EVENT TRANSCRIPT: Belarus: From Revolution to Resolution?
DATE: 1 July, 3:45pm – 4:45pm
SPEAKERS: Vadislav Davidzon, Dr Liam Fox MP, Franak Viacorka, Ed Lucas, Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya
EVENT MODERATOR: Dr Jade McGlynn
Dr Jade McGlynn 00:00
Thank you so much for joining us for this rather exciting panel today on Belarus, and the next steps that are needed to resolve the ongoing human rights crisis there. My name is Jade McGlynn. I’m director of research and I head up the Russian and Eurasia Studies Center here at HJS. Before we start, I just have a few brief housekeeping comments. Please make sure you’re all on mute. The discussion will be around 45 minutes, leaving around 15 minutes for questions to the panel at the end. Please make sure to write these questions in the q&a box below. And then we’ll call you to ask your questions to the panel towards the end. As it’s such a special panel, I will not be in my usual role as chair and you have a considerable upgrade in the form of the Right Honourable Dr Liam Fox, the MP for North Somerset since 1992. In John Major’s government, he served as a minister for the Foreign and Commonwealth Office. In David Cameron’s government, he was the Secretary of State for defence. And between 2016 and 2019, he was Secretary of State for international trade, Dr. Fox over to you.
Dr Liam Fox MP 01:04
Well, thank you very much, and welcome, everybody to what is a stellar panel that we have today. And in the order in which they will be speaking, we will have of course, the immense privilege and honour to have Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya with us, leader of democratic Belarus, who stood against Alexander Lukashenko last year in the genuinely stolen election of that year, an election that was followed by a brutal crackdown, culminating in the state terrorism act of hijack of an aircraft. Ms Tsikhanouskaya of course, was expelled following that election in the crackdown that followed and has been able to phenomenally support the people of Belarus from Vilnius. She’s joined by my friend and colleague from the House of Commons, Tom Tugendhat, who’s the MP for Tonbridge and Malling, Chair of the Foreign Affairs Select Committee, as he has been since 2017. We have Edward Lucus, another old friend of mine, non-resident senior fellow at the Center for European Policy Analysis and formerly, where I encountered him regularly, senior editor at The Economist. We have Vladislav Davidzon, journalist, editor artist, what else is there? He’s a nonresident fellow at the Atlantic Council where he writes a regular column on Belarus which keeps us all very well informed. And we have Franak Viacorka Belarusian politician and journalist, president of the Digital Communication Network, nonresident fellow at the Atlantic Council’s Eurasian center, and a very key advisor to the Ms Tsikhanouskaya. So, welcome all of you. It’s an absolute honor to have you all here. And I’m immensely thrilled to be asked to chair this. And I have never been more thrilled than to ask Mrs Tsikhanouskaya to give us her opening comments, please.
Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya 03:04
Thank you so much. Thank you, Dr McGlynn, Mr. Tugendhat, Mr. Fox, their panellists and colleagues and friends. First of all, thank you for inviting me to this panel, and then sharing some thoughts with you on how together we can solve their political and humanitarian crisis in Belarus. And this is the question of today’s discussion. And this is the question that is at the heart of my team’s everyday work. And we need to resolve the crisis. We need to stop this sufferance. And we need to pave the way for future democratic Belarus. And there should be no place for torture and humiliation in Europe. And it has been over a year since the start of the presidential campaign in Belarus. It has been a year since hundreds of thousands of Belarusians volunteered to support independent presidential candidates hoping for change. And hundreds of thousands of Belarusians who believed that and I quote the presidential candidate, Victor Babaryka, “they could build a country based on the fundamental human values, respect for human dignity, that we would have a chance to change the personalized power, that it would not me but us who would decide what to do.” This is what Victor Babaryka told the Minsk court during his final statement, firm in his beliefs and unbroken despite months of humiliation and torture, and the state prosecutor asked the court to sentence him to 15 years in prison. Just listen, 15 years because he dared to challenge their authoritarian rule of our country and mobilised Belarusians to demand change. And this fate is a weight, and also my husband, would be Belarusian presidential candidate, who was detained on fabricated charges and imprisoned and pushed me to run instead. And this sounds like a faraway story that yes concerns hundreds of political prisoners and thousands of people in Belarus, but doesn’t concern us. But this is not true. That this is not true has become clear when Lukashenko forced the aircraft to land in Minsk, plotting his revenge against the opposition voices. And the plane, with European citizens on the board was on its way from Athens to Vilnius and it could have been any of us on board this plane, I took exactly the same route just one week before the incident. And a Belarusian authoritarian ruler is a threat to all of us. We cannot and should not tolerate this attack on democracy, freedom of speech and people’s safety. And Belarusians have clearly demonstrated in selfless campaigns and peaceful protests that, and respect and admiration in the world that the Lukashenko regime has no mandate and legitimacy to govern the country. It’s only source of power, and his only source of power, is violence and torture. And our key demand hasn’t changed since August 2020. The first one is the release of all political