Volunteers will help to liberate Belarus.
Joint air-tactical drills with Russia have ended in Belarus. Russian troops crossed the border and attacked Ukraine after military drills in Belarus in February 2022.
Can this happen again and how to avoid it? Natallia Radzina, the editor-in-chief of the Charter97.org website, expresses her opinion on this in an interview with Radio Liberty.
– Ukrainian intelligence has repeatedly stated that there are no signs confirming a possible attack by Belarus, or even participation of the Belarusian army in such an attack. The famous Institute for the Study of War has the same opinion. But the Prime Minister of Poland said in an interview published in the German media that Ukraine should prepare for a new attack from Belarus. Do you think these scenarios are possible and which of them do you think is more realistic? Let's say, Ukrainian intelligence and the Institute for the Study of War or political figure Morawiecki?
– I understand the Prime Minister of Poland because I also think that the scenario of an attack from the territory of Belarus on Ukraine is very likely. In any case, we see that Lukashenka is fully involved in this war. We see that Belarus today has become such a training ground for Russian troops, it’s true, there is a great danger of a second attack from the territory of Belarus, as happened on February 24, 2022.
And we can also judge about the sentiments of the Belarusian military, who give us information that they feel involved in this war. We still do not know the details of the attack: it could be a ground invasion from the territory of Belarus or Belarusian soldiers will enter Ukraine from the territory of Russia. This may also happen in the near future. The deadline is the end of February, the beginning of March or the beginning of April. But these air-tactical drills that were taking place in Belarus, which you mentioned, also show that no matter how the troops will go to Ukraine, there still will be a missile attack on Ukraine from the territory of Belarus.
– There are numerous claims and opinions that if Lukashenka still dares, or, I don’t know, if he is forced to send Belarusian soldiers to Ukraine, then it will be over for him. I quote, that's what they call the end of his reign. Do you see any links there? Or, he will send and some will go, that's all.
– Firstly, it really does not make much sense whether the Belarusian army will participate in this war, or Russian troops will go to Ukraine from the territory of Belarus. Because we know that Lukashenka can send 15,000-20,000 troops to Ukraine, no more. But most importantly, you need to realize for yourself that as long as the Lukashenka regime rules in Belarus, there will always be a threat to Ukraine and Western countries that are our neighbors. It's important to understand it. It is good that the Prime Minister of Poland is doing this and is taking appropriate measures in this regard.
Sanctions against the Lukashenka regime should be strengthened today. Because this is a very absurd and dangerous situation when we see that Belarus is not included in the last five packages of EU sanctions. And God forbid she be in the next tenth package of sanctions. But we see that so far there are no sanctions and everyone is waiting: whether Belarusian troops will go or not, but there is a threat from the territory of Belarus, the threat remains and the territory of Belarus will be fully used by Russian troops.
Moreover, I want to note that I participated in the NATO summit held in Warsaw back in 2016, and then the officers of the NATO countries told me that they consider the Belarusian army to be part of the Russian army. Because they have a single command, this is a joint force grouping.
– By the way, you mentioned the sanctions. How can this affect Lukashenka, in your opinion? Different rounds of sanctions were imposed, of different strengths, especially after the landing of the so-called Pratasevich plane. Did it have any influence and why should it be effective this time?
– First of all, it is necessary to monitor the implementation of the already imposed sanctions, because today we see the process of bypassing the sanctions. Some private companies are being created that bypass these sanctions, and we see that even Belarusian fertilizers supplied to Poland and other EU countries, registered as Uzbek, Belarusian timber is imported, supposedly of Kyrgyz origin, a lot of equipment goes to Belarus, supposedly to the countries of Central Asia, but we see that it remains in Belarus and even goes to Russia. So, Russia bypasses Western sanctions with the help of Belarus. That is why it is necessary to monitor these sanctions regimes, it is necessary, of course, to strengthen these sanctions. Now we are talking about sanctions on oil, coal, sanctions on dual-use goods.
– Do Belarusian citizens have any instruments that would allow, let's say, not to participate in this war? What is your opinion?
