6 October 2022, Thursday, 10:13
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Natallia Radzina: Lukashenka's Ship Is Going Down

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Natallia Radzina: Lukashenka's Ship Is Going Down
NATALLIA RADZINA

Major events are maturing in Belarus.

We must think about the liberation of Belarus during Russia's war against Ukraine. The vast majority of Belarusians oppose the war. The Belarusian army does not intend to fight against the Ukrainians, while Putin's lackey Lukashenko is deprived of independence and is hated by the people.

Natallia Radzina, the editor-in-chief of the Charter97.org website, discussed this and much more with Yevhen Klimakin in the Studio X97 recent interview.

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— War... Some people say: how long can we talk about this war? Nevertheless, I am deeply convinced that if we don’t talk about the war, if we don’t do anything to stop it, then this war will affect not only those who are under the bombardments now but also those who, as they think, are in relatively safe places and other countries. That is why we will ask Natallia Radzina, editor-in-chief of the Charter’97 opposition web portal, about the war and how to stop it.

Natasha, now Ukraine, as you know, is strengthening the borders with Belarus: they are laying minefields and whatever. How do you assess the risks that the Kremlin's 'patsy', it is difficult to call this person the president, Lukashenka will really decide to officially send Belarusian troops to Ukraine?

— Belarusians are actually participating in this war because there are missile attacks against Ukraine from the territory of our country. Russian troops have entered there from the Belarusian side, and Lukashenka is responsible for the tragedies in such cities as Irpin, Bucha and Borodianka. Therefore, of course, the threat of a direct participation of the Belarusian army in the war remains. And while Belarus is ruled by the usurper Lukashenka, it is quite obvious that there will always be a threat.

— If this happens, and tens of thousands of Belarusians cross the border of Ukraine, it is absolutely clear to me, as a Ukrainian, what the Ukrainians will do then. As my best friend, chaplain, and military Father Serhiy says: "We need to eliminate the targets now." And in this case, unfortunately, Ukraine will eliminate the targets that entered from Belarus. What will be the reaction of Belarusians if this happens and tens of thousands of soldiers cross the border with Ukraine?

— Firstly, I must say that the Belarusian army does not want to fight. This is the only reason why Belarusian military personnel have not yet entered Ukraine. Although there was information that part of the Belarusian detachments still entered Ukraine in the very first days and months of the war. We are talking mainly about special operations forces. In the case of the entire army, then, of course, the vast majority do not want to fight. We can talk about 80-90% of Belarusians who oppose this war. The military personnel are among them. Nobody wants to die for Russian imperial ambitions. Belarusians are a completely different, European nation. Yes, we are now under actual Russian occupation. However, Belarusians do not want to fight and die for the interests of Russia.

— Will they desert?

— Certainly. I am convinced that there will be mass surrender. They will begin to change their side in favour of Ukraine. I think they will abandon military equipment, and even lower-ranking soldiers can arrest their commanders. Belarusians do not want to be cannon fodder for Putin and crazy Lukashenka.

— I always ask my colleagues journalists, volunteers, and activists who now travel a lot across Ukraine, even a couple of days ago I had a conversation with a journalist friend who is moving there a lot: what is the 'temperature' in the country, what mood prevails? Are people upset? Are people depressed? And she told me that there are no such things in Ukraine. The scale of fluctuations is from a calm, persistent decision to go to the end, because “how else?”, to, as she said, pure hatred towards the Russians and the desire to liberate the last square meter of their country. What is the temperature, what is the mood in Belarus now?

— The protest potential remains, despite the fact that mass repressions fell upon people after the 2020 mass actions. Nevertheless, the hatred towards the Lukashenka regime not only persists, but it has also intensified. The fact that the dictator got involved in this war and today, in fact, provokes even greater rejection among the entire Belarusian people.

Therefore, Belarusians heroically resist even in such difficult conditions of almost double occupation despite the fact that many people were forced to leave the country and that today there are thousands of political prisoners behind bars. On the one hand, the Russian occupation troops are deployed in the country. On the other hand, we are ruled by the occupational Lukashenka regime. Nevertheless, a partisan movement developed within the country in the first months of the war against Ukraine. People were stopping trains and military equipment that was heading to Ukraine. There were cases of sabotage and subversion. The partisan gene woke up in Belarusians.