prisoners and people who have been politically persecuted. And second, is free and fair presidential elections under international observation. I won’t get tired of repeating that political prisoners shall not become subjects of bargaining games. These are Belarusian citizens who committed no crimes. In free democratic countries, they would have been celebrated for what they did, for their selflessness, solidarity and heroism. And we need to resolve this crisis. And I truly believe that it’s only with the joint efforts of the international community that we can achieve this. And we really proceed the UK’s draw since the beginning of the diversion crisis. You didn’t recognize the fraudulent results of the 2020 presidential elections, you didn’t hide the way and put those who violated and continued to violate human rights on the sanctions list, together with the EU and the UK has doubled its financial support for human rights groups, independent media, and local communities in Belarus. And this support is vital in a country cut off from the world and where the state has declared war on any civic activity. And we welcome the UK government’s effort to establish that international accountability platform for Belarus. And it’s crucial to further develop this platform and ensure its effectiveness. The G7 countries joint statement, urgent to punish those responsible for the Ryanair incident as well as calling to conduct new free and fair elections, has been of crucial importance. The international community stands united in the face of lawlessness and horrific human rights violations. Thank you for providing the support, Mr. Tugendhat, which gives us hope to resolve this ongoing crisis in Belarus. However, more needs to be done. While Mr. Tugendhat will elaborate in more detail on how the UK can help resolve the Human Rights crisis in Belarus, please allow me to share some thoughts on what support can be provided to the people of bureaus with whom I’m in constant exchange. And there are three key ways to increase pressure on the Belarusian authoritarian regime. First one is sanctions. Second, international community’s coordinated position and actions towards resolving the crisis. And third one, financial support for victims of political repression civil society and independent media. So as for sanctions, I have to say that further sanctions on the regime should be imposed not only on civil aviation officials but should also target those who will support the Lukashenko regime. And it’s important to cut off the regime from financial streams, implement sanctions against Belarusian state-owned enterprises, and sanction any products of the petrochemical industry and sanctions need to be extended to individuals who provide support and help sustain the regime. And the UK could send a strong signal to Russia, that any agreement with the illegitimate Lukashenko regime will be reconsidered in future. As for coordinated efforts of the international community, we need to keep the momentum in informing the world about the situation in Belarus and consolidating the international community’s position of Belarus’s friends in the EU, US, and Canada. And we are calling on you to organize an international high level political conference to resolve the crisis in Belarus. And this summit should involve representatives of the Belarusian regime and Russia. And it’s also crucial that the UK brings the Belarusian question to the G20 summit, which will be held in Italy, and we believe that the UK could be a leading voice and help coordinate efforts and joint positions on Belarus. Suspending the mutual legal assistance in criminal matters that allows cooperation with the current Belarusian authorities and access to Interpol would be an indispensable crucial measure to protect the innocent citizens in the UK from extradition and persecution. And we urge you to suspend the MLA and Lukashenko from using Interpol. And finally, their financial support is crucial for girls and human rights defenders and independent media. Providing financial assistance to students and academics expelled from Belarusian universities for political reasons, and allowing them to study in British universities would be a sign of solidarity and investment in the future. I would also like to emphasise how important it is to cover this situation in Belarus. The UK could expand the Belarus coverage by the BBC and make sure that enough resources are provided. And one possible solution would be to create a Belarusian desk with a dedicated staff member. There are precedents in other countries such in Poland, or in Germany that provide extensive coverage of the situation in Belarus. The financial support should also include independent Belarusian media, their only resources able to provide adequate and balanced information on what is happening on the ground. And to reiterate what Babaryka said in the court trial, I do believe that we now have a historic chance to build Belarus that respects human dignity and the rule of law. And we should stay united in defending democracy in Europe, because it’s not only the fate of Belarus that is at stake, but of all of us. And I’m very much looking forward to listening to your views and ideas on how to resolve the political crisis in Belarus. And my words of sincere gratitude to the Henry Jackson Society for organizing this high-level panel. Thank you for your attention.
Dr Liam Fox MP 13:31
Thank you very much that for your authoritative, thought provoking, and detailed presentation, I’m sure that has got a lot of questions in the minds of all those who were listening. It’s not my pleasure to ask my friend and colleague Tom Tugendhat to take notes of the fact that Mrs Tsikhanouskaya stuck exactly to her time. Tom, five minutes at the moment is a long time in the House of Commons because you normally get only about three minutes. So, in your extended five minutes. Let’s, let’s see what you have to say, Tom?