– We see that now many people are leaving Belarus. I personally know many Belarusians who left because they do not want to go to war in Ukraine. Because they are very worried about the hidden mobilization that is going on in the country. We see that many Belarusians are coming to Poland and Lithuania, and then they are travelling to Ukraine to join the Kastus Kalinouski Regiment and other Belarusian voluntary associations. This is very good. I think this should be done. Because today the fate of Belarus is being decided in Ukraine.
– So, what can the oppositional Belarusian political leaders do for this, I mean the direct non-participation of Belarus in the war?
– You know, I generally think that there are three such directions that political leaders should deal with today. Almost all of them are now in exile. Although I want to note that the real Belarusian leaders, of course, are in prison today. But what about those who are in exile?
Firstly, they must help the families of political prisoners, and secondly, they must help Belarusian volunteers in Ukraine. Because we know that they have many needs and they always need help. Also, engage in information work, provide support to independent media and help them carry out information work regarding Belarus. There is a great need for this too.
– It was not in vain that I asked about political leaders, because lately, perhaps, you have also noticed, especially in social media, there are disputes, discussions and different names on the Web, who is responsible for the defeats. After all, no one doubts that there is a defeat. In your opinion, how can this energy be directed to useful things, or maybe the discussions are also useful?
– In general, discussions are useful, you know. And if we want to build a democratic country and a democratic society, we must discuss, listen to each other, and we must do it.
There should be no so-called "sacred cows" about which we cannot say anything bad. Because they are still people who also make mistakes and it’s necessary to talk about it.
– By the way, my colleague Vital Tsyhankou wrote a blog today, it is on Radio Liberty, and we advise our audience to read it too. It is about these problematic moments linked to the Belarusian opposition. There is such a phrase: “The opposition quarrels among themselves. This is a clear sign that there is no faith in a quick victory.” What do you think can bring it closer today?
– Look, I can say about myself personally: I believe in victory and see no chance for Lukashenka to stay in power for a long time and I believe that Belarus has a chance, but for this, of course, it’s necessary to work and not to lose this faith.
Therefore, I do not know what Vital Tsyhankou is talking about, perhaps he read some commentators on Facebook, but this does not mean anything. Therefore, today it is necessary to objectively assess who and what is doing. I’m telling you that Belarusian heroes are Belarusian political prisoners and Belarusian volunteers who are fighting in Ukraine. They are real heroes.
– Today, the Belarusian society has high hopes for them in a certain part that under certain conditions they will contribute to the establishment of the rule of law in Belarus. But still, others say, Tsyhankou mentioned for example, that they are still a part of the Armed Forces of Ukraine and this won't happen. I mean the expected crossing of the border or indirect participation in the changes in Belarus. Do you have hope, despite the fact that they are fighting on the side of Ukraine, for Ukraine, against the aggressor, that they can still somehow contribute to the Belarusian issue?
– I am sure that the Belarusian volunteers in Ukraine will also help to liberate Belarus. Today these people are brave warriors who sacrifice their lives for the sake of Ukraine and Belarus, this is the first thing.
The second thing regarding the Kalinovski Regiment is that they are calling the liberation of Belarus to be their goal, as well as the country's joining the European Union and NATO. And this indicates that these people stand on the basis of democratic principles. But let's look at things realistically. I think that there is no other way of change in Belarus than the military one under the war conditions. Therefore all Belarusians today have very high hopes for the Kastus Kalinouski Regiment and Belarusian volunteers.
– Do you personally see the scenario for possible, let's say, physical entry to Belarus, or what? Because they are talking a lot about it. But it seems to me that even the Kolinovites have not announced it so far. At least, what it should look like?
– Scenarios won't be announced in the media even if they exist. But as he said, I don’t remember the name, one American general: “Give the war a chance!”
– Do you see such a chance that the war will end, and Lukashenka will continue to rule in Belarus?
– No, I do not see such a chance, because I know that Putin will go to the end, to his personal end, and also to the collapse of Russia. And Lukashenka in this scenario will also go there with him.