Therefore, I am sure that there will be more protests in Belarus. The economic sanctions imposed against the Lukashenka regime affect the economy significantly. The vast majority of enterprises today are on the verge of stopping or have already been stopped. The country's quality of life is rapidly falling. People believe that the authorities are to be guilty. That is why, I think that, despite all Lukashenka's attempts to keep the situation under control, he will not succeed.

— I remember a year ago we were recording an interview and you said that Lukashenka was weaker than ever. I suppose that this past year did not make him stronger. He is still weak. Who can take advantage of this weakness?

— It is quite obvious that he is a Gauleiter and Putin's lackey today. Lukashenka is deprived of any subjectivity and independence. And there is no need to carry illusions that he can make any independent decisions. No. We can see that today he speaks quite aggressively against the West, threatens to attack, including against Poland, and threatens both Ukraine and neighbouring Lithuania with nuclear weapons. I don't think that these are even his independent statements. I think that it is with the highest permission of Putin that today he is voicing these threats against the NATO countries. This is another reason for the Western countries to think about what the Lukashenka regime in Belarus really is.

— Actually, let us speak about the West. Sanctions and pressure. I may be wrong, but I get the impression that the West is now so focused on Russia, although as a Ukrainian I suppose that the pressure is insufficient. We will definitely discuss it later. It seems that they forget about Belarus being engaged in putting pressure on Russia. They expel dozens of so-called Russian diplomats, and, being in Warsaw, I think about the reasons for keeping these Belarusian clowns in the Belarusian embassy. Why are they still here? And not only in Poland, but also in other countries of the European Union.

— Obviously, you're right. And it seems to me that in this case, we need to start with Ukraine, which for some reason did not terminate diplomatic relations and did not impose a trade embargo against Belarus. It is necessary to introduce these measures in exactly the same way as they have already been introduced with respect to Russia. There can be no question of the possibility of Ukrainian wheat transit through the territory of Belarus. The same with the purchase of Belarusian oil products. This is an issue of fundamental importance.

— Because Lukashenka is equal to Putin. They are from the same gang.

— Exactly. Therefore, it is necessary that Ukraine impose a trade embargo on Belarus. It is necessary to sever diplomatic relations. Western countries should match the sanctions that have been imposed on Russia with the sanctions that have been imposed on Belarus. There should be no differentiation, no separation. Because these are two absolutely identical regimes and there should be no concessions to the dictator Lukashenka.

— How are you going through the full-scale war personally?

— Like all people, it's hard. The first reaction was a shock, of course, when it all started. Since I am a person of action, I immediately began to think about what to do in this situation. Certainly, in the first place, we were engaged in the information field. The Charter-97 website switched to around-the-clock work. Our journalists simply did not sleep and worked seven days a week, there were 12-14 hours shifts. We worked at night and nobody wanted to rest. Then I already suggested a little rest. No. We believed that we had no right to rest, we should continue to work and help at least somehow.

It was necessary to inform Belarusians, first of all, about the developments in Ukraine, about all these crimes that the Russian army was committing. Naturally, we collected information about the location of Russian troops in Belarus everywhere. We had a lot of sources, by the way, there were sources from the Belarusian army. We had been publishing all the information. We really hope this helped. We thought about how to help, including humanitarian aid, what kind of help the Ukrainian army needs and how to help those Belarusian detachments that appeared in Ukraine.

Many Belarusians have transferred and are transferring funds to the Armed Forces of Ukraine. Thousands of people lined up near Belarusian centres in Warsaw to sign up as volunteers and to fight in Ukraine.

But I still felt like it wasn't enough. I felt like I wasn't doing enough, I needed to do more. And at some point, despite my general workload, I found time and went to a refugee centre in Warsaw. And when I was able to hug people there, just hug people who came in shock from Ukraine, I realised that in this situation we must do what we can, help with what we can. And this is very important.

— I remember this most of all too, because I am also by virtue of my profession, and because I am an activist and try to help other people. I talked with various Ukrainian refugees. I remember a story of a woman from Mariupol most of all. She went out with her dog in the morning, her husband was sleeping with another dog at home, and she saw with her own eyes how a Russian tank fired at her house and specifically hit her apartment. So she stayed with this dog. That's all she had. The so-called liberators deprived her of her husband, home, animal, and everything that was her life. We met and talked with her near the city of Lodz, she was with this dog, its name was Tyson. Could you please tell me a story that you remember?