Tom Tugendhat MP 14:06
I have so I was very impressed by the timekeeping. And also, most importantly, I was very impressed by the words. I’ve had the great pleasure to listen to Mrs Tsikhanouskaya speaking in recent weeks and months, and every time I hear you speak, Madam, I hear an extremely courageous and powerful voice in favour of freedom and human rights and human dignity. Not just in Belarus, but actually around Europe. And I think of that today because today, Slovenia took on the presidency of the European Union. And Ursula von der Leyen spoke, I thought very well, today alongside Slovenian and colleagues, stating that she believed in the rule of law. Now, I think we all do, and this is one area where I think the UK has a real role to play in making sure that we stand up for the interest not just to the Belarusian people, but actually of free people around the world. What we’re seeing in Minsk, what we’re seeing in Belarus, is a direct threat to the liberties of everyone. And it is a real cancer in the body politic of our European home. Now, I think there’s a lot that the UK can do. The first is sanctions. Sadly, and we know this to be true. Sadly, a lot of dirty money, money from regimes like Putin’s or Lukashenko’s flows through London, and we need to be better at calling it out. We need to be better at closing down those routes, we need to be better at preventing those people from gaining disadvantage or other advantage from their from their misdeeds. The second is we need to bring people together. We are still, and I know that all of us here in the UK would assert this, we are still committed to the protection and support of our European allies. And here, as we know, countries like Lithuania that are on the borders of Belarus, are absolutely essential and unquestionable partners. They are absolutely essential to our future, and indeed, to the future and stability of Europe. And so, standing with them is also about standing alongside our Belarusian friends as well, because when we support through NATO or through other means, our Lithuanian friends, we’re also standing up for Belarus. And the third area that I would argue is to do with the way in which we react to those countries that are supporting the dictatorship. And here, of course, I mean, Russia. The way that we’re seeing President Putin supporting the dictatorship in Belarus is a direct threat, again, to our own interests. And so being able to stand up for our partners, but also to reject the way in which Vladimir Putin is seeking to undermine European stability using sadly, the Belarusian people simply as a tool in his, in his efforts, is another area where we must be absolutely robust. So, I think there are, I think those are three very clear areas where the British people have an opportunity to change the direction, to make a difference in Minsk. And I’m very glad that I was able to make a small difference by bringing together the chairs of the Foreign Affairs Committee just after that act of piracy, that forced the Ryanair plane to the ground. And that, for all of its terrible crime, served at least one useful purpose, which is it reminded us and reminded many people who seem to have forgotten the absolutely essential role we have and the essential interest we have in the rule of law and the rejection of dictatorship in Europe. So, on that note, I will say I am just a few seconds early and hand back to you, Liam.
Dr Liam Fox MP 18:01
Wonderful, Tom, thank you very much indeed. And it’s been a great example, I think, to other committees, the way that you have led your committee in dealing with these issues. I’m now going to ask Edward Lucas to give us his five minutes. If you didn’t have enough food for thought before this, I guarantee you’re just about to get some more. Edward.
Ed Lucas 18:27
Thanks very much indeed, Liam. And first of all, this is a very important anniversary, it’s the anniversary in 1569, of the union of Lublin, which is often called the Polish Lithuanian Commonwealth, but actually is a Byelorussian project as well, reminded to us that the we have deep historical roots in this part of the world of cooperation between the different peoples of the region. And the second thing I want to say is that we really must all be in awe of the role of Lithuania, Tom touched on it. But just imagine if the rest of Europe had shown the leadership, the drive, the initiative, and the courage that the Lithuanians have shown, a country of 3 million people who have really taken on the responsibility of looking after the people of Belarus languishing under the regime, which we’ve just been hearing about. And I think that every other country should feel a little bit ashamed that they have not been doing as much as the Lithuanians have done. And just in the last few days, we’ve seen the price the Lithuanians are paying with the Belarusian regime weaponizing migrant flows, hiring charter planes to pick up people in Baghdad and other countries with the explicit purpose of bringing them to the Lithuanian border and dumping them there as refugees to try and stoke internal tensions in Lithuania and drive home for Lithuanians that there’s a price for this. And it’s really important both on Belarus also on Taiwan, that we don’t let the Lithuanians bear the brunt of this. We need to be standing shoulder to shoulder with them, thanking them for what they do but also see what we can do to help. One thing that really annoys you about this is that it goes back so long. We’ve known this as a problem since 1995, when the Lukashenko regime shut down a balloon and killed two innocent American balloonists. And year after year, we’ve turned our eyes away from the fact that we have a rogue state in the heart of Europe. We turned our eyes away when they started bumping off their opponents back in 1999 and 2000, people being killed, we turned our eyes away when there were election after election after election being rigged. And now suddenly, it’s a big surprise, and oh, my goodness, what we can do about Belarus. But we should really take on board that this is not a new problem. If it’s new, it’s because you haven’t been paying attention. The third thing, and I’ve was very glad that Tom mentioned this, and I want to underline it, is that Russia is absolutely crucial here. The Lukashenko regime would not survive if it were not for Russia. I’m not saying that they are a Russian proxy. It’s