How to put dictator in his place?
How effective are the US sanctions against the Lukashenka regime? How to close loopholes in restrictive measures? Is it worth putting pressure on the Kremlin for supporting the Belarusian dictator? This is what the former coordinator of the sanctions policy of the U.S. State Department, the former U.S. Ambassador to Poland, an expert of the Atlantic Council, Daniel Fried, said in an interview with the Charter97.org.
- I believe the U.S. has imposed strong sanctions. However, it does not mean that they are sufficient. I think that after the US has had time to take a breath after Putin's threat against Ukraine, they might resort to additional sanctions against the Lukashenka regime. I think more could have been done, but in the meantime the United States has taken steps to impose strong sanctions.
I think it is necessary now to ensure the implementation of them. And we, both Europe and Great Britain, as well as friends of Belarus such as Poland, must investigate into the network of Lukashenka's contacts, his henchmen, investigate where he hides his money. We must work on this, using not only sanctions tools, but the tools against financial corruption and money laundering, to find his assets and put pressure on him so that he eases off the oppression of the Belarusian people.
- Last year you wrote an article "How to Put Lukashenka in His Place". What else can the West do to really put the Belarusian dictator in his place?
- I think that the United States should follow the money, i.e. identify the network of Lukashenka's companies that help him get rich, identify his allies and associates, and follow their finances. I would also look at the exports of Belarusian state-owned companies - not the Belarusian private sector, but Belarusian state-owned companies associated with Lukashenka - and see if anything else could be done.
- The EU has imposed five sets of sanctions against Lukashenka's regime, but Belarusian exports to European countries have been growing at record rates. How to close these loopholes?
- I agree with you that there is room to do more. Right now the US and Europe are concentrating their efforts on preventing and deterring Putin from launching a full-scale war against Ukraine, a war in which Lukashenka's regime might take part. And I think we need then in the aftermath of wherever we end up in Ukraine, we need to take a look at the degree of Lukashenka's collaboration with Putin.
If that collaboration turns out to involve Lukashenka's attack on another European country — that is possible — or he is aiding a Russian attack through Belarusian territory on another country, that could lead to new levels of sanctions from the United States and from Europe.
Lukashenka is a despot; he has threatened and attacked Poland using migrants as a weapon. But now his aggression is reaching a new level with his invitation to the Russian military to use Belarusian territory is a staging round for what could be an attack on a European country. That means that the United States and Europe have to look again at Lukashenka's level of aggression — which is tied to his oppression at home — and consider next steps.
- Given what you said, how is Lukashenka perceived in the West today?
- He has been acting skillfully. Lukashenka used to show some skill in repression at home and maintaining his independence from Putin. A little bit like the Romanian dictator Ceausescu early 1980s. But Putin has made himself indispensable to Lukashenka, and Lukashenka essentially given away Belarus' sovereignty to Russia in exchange for remaining in power. This is a new development, and Lukashenka is now objectively a henchman of Putin who will follow Putin's orders. This puts Lukashenka in a different category for the United States and, possibly, for Europe.
- I assume you have contacts in the State Department. If you can - would you share the information on whether new sanctions are being prepared against the Belarusian regime?
- People are thinking about it, but, as I said, the same people who work on Belarus also work on Ukraine and they have been involved in the Ukrainian issue for some time. But the two issues are linked. What they have in common is that Putin supports the dictator Lukashenka and he supports the overthrow of the Ukrainian democratically elected government.
- Should the West impose sanctions against Putin's regime for supporting Lukashenka?
- I think that there is a good basis for sanctioning those Russian persons, physical and legal, who are directly involved in support of Lukashenka's tyranny. Yes, I agree.
- Some experts draw parallels between Poland in the 1980s and today's Belarus. Do you see any parallels between these two situations 40 years apart?
- There are some parallels. Those parallels are not exact but they are interesting. That is a democratic movement in Belarus and in Poland rose suddenly and unexpectedly. It was a mass movement and then it was crushed. One difference is that the leadership of Solidarity was arrested inside the country — much of the leadership of the Belarusian democratic opposition has escaped. But the similarities are striking. Belarus today is a bit — not completely, but a bit — like Poland under martial law: the opposition is under pressure, its members are arrested, society is suffering. And at the time in the early and mid-1980s, up until about 1987 or 1988, the situation in Poland looked hopeless for the democratic forces around Solidarity. And even in 1989 most Poles didn't realize what was about to happen. Although, Lech Wałęsa saw it early.
This doesn’t mean that there will be an exact repetition. After 1985 Gorbachev, not Brezhnev, was in charge in the Kremlin — that made a difference. And Poland has a longer history of underground resistance activity than Belarus. But Polish and Belarusian history has a lot in common; two peoples are not strangers to one another. And it is the Polish experience should inform the way we think about Belarus. And as I remember thinking at the time, "Communism is eternal, until it isn't."
- Thank you very much for the interview.
- Long live Belarus!