— There are a lot of stories. I am still in touch with some of the people who went through this centre. There is a family that is now in Ireland, they are from the Donetsk region, an elderly couple, a husband and wife. They have a son, who is a disabled person because of the 2014 war, and a grandson. Their daughter stayed in Ukraine, now she serves in the Ukrainian army. We are in touch with the family. And this wonderful woman Olha, in order to somehow survive this stress, writes poetry. She sends it to me. She used to write her poetry in Russian, by the way, now she writes it in Ukrainian. This poetry is full of pain. All these people really want to return to Ukraine. They can't imagine themselves outside their native country.

And, of course, I was shocked by the conversation with Tetiana Mokridi, a well-known Ukrainian journalist and the wife of the former Ukrainian ambassador to Belarus, Roman Bessmertny. Roman Bessmertny himself appeared in a village that was occupied by the Russian troops. In the first days of the war, he left to visit his elderly mother and did not have time to leave this village with her from near Kyiv, as it was occupied by the Russian troops. Roman spent more than a month under occupation. Fortunately, he wasn't recognized. Otherwise, he would definitely have been captured...

— … or they would shoot him on the spot.

— Yes. By the way, the headman's family was shot in this village. As for Tetiana, she went through all of Ukraine to Poland together with her two little daughters. So, Tetiana is a beautiful woman and a well-known journalist. When she told me about their journey, it was just hard to imagine. In a crowded train, under bombardments, in fact, there were so many people that they simply broke the windows so as not to suffocate. “And when we arrived in Warsaw, when we got off at the station and when they brought us a bowl of soup, I just burst into tears," Tetiana said.

— You talked about a woman who deliberately switched from Russian to Ukrainian. The war allowed many Ukrainians to rethink a lot of things, regarding both the language and, for example, the statements ‘fraternal peoples’. An indicator of detachment from reality can also be considered when the average Ukrainian hears about the fraternal people from a Russian, even with liberal views, and opposing the war. Such a Ukrainian either clenches fists or starts laughing uncontrollably. What do Belarusians feel when they hear about fraternal peoples, what do you personally feel?

— I have never considered the Russians as some fraternal people for Belarusians. At least because I know the history of my country. Belarusians are a European nation. Those people who still believe that Russia is a kind of a sister state for Belarusians, I simply advise you to study history.

— What can be done to prevent the missiles flying from the territory of Belarus to Ukrainian cities, killing Ukrainians?

— We need to seriously think about the liberation of Belarus. We said this even before the start of the war. For many years we have proved that Belarus is a key country in the region. That Belarus being a free and democratic country is a guarantee of security of the entire European region. In particular, we turned to the Ukrainian authorities and said: “Help us, help the Belarusian opposition.” It is necessary to support independent media in Belarus in order to convey to people the information about what is happening, including in Ukraine. We proposed to install FM stations on the territory of Ukraine so that they broadcast to Belarus. We suggested that one of the Ukrainian TV channels broadcast in Belarus, it was possible to put such a condition on the authorities of Belarus then, given active trade and economic relations. And that would have had a serious impact on the situation.

But, unfortunately, our voices remained unheard. In 2020, after the suppression oo\f our peaceful demonstrations, Ukraine did not join the economic sanctions that the West imposed against the Lukashenka regime. This, of course, was a serious mistake. I really hope that now these mistakes will be corrected. Without a free democratic Belarus, I repeat, a free and independent Ukraine is impossible. A serious strategy is needed on how to liberate Belarus.

Today, a lot of Belarusian volunteers are fighting on the side of Ukraine. There is also a regiment named after Kastus Kalinouski, and a regiment “Pahonia”. I know that many Belarusians are fighting in various units of the Armed Forces of Ukraine. And these people today directly say that their goal is to help Ukraine and liberate Belarus. So let's think. This, of course, is the business of the military of both Ukraine and NATO countries. Let's think about how we can all deprive Putin of this convenient springboard into which he has turned Belarus, from where he attacks Ukraine, from where he threatens to attack NATO countries: Poland, Lithuania, and Latvia.

— You have mentioned an offensive. Is it possible to count on the fact that Lukashenka's entourage will show some resistance, or are they just steadfast tin soldiers?