an independent political actor. They have their own ideas, or they work very closely with Russia on some things, but they survive, thanks to the Kremlin. And we’ve just seen just now on the Radio Liberty websites, that Putin has vowed to continue supporting the regime and provide comprehensive assistance to the brotherly Belarusian people, he said that at the form of regions of Russia. I don’t think we can fix this by applying yet more sanctions to the Belarusian regime and to individuals who support it, important though that is. The letters have to be addressed to the Kremlin and I feel that the crisis in Belarus, the suffering of the Belarusians people and the danger to all of us embodies the way in which we have failed, exemplifies the way in which we failed to deal with the regime in Russia. I’m aware that time is short, and I just want to highlight a couple of things that we can do right now. One is to protect Belarusian higher education. The World Bank gave $100 million for Belarusians universities, I have no idea where it’s gone. But it’s so important to protect the students and the staff, the people who are no longer able to study and research and teach in freedom. And one thing we could do right now is start is follow the example of set bill that the proposal set by Timothy Snyder, Alexander Atkins, Slavoj Zizek and others to set up a free Belarusian university in an EU country, neighbouring Belarus. A really big, well researched, well funded University, and at least keep the spirit of cultural freedom and intellectual inquiry, alive and of course do more on the media as well. It’s a scandal we don’t have a proper, Belarusian service at the BBC World Service, there’s so much we can do there. And the regime’s ability to stop that is limited. So, I want to stop by just saying thank you so much to Mrs Tsikhanouskaya and to your colleagues, for fighting for values which sometimes in the West, we have forgotten, and we really look forward to the day where we can greet you as full members of the European family, not only as people which you are already, but in the country, which has been misruled for so long.
Dr Liam Fox MP 23:13
Thank you very much, Edward. I told you there’d be extra items on the menu when it comes to food for thought. I’m going to turn now to Vladislav. And we’ve been hearing a lot about the foreign policy response. Can you tell us a little bit about the situation in Belarus at the moment and what is happening there? Is this situation continuing to deteriorate? And is there any? Is there any real reason for optimism for any of us when we’re looking at this picture?
Vladislav Davidzon 23:46
Well, thank you for for that question. Thank you for having me Jade, thank you to be Henry Jackson society, thankyou to Mrs Tsikhanouskaya. We’re coming up on one year of the revolution, let’s call it a revolution. It’s been 11 months, a year is a long time and the success very much of the revolution and other Belarus people has been to survive for 11 months. Survive the repression, survive the attacks on them, survive 35,000 of them being imprisoned, survive being repressed by the worst secret police in Europe, to survive being beaten. I reported from Minsk during the elections for a month, it was by far one of the more surreal times in my life as a reporter. So, you know, even spending a month there, I cannot possibly imagine what it has been like for the last 11. So, the optimistic note is that they have survived and they’ve kept going, they have not let themselves be crushed and not allowed the movement have been destroyed over the course of 11 months. So, that is something to be extraordinarily thankful for and extraordinarily optimistic about. You know, the winter in Belarus was fairly bad and they kept the movement going, even though they didn’t have the same numbers as they did last year in the summer. So that’s good. That’s ultimate good. Since the piracy incident, since the hijacking, the government has started a new phase of repression. And there have been new phases of attacks on the opposition. Just over the last week, things have gotten more brutal, more difficult, much more unpleasant, with new searches of apartments, arrests of students, arrests of all sorts of people. So, things are not going great in that department, because we are in the middle of an additional phase of repression. They’ve, they’ve also started going after my colleagues, political analysts, Mr Schreidman got out. But two major political analysts did not get out, who’ve been arrested in the last couple of days. So, they are showing their muscle, and they’re showing deterrence and they’re showing their teeth towards the Europeans during the trial of the opposition leader and by going after analysts who were to this moment, tolerated. I wasn’t even sure why they were tolerating for this long. but they stopped doing something the last couple of weeks. So you have good news in the sense that the Belarusian people are still out in the streets, they’re still doing their thing, they’re still fighting, they’re still going to protest, they’re still getting up in the morning and going to school and putting up the white red flag. They’re still organizing civil society. But on the other hand, you have a moment of increased repression of ratcheting up repression. And this is going to go on for the next couple of weeks until something else happens. So unfortunately, I’m the person on the panel tasked with predicting the future, which is always not a not a great situation to be in as an analyst. In the way things have been going now, not counting any radical movement or exogenous shock, not counting act of God or Russian tanks or Tiananmen square assassination type situation, with the way things are going, and the war of attrition between the political opposition and between the security services. In the long run, or even the medium run, the people of Belarus will win. If nothing else, changes in the calculus, as it stands now, he will run out of money, he will run out of support from his elites, he will run out of resources to bribe the security guys, he will run out of goodwill, there’s no going back, there’s no controlling a population, 75% of whom really hate you and are not any more afraid. They will win in the medium term unless something different changes, unless the calculus becomes completely different. So, I am cautiously optimistic.
