzezinski once wrote, Belarus would be the first country that Russia would try to capture, but the processes went in such a way that Ukraine became the first - the Crimea and the Donbas. Therefore, there is nothing new in what Arkady said. Russia's steps only confirm its long-standing actions. At the same time, Lukashenka did everything to destroy the Belarusian identity, weaken the Belarusian army, deprive Belarus of real allies, guarantors of security and independence.
After Ukraine, the Russian bosses, of course, are afraid that the West would act very harshly, and the Russian economy will fly into the tartar. So far, this has been keeping the Russian authorities from doing something. But wars often do not develop on a logical level. Today, many historians and strategists write about the fact that Hitler, having unleashed World War II, was absolutely not ready to fight. Hitler had no resources, no oil, no metals, and he fought on two fronts. In the late 1930s, Germany's economy developed rather quickly, but it was clear that economically Germany would not produce more metal, tanks, weapons, planes than America, Britain and the Soviet Union combined.
However, nevertheless, Hitler unleashed this war, which led to the catastrophe of the German people and the loss of vast territories, the death of millions of people around the world. These processes, probably, are on the border of metaphysics and very often occur illogically. The difference between Putin and Hitler is that the former is very fond of money and remains the richest Russian oligarch. As they say, he has something to lose.
- What is Lukashenka doing? Is he afraid of Moscow, or does he work for it? Because, if he is afraid of Moscow, why does he strive to destroy everything Belarusian in Belarus?
- Lukashenka is a political pygmy that has not run Belarus for a long time. The question is why Russia still has not captured Belarus. Because Russia is afraid of opposing the West on the one hand, and on the other, it does not want to lose the only window, this glass corridor to Europe, which it has in the West only through Belarus. The Belarusian territory is the only corridor to Europe for Putin.
In addition, in Russia they are afraid that the Belarusians will resist, because the number of citizens of Belarus, who served in the assault units, units of various types of special forces, border troops and so on, is enormous. There are two million Belarusians who know history, language and are ready to defend the independence of their country, perhaps with weapons in their hands.
Poland will not look calmly at the seizure of Belarus, Ukrainian volunteers too. Therefore, the risks for Putin are great. And Lukashenka remains a pygmy who implements the kolkhoz-prison model in which he worked for a long time, in order to satisfy his primitive needs and desires.
All this is sad for Belarusians. In the XX century we lost a huge amount of population and territories, before that there were still almost 150 years of loss of independence. The presence of Belarus within Russia affected the quality of people and leaders and we did not have enough time to elect leaders who would have used these 25 years more intelligently.
- If Lukashenka has not ruled Belarus for long, why don’t the opposition act more decisively?
- The Belarusian opposition is unable to win alone today. The dictatorship has concentrated all resources, Russia plans to grab our lands and actively works in the region. If there is a dynamic development of the situation, then there may be certain chances. So it was, for example, in 1918, only then these chances were not used.
Nationally conscious Belarusians tried to do something during the Second World War, but again failed. In today's situation, changes in Belarus can occur if we are part of the world democratic front.
- How can we become part of the world democratic front? The West has been betting on the dictatorship recently, not the democracy in Belarus.
- No matter how we would like to talk about the strategic importance of Belarus, there are global processes. The courage of the Ukrainian people and the activity of the volunteer movement in Ukraine could stop Russian aggression. The West has time to realize what Putin's Russia really is. Ukraine, after all, is also not something super important for America and Europe. For a number of politicians, this is a limit-free territory that is subject to exchange.
Imagine if Russia attacked and captured a small town in France or Germany. The whole world would have risen, everyone would have spoken of the Russian aggression. And when dozens of thousands of Ukrainians are killed, this is not a tragedy for the French and Germans. For them, this is the same as the war in Congo, where about 5 million people died.
The courage of Ukrainians allowed to see what Russia is actually doing, what actions it is carrying out. The West realized that Ukraine would not be the last. Belarus and Baltic countries will come next. Geography speaks about this. Putin does not need the Belarusian brow alone – he needs the Baltic coast to Kaliningrad. Similarly, the Crimea alone is not needed - the entire Black Sea coast of Ukraine must be captured. There is a complete seizure of the territory of the Baltic-Black Sea inter-sea.
The military West saw this, started taking certain actions, including the delivery of more serious weapons to Ukraine, today we are talking about the supply of air defense systems, although this is a long song. And additional battalions are being introduced to the new NATO countries - the Baltic, Romania, Poland, exercises are being conducted in Bulgaria.