– How do you feel about the fact that the government of Ukraine also has different opinions? Ukraine has been democratic for 30 years, and different camps influence decision-making there. For sure, there are some people, it is open claims, who are opposing the sanctions you’ve been talking about recently. Well, in fact, they are indirectly support the Lukashenka regime.
– We know that Ukraine has imposed economic sanctions against the Belarusian regime. Sanctions against Belaruskali are included there, against the Belarusian railway, against a paint and varnish, a chemical plant. I hope that these sanctions will be in force. Of course, we also know that trade with Belarus ceased with the outbreak of the war on February 24, 2022. Petroleum products and potash fertilizers are not going to Ukraine in the same quantities as they went before the war, and even in 2020 and 2021, when Western sanctions were imposed against the Lukashenka regime.
– As a matter of fact, let’s talk about sanctions. Zianon Pazniak, who is in Ukraine now, met with people from the Kalinouski Regiment and visited Bakhmut. He claims that the sanctions have a very bad effect on Belarus, because they push the illegitimate leadership even more towards Russia causing the necessity to look for money and target markets. As a result, Belarusian independence is weakening. You talk about their effectiveness. There is a conflict here. Explain it to us.
– I respect Zianon Pazniak very much, but I do not agree with him on the issue of sanctions. Sanctions against the Lukashenka regime must be introduced and strengthened. This really hits the dictatorship, its economy, and the repressive apparatus, and these sanctions should only be strengthened.
– Well, how do you feel about the visits of political figures to Ukraine and to the Kalinouski Regiment? Again, there is some debate about this. Because the Ukrainian authorities allow people they want to see there since it is a part of the Ukrainian army.
– People they trust are allowed into Ukraine, and I don’t see anything wrong with Zianon Pazniak’s visit to the Kalinouski Regiment.
This is very good, because Zianon Pazniak is a truly legendary person for many Belarusian volunteers, and I know that it was very interesting and important for them to talk with him.
– Natalia, there are two more questions. One of them concerns political prisoners. You talked about the importance of helping them. Do you see any opportunity to influence their release today, apart from helping the political prisoners themselves or their relatives? After all, discussions are underway. People who have applied for help from various international organizations and have not received a clear result are dissatisfied.
– I can answer as a former political prisoner. I can say that only sanctions can help to release political prisoners. Negotiation and human exchange deals, which are taking place now, won’t change the situation in Belarus. Yes, some political prisoners can be released, but most of them will remain in prison, people will be caught again and again, and there will be more and more political prisoners.
– And the last question. It concerns the Belarusian volunteer Lobau, who recently died in Ukraine. You knew him personally, you wrote about it. He was even the winner of the award of your portal named after Viktar Ivashkevich. Please, tell us about this person in general. Make him closer to our audience. You could remember the last time you met him.
– Eduard Lobau is a real warrior, a real Belarusian, a former political prisoner. He served 4 years in a Belarusian prison after the 2010 elections. He went to fight in Ukraine as soon as he was released. He had been fighting in the Donbas since 2014. When the large-scale war began, he, as you know, also took up arms and died in Vuhleadar. I’ve been talking to his mother Maryna Lobova, we’ve met. We are organizing a funeral currently.
It's very difficult, because I talked to this woman when her son was in prison, and this time we've been talking after her son died in the war. And this is also a Belarusian tragedy. It is a tragedy that our men, our Belarusians either sit in prisons or are forced to take up arms, fight and die in the war. But I would like to say that there is another important issue regarding Belarusian volunteers.
Now we are raising money for the funeral of Eduard Lobau. Why? Because Belarusian volunteers are fighting in Ukraine, but when they die, no help is provided to their families. I talked about it on the air of Ukrainian TV channels today. I said that we need to change this approach, because if we want more Belarusians to fight for Ukraine, if we want the Kalinouski Regiment to develop and more volunteers to join it, there must be equal conditions for Ukrainian and Belarusian soldiers.