Dr Liam Fox MP 28:15
So, a nice note to end on. And before I turn to Franak, can I say goodbye to Tom Tugendhat who has to leave us at this point, I’m afraid. And thank you very much for taking the time. And as I do turn to Mr Viacorka, it’s very difficult for those of us who are political representatives in countries like the United Kingdom, to understand what it must be like to try to operate in an environment politically like the one that exists in Belarus. So, what are the what are the next steps that can be taken there? And how is it that we might see a path forward in terms of the political representation of the people there?
Franak Viacorka 29:02
Thank you so much. Thank you for organizing this, this event. And it’s very nice to see so many familiar faces among attendees. Really, the most, the secret sauce is that we have many friends and Lukashenko doesn’t have any. He has zero friends, not only abroad, but also in Belarus, and he is losing friends day by day. He doesn’t trust anyone, he’s living in a bunker. He’s surrounded by four or five personalities, very controversial ones. And he has to rotate ministers almost every two/three months in order to keep situation under control, or at least to pretend that the situation is under control. And his power was seriously damaged last fall. He made some patchwork, but it didn’t help, and it did not heal, entirely. We still see that many enterprises and factories, even without strikes, they are paralyzed. The manufacturer of Belaz, huge big cars, they didn’t sell any cars since the crisis started. People in the regions they are upset. Many local officials and administrators, they don’t really want to support Lukashenko’s regime, but they are still not feeling that the situation changed so they can detect so they can change the sides. The sanctions which were imposed by EU, and supported also by the US, Canada and UK, they are creating the new momentum, they are creating the new dynamic within the society. This very long period of terror can change with a new wave of protests. Even the next day, when sanctions were adopted, we saw a number of small local rallies in neighbourhoods not only in Minsk and regions. This is how people reacted to this strong joint sanction effort by their Western democracies. We believe that these sanctions, they will help as well to split the elites. Many people surrounding Lukashenko, they are receiving the resources and they’re taken advantage of being part of this corrupted, power vertical. And, and right now when sanctions are imposed, their interests are impacted directly. So, this can also help us to get more supporters not only from ordinary Belarusians, but also on the side of those who were part of the regime. We see also the new momentum and the new dynamic within the workers movement. Last fall workers were trying to organize strikes, but they were heavily beaten, many detained, many arrested. Right now when sanctions are imposed, they want to announce strikes, in addition to sanctions, basically to multiply the effect of sanctions, especially on Belaruskalie, the potash manufacturer, which despite sanctions continues to operate and sell its products to Norway, via Lithuania. We also see the effect of bipole work. This is the organization created by former silver key investigators, policemen. They launched something like underground resistance. It’s a peaceful nonviolent movement, which is aimed to organize protests. Not only in Minsk but in each village, each town each city and they’re waiting for the right moment to launch this process, this campaign. We are building the infrastructure of media. I will say not building, we are reviving because the media were totally destroyed this winter and spring. So right now, we have to revive it. And we also got back to Samizdat time, we found out that Samizdat sometimes has bigger effect than social media information. Because I don’t know why but especially for older generation of Belarusians, something which is written in printed press is much more powerful than something they read on Telegram or Facebook. And the combination of different tools media tools, this infrastructure we are building right now, workers movement, which is reviving and building its structures on the ground, we will be able to start the launch of the new wave of protest and resistance, but in order to be efficient this time and to succeed this time we need constant support, moral, symbolic, but also very practical from abroad from our allies. Because Belarusians right now are watching closely each neighbor, each country, who takes which position in regard to the Belarus crisis, and many Belarusians found out that they have so many friends. And again, thanks to the United Kingdom, to all the efforts that British parliamentarians and governments have taken towards Belarus to help Belarusians. I think that Belarusians one day, when they will live in free democratic country, they will pay back. And we will build by good, transparent, mutually beneficial relations.