The military begins to explain Russia's plans to Western politicians. Some political elites have understood this and are trying to counteract the Kremlin's aggressive policy through economic sanctions, through influencing the Russian economy, and outlined the methods and steps that can put Russian authorities in their place and sober them up.
The economic situation in Russia may change in such a way that a revolution will take place in the country. But now the world is in limbo. Much will depend on the decision, maybe not even Putin, but of the Russian generals, who, although not poor, but at the same time do not have such wealth as Putin or the special services. These Russian generals have a peculiar way of thinking, and it tells them that Russia is militarily more powerful than ever in the last 25 years, and one can take revenge by capturing new territories or returning "fugitives" from the former USSR: Ukraine, Belarus, Lithuania, Latvia , Estonia, maybe even other countries.
- After the Trump-Putin meeting, they started talking about a probability of the new redivision of the world between the states. Is it possible?
- Impossible. Trump cannot alone make this decision and dare for a deal with Putin. The meeting in Helsinki showed that this is simply impossible, because the establishment of America thinks differently, and the establishment is the military leadership, strategic and analytical centers, political clans, the US State Department, the elite of America, and they understand that such deals with Putin must never happen, because there is a populist Trump phenomenon, and there are America's interests and a certain world strategy that Trump simply does not own.
- Europe today is trying to protect itself from the Russian aggression, including military methods, of which you spoke, but does little to strengthen its influence in the post-Soviet space. Is it possible to stop Putin in this way?
- At a certain stage, when the leaders of the European Union were determined, an error occurred. EU leaders, perhaps, with the exception of Jose Manuel Barroso, were very weak. There was an idea that the first head of the European Union was Tony Blair, a former British prime minister who is a strong personality. If this had happened, there would have been no Brexit, the European Union would have been more united and integrated.
Today, on the contrary, nationalism is growing in the countries of the European Union, often supported by Russia, they say that in the elections to the European Parliament 60% more ultra-right can win. The European community is weakened.
I'm not saying that the European Union should become a new federation. No. But the best management model was chosen and implemented. Although I, a representative of the civil campaign "European Belarus", believe that Belarus should be part of the European Union. The EU is still very young. Today there is no real decision-making center, hence all these problems related to threats on the border of the European Union: in Ukraine, Belarus, the Baltic countries.
Imagine, for a long time in Europe there were politicians who went through the World War II, although as children, there were politicians who survived a very serious Cold War. Today's leaders of the European countries have grown already in the postwar period. They, in our opinion, have far-fetched problems, they often do not understand the threat of dictatorial regimes, sincerely do not understand what today's Russia is.
However, the European Union remains a political union with the largest GDP. The GDP of the European Union is larger than that of the United States of America. But this giant has not yet formed its security strategy and strategy of action, development for many years. We see that Russia wants to seize some territories, and the European Union does not want to accept European countries as members. This is the difference. There is no such strategy, for example, that Belarus or Albania quickly joined the European Union.
- This giant often lets Germany play the key part, and Germany today is building together with Putin the Nord Stream-2, which will, in its turn, affect both Belarus and Ukraine. Can the European Union stop the construction of this pipeline?
- I don’t think so. There is an economic interest of Germany, which is the motor of the European Union.
You are absolutely right that this is a threat, and Russia needs conditions for the full seizure of Belarus and, possibly, the Baltic states. "Nord Stream-2" is for this and is needed. Russia cannot capture Belarus for no reason, without consequences. And when there is a second branch, they hope that the supply of Germany and other old EU countries will continue along the bottom of the Baltic Sea.
Again, here is the strategic short-sightedness of Germany. The fact that they are asking Russia to continue transporting through Ukraine is just babbling. It's just Angela Merkel's dependence on business circles who are interested in this project. Economically, these are very powerful companies, but politically German business circles are infantile. They hope that they will be lucky again.
- But they won’t?
- As history teaches, no.
- Our neighbour Ukraine is holding presidential and parliamentary elections next year, several canidates have already announced their intention to run for president. Much criticism has been voiced with regard to the existing relations between the official Minsk and Kyiv. Do you think the relations between the two countries will finally change, upon consideration of the previous experience, as we know that even after two revolutions the democratic governments of Ukraine continued to communicate more with the dictator, than with the opposition?