— I think that there are different moods today. Reasonable people understand that this ship is sinking, and I think there are enough reasonable people there. Of course, many of them are afraid. It is unlikely that people who today hold certain key positions, generals of the Belarusian army or top officials, are capable of any active moves. But I think that there are a lot of middle-level officials and middle-level servicemen, and they are thinking about their fate today. They are well aware that this whole adventure will end in the defeat of Putin and the unconditional defeat of Lukashenka. And they do not want to be held responsible for the crimes that these regimes are committing today.

— Putin and the Putin regime have been threatening the world with nuclear weapons almost from the first days of the war. Can this be done by Belarusian hands?

— Undoubtedly. Listen to Lukashenka. He simply invites Russian nuclear missiles to Belarus. He talks about it all the time. And such a threat really exists, because there are Iskander missile systems on the territory of Belarus. And now information is coming that Russian planes are flying to Belarus, including, possibly, with Russian nuclear missiles. Therefore, this is not excluded, but I would like to remind you that the countries of the West, the United States and Great Britain have already stated that in the event that a tactical nuclear weapon strikes the territory of Ukraine or NATO countries, it does not matter from what territory these missiles will be launched — from from the territory of occupied Belarus or from the territory of the occupied Crimea — a retaliatory strike will be delivered against Russia itself.

— Have you personally lost someone in this war? Do you know the people the Russians killed?

— Of course. More recently, four soldiers of the Kalinouski regiment were killed in Ukraine. They died near Lysychansk. Among them was Vasil Parfiankou, a former Belarusian political prisoner, laureate of the Charter'97 award. We have the National Human Rights Award. Vasil has been fighting in Ukraine since 2014, before that he spent several years in prison in Belarus, was repeatedly detained for participating in protests against the Lukashenka regime. And in 2014 he went to fight in the Donbas. We met with him in Kyiv in 2015, when I brought him our award. Of course, it is very painful today to realize that Vasil, who had two children, who sincerely loved Belarus, sincerely wanted to help Ukraine, who dreamed of life in a free native country, is gone today. Of course, he will always remain in the hearts of Belarusians. This man is a real hero.

— I'd like to say something. For us, Ukrainians, these guys are big heroes too. I understand that for a mother or wife who has lost a son or husband, all these are just high-sounding words... They don't need a hero — they need a living son, a living husband.

— They are like family to all of us. All the Belarusians who are fighting in Ukraine today have become family to all of us. Ukrainian volunteers came to me the other day and offered to help my “son”, who serves in the Kalinouski regiment. I was surprised, I said: “You must have mixed something up. I have no children”. And they answered me: “You write so touchingly about the Belarusian volunteers who are fighting in Ukraine that we thought that one of them is your son.” They are indeed our sons, our Belarusian sons, whom we are very, very proud of.

— Natallia, I know that you and your colleagues help the Kalinovites to the best of your ability, and I also know that you communicate with some of them who are just going to the front to fight and defend independence together with the Armed Forces of Ukraine and fight the Russians, the occupiers. What do you say to them when these guys come and you talk to them?

— You know, it's very difficult to say anything other than that you are proud of them. I have such a maternal feeling, I just want to hug them and say only one thing: “Just please live! Please survive! Guys, you are all heroes, but Belarus really needs you. And we have such a situation that really our heroes are people who are in prisons today and people who are fighting in Ukraine today.

— I, of course, and many other people too, believe in victory. You can't imagine life otherwise. Because good must overcome evil, the absolute evil that we are dealing with now. And when this victory happens, how do you see the future of the Kalinouski regiment, the Pahonia regiment, and the people who, together with the Ukrainians, fought against the horde?

— This is our elite. These people should be in the military-political leadership of the country. These are our heroes. These are patriots. Of course, these people should be in the forefront, like many leaders who are now in Belarusian prisons. I would like to remind you about Mikalai Statkevich, who, by the way, is also an officer. I am sure that if he could, he would have defended Ukraine today. More than 10 years of his life, during the rule of Lukashenka, he spent in prison. He always protested, he was always at the forefront, always in the vanguard, always leading the people.

I remember how literally a year before the 2020 presidential election, on the eve of which Mikalai was arrested, Statkevich and I were in the same maritime country, it was March, it was quite cold. We came to the sea just to look at it. And Mikalai surprised me very much, because he said: “I have to swim!”. How? It was so very cold! The temperature was not below zero, but still, it was really cold. He said: “I must take a swim, because I will go to jail anyway. And then I will regret that I was in this country, saw the sea, and did not swim. I must have this good memory. When I'm in jail, I'll think about it”. And this shows the man deliberately went to prison, he knew that he would be imprisoned, but he also knew that he had no other way, he must fight for the freedom of his country. He sacrificed himself for the people. People like Mikalai are real leaders for me.