Dr Liam Fox MP 35:13
Thank you very much indeed for that. It’s very hard to explain quite how impotent we feel, sometimes when looking at the position in which you find yourself and how much we admire those who have sacrificed and led so much in, in recent times, given the appalling political position in which you find yourself. So, I’m going to take advantage of my position as chairman to ask the first question. Any members of the panel who wish to answer if they can press their hands up button, otherwise, I will randomly come and pick on you. I would, first of all like to ask how much is the European response undermined by the considerable business links that exists between a number of European countries and both Belarus and Russia? And given that Russian support, how much is the position undermined by the stubborn German support for Nord Stream Two, and the increased reliance that will place Germany in in relation to Russian hydrocarbon? Any takers? Edward?
Ed Lucas 36:35
Well, that’s what it boils down to in the end is that big European countries prize their economic relations with Russia, over the freedom of the countries in Russia’s shadow, and the Georgians have paid a price that, the Ukrainians can play a very bloody price for it, and the Belarussians are paying price for it. And we have not been able to dissuade, particularly the Germans but also to an extent the French and others, from looking at the world this way. And I’m very disappointed with the Biden administration, which seems to have after initially very promising start, seems to have deprioritized European security in general and wants to rebuild ties with Germany, and has dropped its opposition to the Nord Stream Two to pipeline. So, this is all this all very depressing. And I mean, I was encouraged to hear what Franak said. My feeling is that, still that we don’t have a strategy, and the other side do and again, Lukashenko and Putin surprise us with ideas that they have that work in a bad way. And we are not very good at surprising them with ideas that work in a good way. And the sky jacking was just one thing and that was a spectacular stump by Lukashenko, probably not playing with Putin. I’m particularly worried now about the upcoming Zapad military exercise. This is the quadrennial Russian Belarusian military exercise, which is already underway and culminates in in September, and allows Russia to move very large, many tens of thousands potentially, forces into Belarus. And then what? Do they stay? Does Russia get the military bases it wants? Could they be used for repressive means, perhaps to bolster the stiffen the spine of the Belarusian military. And they also, if they stay, create a very serious problem for Ukraine, which doesn’t have any forces defending its northern frontier with Belarus, and if there were Russian forces there, it would have to. So, I still feel we lack a strategy. And we’re being exposed again and again, in our weakness, in our division.
Dr Liam Fox MP 38:35
Thank you very much. Would anyone else like to come in on that question? Vladislav did you have something to add to that?
Vladislav Davidzon 38:43
Oh, yeah. Well, I agree fully with my friend, Ed. And also, I would like to have said something about the Ukrainian situation also, but he of course, beat me to it. There is a difference between Minsk and Moscow in that there are many things that the Russians have that European companies and particularly European political forces in Europe want. But there’s not all that much that the Belarus Republic has as leverage over us. And so, their leverage is Russia. I mean, they are in assemblance, a kind of part of a security architecture with the Russians and they are a kind of intermediary structure with the Russians so we have to deal with in essence, we have to deal with Moscow there’s less that they can take away from us in Minsk, there’s less that Lukashenko can do to us than Putin. But I also wanted to underline what Ed said, with the Ukrainian relationship. Ukraine and Belarus was very, very, very important, quietly important relationship between Minsk and Kiev, there was intelligence gathering operability, there was a quiet but rock hard security guarantee, which framed the entire Ukrainian military posture with the Russians, and if they do allow. If Minsk does allow 10,000 Russians on the border in northern Ukraine, this would have to repurpose the entire military posture not just on the Ukrainians, but also the Lithuanians and the Poles.
Dr Liam Fox MP 40:33
Thank you very much. I lost from my screen Mrs Tsikhanouskaya at the moment, I’m not sure if she’s still with us. But I’ll just move on to the next question. Which is that does any of the panel believe, with what has been happening in Belarus, that there will be a case on crimes against humanity and aggression for the International Criminal Court?