- I think that all normal people want success for Ukrainians. It is important that they still have a transition from oligarchy to democracy. There is a hope that this process may occur during these elections, although the oligarchs are still incredibly strong, and unfortunately, the president of Ukraine, Petro Poroshenko, is primarily a businessman and an oligarch, and secondly, the head of state. Hence his relationship with the dictatorial regime in Belarus. Again, tactical wins, business gains, profits from the sale of sweets and oil products from Russian oil take place. That is, short-term thinking prevails, living for today
No leader of Ukraine has passed the test of relations with the Belarusian dictator. I always say to Ukrainians: if you have such a stupid policy towards Lukashenka, then you should expect no real success in domestic politics. Yes, Poroshenko is a patriot of Ukraine, yes, he is fighting for its independence, but he has not fulfilled his obligations regarding business interests. What does the Ukrainian press write? Poroshenko's own business interests are above all.
We hope that in Ukraine there will be real democratic changes and the voice of people who have made the European choice, stopped aggression, created a new Ukrainian army and want to live without corruption, will be heard, and the ideas of these people will win in Ukrainian society.
- Today, a lot is said about the fight against Russian propaganda, but independent media in the post-Soviet space are experiencing constant financial hardships. Almost simultaneously, both the Belarusian Charter’97 and the Russian Novaya Gazeta have announced fundraising, and other major independent media from the former Soviet countries are constantly speakling about difficulties. How did this become possible?
- All the things that we talked about are showing up. This is the unpreparedness of the European elites for a real assessment of Russia's plans and the lack of a strategy. Here is the national egoism of Germany, which is trying to solve its business interests at the expense of Eastern European countries. Of course, you can still be glad that the military of the European countries, which are also members of NATO, are more reacting to direct military threats from Russia. But they are not responsible for the media zone.
In the military plan, the actions of the European countries are consistent. However, the information component remains in the zone of responsibility of the European clerks who live in some invented world. Again, see the examples: Manafort is tried for the closest corruption ties with Ukrainian and Russian oligarchs. There was information that his business partner, Deripaska, had asked him to help discredit the opposition movements of Russia's neighbors. Probably sooner or later the truth will become known, but all this corruption, dubious ties between Manafort and Yanukovych, with the oligarchs of Putin is nonsense. Otherwise, as an absurdity, you cannot name the statement of the European Commissioner Johannes Hahn that Lukashenka should travel to Europe. The shock is that the former German chancellor is Putin’s errand boy with a large salary.
The politicians of the West are faced with great temptations. What independent media in dictatorial countries? Here, not only Lukashenka and Aliyev are operating. We know that Putin corrupts Western politicians and media with big money so that they can work for him. For example, in Russia Today there are a lot of well-known Western journalists who have forgotten about conscience for the sake of money.
We have little information, we see a "black box" and you are talking about the things that this "black box" has already committed: the region's leading media are on the verge of survival. In principle, it does not matter why it happened - because of corruption or stupidity. This situation needs to be changed. The West gives reaction to the military threats from Russia. The same thing should happen in countering the information component of the hybrid war.
- You wrote a scientific research in the Harsaw University on the topic "Geopolitics of Belarus in conditions of demographic explosion in Heartland", deeply enough studied processes occurring in the world and region. Why this theme?
- I am grateful for the good fortune to learn at the University of Warsaw, to communicate with the great Polish minds, I'm not afraid of this word, experts in geopolitics and strategy. I'm certainly not a great expert in this field, but in my work I tried to verify the assertion of one of the fathers of the geopolitics of Halford Mackinder that the Heartland, that is the central part of the continent of Eurasia, is the place from which the periodic invasions to Europe and other marginal parts of Eurasia take place, when there is not enough water, food or unemployment in the region. Invasion from Heartland occurs when there is a growth in population. I just looked at what was happening at the moment.
This region includes Russia, Iran, the countries of Central Asia, Afghanistan. We see that the population of most European countries has declined over the past 50 years, while the population of Iran has quadrupled, Uzbekistan, which in the early 1970s had the same number of people as Belarus, now exceeds our population by four times. It turns out that the Mackinder concept works, and we see that refugees from Europe, not only from Heartland, but also from the Middle East and Africa, have entered Europe, that is, from the regions where there is not enough work, water, food, but there is a demographic explosion. By the way, Mackinder called these regions "small Heartland". Over the past 50 years, the population of Syria has increased five-fold, the population of Jordan and Saudi Arabia by 7 times, and the population of most Eastern European countries has dramatically decreased.
Again, in this work, I analyzed the ways through which there is a military-migration invasion from the center of Eurasia to Europe. One of them through Turkey to the Balkans, the other through the Black Sea steppes - hence the war in the Donbas and the seizure of the Crimea. The third channel, fortunately, has not yet been involved - it's the Smolensk Gate, the interfluve of the Western Dvina and the Dnieper, just the territory of Belarus. I predict that, in the event of some conflict in the Caucasus or in the former Soviet republics of Central Asia, where there is not enough water, a huge demographic explosion and no work, the migration movement through our country can be of immense power.
