There may be various options for a change of power in Belarus.
Toomas Hendrik Ilves, former president of Estonia and a great friend of democratic Belarus, gave an exclusive interview to Charter97.org.
We discussed the war in Ukraine, options for Lukashenka's resignation, and the European future of Belarus.
- At the beginning of the war, you wrote you felt such a wave of strong anger after the destruction of Mariupol as you had never felt before.
- It was a deliberate destruction of a city of 400,000 people with the single purpose of killing civilians. It was absurd. According to the latest estimates, 116,000 people were killed - about as many as in Hiroshima and Nagasaki combined.
- Is the situation in Mariupol still the most intolerable, or have there been even more shocking events since then?
- We don't have much information about developments elsewhere. Of course, Bucha was a turning point for me personally, simply because it showed that nothing had changed since the Russians had done the same thing in Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, and Poland in 1940-41. It shattered the illusion, "They're different now, they don't do that anymore. That was the Soviet Union. Now we're talking about Russia," was the political rhetoric of the last 30 years, but then it turns out that they behave the same way.
- Is the West willing to give Ukraine long-term support and endure the accompanying difficulties, such as high energy bills, for months if the war lasts that long?
- I don't know. There is no homogeneous "West." Different countries take different approaches and have different tolerance thresholds. I think Central and Eastern European countries are willing to endure more simply because we feel there is something much bigger at stake. The countries that are perhaps further away may have domestic political difficulties. But it's hard to say yet since winter has not yet come.
- In other words, will the winter show?
- More or less. Things change. Look at how much the situation in Ukraine has changed recently. Even the Russians admit that the Ukrainians are making significant gains around Kharkiv. If they cut the supply lines in the south, then things will go maybe faster than we expected.
- What do you think of the refusal to issue EU visas for Russian tourists?
- I don't think there should be tourists from Russia. First, I think the very idea that Russian tourists are having a good time shopping while their government is committing genocide is repulsive. For example, one can find a picture of the wife of a United Russia deputy enjoying life in Paris.
Second, there are security reasons. We have witnessed the killing of innocent people in Europe by SIS agents who were there on a tourist visa - a security threat.
Third, we have seen videos from all over Europe of tourists from Russia mocking Ukrainian refugees. This is disgusting.
I think there is no reason to keep the visas. I think the argument, "If they come here, they will learn about democracy," is complete nonsense. We've had 30 years of easy access to travel in Europe, but we haven't seen even a slight increase in democratic thinking in Russia.
Finally, as for the argument, "We should do this because of Russian activists," I would answer, "No. We're tired of being the welfare department for people with a hypertrophied sense that everyone owes them."
- What do you think about the issuance of EU visas for Belarusian tourists?
- We haven't seen Belarusians with tourist visas doing bad things. I have not seen any videos of Belarusians bullying Ukrainian refugees. There was no information about Belarusians committing crimes against EU citizens the way Russians do. So I'm pretty liberal when it comes to Belarus.
- The sanctions against the Lukashenka regime are noticeably less than those against the Putin regime. Is it worth "tightening the screws»?
- I think they should be increased. Belarus must not be a way for Russia to evade sanctions on goods subject to sanctions in Russia itself.
- What is the most likely scenario of Belarus' transition from today's dictatorship to the country aspiring to democracy?
- I do not know the mechanism. The Ukrainian victory should inspire the Belarusians. I think it will also be something that will scare Lukashenka a lot.
But it is up to the Belarusians how they see the future and what they want to do. As for the mechanisms of the regime change, I cannot yet imagine them. I would assume that the Belarusian military is also fed up with Lukashenka. Thus, various options are available. I would not like to speculate on any particular scenario.
- You were one of the main drivers that brought Estonia to the European Union. Do you see Belarus as a part of the EU family?
- It takes a long, long time, many, many reforms. It is a question of what Belarus will do for 15, 20, or 25 years after liberation because it is by no means an easy process. Estonia was fully committed to all the changes for almost 15 years and did things other countries didn't want to do. So eventually, yes, but it takes a long time.