Franak Viacorka 41:01
I can start for you. It’s very difficult, because Belarus is not number of many international organizational statutes, and it’s another member of the Council of Europe. So, we are pretty limited in all these instruments that other countries have. We, first of all, we explored the universal jurisdiction, and several cases were initiated in Lithuania. Unfortunately, Poland and Czech Republic did not initiate cases on universal jurisdiction. In Germany, several lawyers submitted the complaint against Lukashenko, on crimes against humanity. And it’s the matter of the decision of general federal prosecutor of Germany to initiate such case. Also, there is a problem of jurisdiction. But if the lawyer can prove that interest of the country was damaged somehow or touched or impacted, then it can be initiated and can be part of the of the of the trial. Of course, it doesn’t mean that the German police will come after Lukashenko and he will be arrested, there is the bigger problem how to deprive Lukashenko of the immunity, of the head of state immunity, because despite the fact that he’s not recognized as the winner of elections, he still possess this immunity, which prevents many international investigations actually started on him. We talked to lawyers in Hague on the possibility to launch pre-examination by ICC, and the new prosecutor of ICC actually can be much more active in this direction. And we also ask you to help in in advocating such case, for examination can help in gathering the evidence that documentation, and after Belarus signs the Rome Statute, the real investigation, the real process, and the tribunal might start. We also in touch with, with Norway, Ireland and Estonia and the permanent UN Security Council members on the possibility to put Belarus on the agenda. But as you as you all know, it will be more likely blocked by some UN Security Council members, but still at least discussion might be very important. UN Security Council may initiate tribunals even if the country is not the member of the Rome Statute. Anyway, this is very important, you know, to think about collection of evidence of human rights crimes right now, because when changes will begin, and they will begin, soon. I am much more optimistic than Vladislav, perhaps, he’s slightly optimistic, I’m very optimistic. We will not have time because when events will start .when changes will start they will be very quick, very quick. And we will be too busy with this, and we will not be able to collect all the evidence and all the proofs, and all the documentations will be burned, as it happened after the Soviet Union collapsed and after many other regimes collapsed. So, we have to do it right now. And in order to do it properly, we need international organizations lawyer’s institutions to help us with this. [Inaudible] initiative to name experts group, which we which will be working specifically on Belarus, under the High Commissioner on Human Rights Office in the United Nations, is also very important step forward, but still, it’s not enough.
Dr Liam Fox MP 44:39
Thank you. Anyone else want to move on that question? Otherwise, I’ll move on to the next one. Edward mentioned in his contribution earlier that we’ve known for a very long time that we have a rogue state in Belarus and nothing much was done. Noel Hadjimichael has a question that says should NATO and EU countries take unilateral and collective actions to benefit the people of neighbouring Ukraine as a sign that they are dividends to be achieved by the people of Belarus if they overcome and reject the Minsk regimes dangerous actions? And this is, I think, a more general question about how do we see it in terms of the regional politics? And is there a role for NATO in the response to this wider question, Edward?
Ed Lucas 45:31
Yes, I mean, Ukraine is the best way we can support freedom and democracy in Europe and in Russia, and Putin’s nightmare is a successful Ukraine, prosperous, stable rule of law, democratic, able to defend itself. And his big hope is a failed state because a failed state allows him to say democracy doesn’t work and Western orientation is just a pathway to disaster. And we have it in our power to do things we don’t. We could have offered Ukraine a much better deal when it came to military support. I’m astonished that they’re not being given Javelin anti-tank missiles by the Americans. But we’ve had six years now, of the Ukrainians fighting and dying for ideas that we ought to believe in, they really do believe in. And I know Ukraine’s really difficult, Vladislav knows this much better than me, there’s all sorts of things that are wrong there, corruption, incompetence. It also all sorts of problems. But we need to engage and see this through a big a bigger lens. And I think the other thing I’d say is, it’s very important not to see the struggling Belarus as part of trying to fit it into some neat east west narrative, Belarus is actually quite Eurosceptic. It is not people waving EU flags in the street. They just don’t like being lied to. They don’t like being beaten, they don’t like being robbed. Belarus will find its own destiny. And it’s incumbent on us as Westerners not to try and stitch everything into the narrative. But the fact is, Putin is the problem here. And the best way we can put Putin back in his box is helping the countries that he bullies defend themselves and make a success in whatever way they want to make it make a success of themselves.
Dr Liam Fox MP 47:16
If I can just go back to my earlier question, Edward, on that, in how much is Ukraine undermined by projects like Nord Stream two? And what signal does that send to other countries given, as you say, that Putin is key to all of this?
Ed Lucas 47:31
I mean, I’m actually a sceptic about the virtue of gas transit through Ukraine because it provides a huge pot of money, which has been stolen mostly over the last 20 years, it hasn’t really benefited Ukraine and it encourages all sorts of dodgy behavior in among regulators in the gas business. And in a way, I think it would be better if Ukraine rent collection or rent seeking are a plague. And perhaps if the source of rents is gone, this will, in the long run, might have a beneficial effect. But the fact is, it is a geopolitical thing. And on what Germany is doing is saying we prioritize the close ties with Russia and the immediate security of our gas supply over anything else. And what’s so paradoxical at the moment is that the Germans are now saying, oh, it’s very important that Ukraine doesn’t suffer as a result of Nord Stream Two when we’ve been saying for years, Ukraine will suffer. This is a geopolitical project, not a business one and the Germans are trying to say it’s both a business one, but we’re going to mitigate the geopolitical effect. And again, this is something that the European Commission is really good on this, but we could support it. The European Commission has dealt a huge blow to Russia’s corrupt exploitative gas business all over eastern Europe. But it could have done more, and we can do more, and we need to tell the Germans: you can’t run Germany as a business. It’s irresponsible. You’re exploiting instability all over Europe by doing this, and that’s a tough message. But it needs to be delivered.