Many analysts are wondering what will happen in the near future, will the EU stand and whether Russia will not fall apart? The question is open. Russia hopes that the European Union will collapse first. But the EU is economically much stronger and it is democratic, it is able to react flexibly and correct mistakes. The Russian political system is very inflexible, very fragile, although stiff. Therefore, most likely, in my opinion, there will be a disintegration of Russia, but in any case, these processes will affect millions of people, including Belarusians.
- Are the processes happening in Russia and the European Union key in the world?
- The world is now seeing the period of the beginning of hegemonic wars. There is such a world concept, it can be considered correct or incorrect, but many world players take it into account. This is the concept of hegemonic cycles. It is believed that in the last 500 years, certain countries were world hegemons.
For example, there was Holland, this period lasted about a hundred years. Then England, also for a hundred years. Then there was a change of hegemon, but again it became England in the form of Great Britain, and now the hegemonic cycle of the USA, which began in 1945, ends. World strategists determine whether America will remain the hegemon for the next hundred years in accordance with this concept, or a change of a hegemon will occur. It could happen approximately by 2045.
- Who will be the next hegemon?
- The next may be only China, because this country in terms of GDP, calculated on purchasing power, is already number one in the world, although the US remains the leader in absolute figures. A number of experts and strategists believe that the European Union can become the next hegemon. The GDP of the EU, even without the UK, will be comparable to that of the United States.
It is believed that the hegemonic war has already begun between the US and the PRC. This explains why Trump and other US leaders are trying to bring the Russian leadership to a head and show them the benefits of interacting with the civilized world. Russia, neither economically, nor militarily, nor demographically can be a hegemon, but it can be a makeweight to China. And China with natural resources of Russia is much stronger than China without Russian natural resources. Probably, there will not be a hot encounter, because both China and the United States have destructive nuclear resources. But the fact that now we see the beginning of the clash of these world giants remains certain.
In history it happened that even the winner in the hegemonic war ceased to be a hegemon. For example, the British Empire was one of the winners in the war against the Nazi Germany, but the USA became the next world hegemon. Hence the theory that in the event of a hot or cold war between the US and China, the hegemon may be the European Union. But the fact that the whole world has approached the period of hegemonic wars must be understood, and such knowledge is useful for representatives of such small countries as Belarus.
- What can we expect under such scenarios?
- Belarus should be in the European Union, but for the time being this, at least, it should be together with the EU. The European Union is an association of European countries, and the first condition for membership in the European Union is to be in Europe. Belarus, unlike Turkey and Russia, is fully in Europe. And if there is a geopolitical unification of European countries, Belarus should be in the geopolitical union of European countries, and not be in some kind of incomprehensible Eurasian Union and participate in incomprehensible wars and conflicts. For Belarus, much more important trading partners are Poland, Ukraine, Lithuania and Germany, and not Armenia, Kyrgyzstan or Kazakhstan.
We have a profitable geographical and strategic position. We must be in alliance with European countries, and then the relationship with China, Russia and the United States will be part of a common position. God has given us a very favorable position from North to South, from East to West. For the economy this is fantastically important. Even such fools as Lukashenka could hold out precisely because of this geographical position, capitalizing it, true for themselves, but not for the Belarusian people.
Today a new stage in the world history comes, but some Belarusians believe that we can do very little in this situation, because they are supposedly small. But do not forget about the readiness of the elites to change and the role of the individual in history. I was fortunate enough to communicate with such iconic figures as Boris Nemtsov in Russia, Senator John McCain in the USA, Jan Urban in the Czech Republic, Pavol Demeš in Slovakia, Zbigniew Bujak and other leaders of Solidarity in Poland, Slobodan Dinovich in Serbia, Dmytro Yarosh in Ukraine. These people are all different, but at some point, no matter which country they represented, big or small, they played a significant role in their states, and often in world history.
And in Belarus there were such people who also played such a role. For example, for me Viktar Ivashkevich was always such a person, who was not in the first positions, but his role in the first mass actions of the Belarusian Popular Front and in the events of August 1991 was significant. Or Stanislau Shushkevich, who brilliantly used the opportunities that arose in Belarusian Viskuli, fixing the collapse of the Soviet Union and the status of Belarus as an independent country.
Belarusians should understand that each of us can influence the events in our home country, and through Belarus - the world processes.
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