— You said that the real heroes, the real leaders of Belarus are now either at war or in Lukashenka's prisons. In this case, whom shall the people gather around?

— It seems to me that the emergence of new real leaders is very important now. But they cannot appear out of nowhere. A leader appears when a person takes responsibility. Belarusians do not have to wait. Of course, we must fight for the release of people from prisons, for the release of our heroes. But everyone must realize the responsibility for the country. Because each of us can become that leader. There is no need to place too many hopes on some other people, especially, as we see now, these hopes are not justified. The leaders who emerged in the wake of the 2020 revolution did not live up to the hopes of the people, and there is no point in complaining about it. You just need to take responsibility and become a leader yourself. That's all. And to continue this struggle, including in order to release our comrades from prisons, to finally liberate our country, and start living like a human being.

— In the context of the war, a phrase is very often heard, which, I confess, hurts my ears a lot. It seems to be correct and people often repeat: “When will the war end?” But the form of this verb “will end” — as if it should end all by itself. And I perfectly understand that it will not resolve itself. That if we are sitting passively watching this bloody process, the genocide that the Russians staged, it will not change anything. Therefore, in your opinion, what exactly can Belarusians do now in this situation? What is the right thing to do now?

— First of all, just understand that you won’t be able to sit out. What needs to be done is to be active. And do everything possible in this situation. Those who can help financially — let them help financially, those who can help humanly, like shelter refugees from Ukraine, help those who are suffering — this is also very important. People who can carry out some partisan actions within the country — this can be done. Men can go to Ukraine, help liberate Ukraine and fight for the liberation of Belarus. The set of actions here is actually very large. We, journalists, must conduct information work, work honestly and look for every opportunity to bring the truth to the people. That is, everyone can have a huge field for activity, it is very wide.

It is very important to just act, not sit back, not try to wait it out. Because it won't work. If we don't stop the Russian aggressor, if we don't liberate Ukraine, if we don't liberate Belarus, no life is possible.

— Will they go further?

— Undoubtedly.

— How do you feel about this endless talk about the poor health of Lukashenka, Putin, who has cancer, who is already dying, Parkinson's disease, etc.?

— It’s a certain fact that Lukashenka is mentally ill. This is quite obvious for everyone today. As for Putin, it seems to me that this is a trick. In fact, he is quite healthy ...

— …unfortunately for all of us.

— Unfortunately for all of us. And these rumors are deliberately thrown in that he will allegedly die soon, so that no serious actions are taken to destroy his regime. But, unfortunately, you can't do without it.

— Putin's death, by and large, does not solve our problems. If there is no Putin, there will be someone else in his place.

—- Surely. We must talk about the complete dismantling of the fascist regime in Russia. Experts love to speculate about what Russia's defeat will be like. There is no doubt that there will be defeat. But what will it be? A defeat, as it was in the Russo-Japanese War of 1905, or will it be the defeat of Nazi Germany in 1945? I am sure that the defeat of fascist Russia should be the same as the defeat of Hitler in 1945.

— Last month, a very interesting opinion poll was conducted in 10 countries of the European Union, and in the UK. Europeans were asked how they feel about the war, how they see the future, and so on. And it turned out that, roughly speaking, you can divide the respondents into two camps: this is the camp of peace, as it was called, and the camp of justice. Supporters of a bad peace (and most of these people live in Italy, in Germany) believe that let there be any kind of peace, let them take Ukraine’s lands, let them seize Donbas, Kherson, Odesa, as long as our gas and electricity prices do not grow. Supporters of justice (and here Poland is ahead of the rest) believe that Ukraine should win back its territories. Russia must pay for what it has done. But such moods, unfortunately, remain in the minority in other countries of the European Union. I know, of course, that you are in the camp of justice.

— There is no doubt about it. Ukraine must regain all territories, including Donbas, including Crimea. This is beyond doubt. And there can be no bad peace with Russia. It is quite obvious that if we do not destroy this fascist regime, if we do not liberate Belarus from the dictatorship and the Russian occupation, there can be no talk of any development of the region. Because Russia and Belarus today threaten the whole of Europe, the entire region.