Dr Liam Fox MP 48:59
Thank you. Franak or Vladislav, do you want to come in on that on those wider pictures? Is there a role for NATO as well as the diplomatic pressure being applied? And if so, what is it and what should the approach of the of the Western political and military alliance be?
Vladislav Davidzon 49:22
I would be very, very cautious here. Because from the very beginning, the Belarus crisis, the protest revolution was not geopolitical. And as you know, Lukashenko’s propaganda and also Russian propaganda are using a NATO as the as the stereotypical enemy, which is always trying to interfere, to impose its will, etc. So, I want to be very careful. I know that NATO Parliamentary Assembly, who was trying to present report, Michal Szczerba from Poland made a very good report on Belarus and what the Parliamentary Assembly of NATO can do regarding strategic communication. I think it’s to the stratcom office and cyber excellence, or how it’s called in Estonia. You know, they can be also involved somehow in work, but it shouldn’t be. It should be very well shaped. And it shouldn’t allow Lukashenko’s propaganda to use it against our cause. We are trying right now to mobilize international community, international forces. But we also want to make sure that Belarusians and that the general focus on this new free and fair elections will not be lost. I think it’s very clear to explain to Belarussians the role of Ukraine, Poland, Lithuania, why they do this, the importance of EU and US engagement, and UK and Canadian in order to protect human rights. But it’s much more difficult to explain the involvement of alliances which is usually perceived this by Belarusians, unfortunately, because of propaganda as only military alliances.
Dr Liam Fox MP 51:18
Indirectly, do you think that a weak response by NATO and by the EU, the United States, in Ukraine makes it more difficult to exert pressure on the regime in Belarus?
Franak Viacorka 51:45
Honestly, I don’t know. I can speculate here. But I don’t think that I’m in the role, you know, in order to discuss a quite tricky question. Definitely, the regime, not talking about Ukraine, but about Belarus. The regime was watching very closely, the reaction of the European Union, NATO, United States, UK, while in the EU, and after the EU, and they understood that they can do whatever they want, they realised that the Ukraine situation was very harmful, very dangerous, and there was no clear strong response from the West. And this also led to the feeling of impunity, we could see for many years, and especially the last 12 months happening in Belarus. Lukashenko hijacked this airplane, being absolutely sure that no one will react. I am sure that, i don’t think, you know, it was a part of the plan to isolate the country or it was staged together with Russia, I think he just, he was sure that he will just do what he wants, and no one will really respond. And, of course, it was absolutely unexpected to him that the reaction was so joint and strong. Belarus can be the case where the Western democracies can unite their efforts, and create the model for the future and the precedent for the future, how to respond together jointly to important challenges to security, regional security, and the values like in Belarus and before like it happened in Ukraine 2013-14.
Dr Liam Fox MP 53:32
Thank you. Vladislav did you want to come in on that?
Vladislav Davidzon 53:37
Very briefly, two things, I have two thoughts on this. First of all, as an American citizen, I am very sceptical. I’m very sceptical of over promising and what happens when you over promise, because when you over promise, you both have the issue of, of the lack of commitment, and you also have the negatives that you have to deal with and live with, off the backlash to those promises. So, you don’t want to give a propaganda victory and a pretext for using force to either Moscow or Minsk. And I’m just sceptical of the usage of other on, you know, on cybersecurity type stuff, maybe we can be useful quietly. But uh, you know, I’ve been involved in conversations with an American state department with sending assistance, actually, in many ways we should, we should be discreet, and we can probably not over do things. With Ukraine until recently, until well after the war, until maybe around 2016, there was no majority amongst Ukrainian citizens for entry into NATO, which is why they missed their opportunity for a NATO action plan. They could have gotten it easily in 2007, 2008, 2009. They missed their opportunity, and they paid the price for the will of the population for many years. I mean, it’s neither bad nor good, but that’s what the population wanted. But that was the democratic will, there was no mandate. That’s why they never got on a map. That’s why they had a war and chunk of our territory stolen. So now when I think of it, those are two contradictory opinions, but we’ll leave it at that.
Dr Liam Fox MP 55:19
We’ve had a number of questions about sanctions are targeting probably best summed up by Dennis Kaufman, who says that, when the west and the EU impose sanctions on Belarus, how can they make sure that they’re targeting the regime and not making the democratic movement and ordinary people collateral damage, and allowing the regime to retrench instead? He also asked about the British government dealing with regimes money, which I know Tom would have discussed if he’d been here, but on a general question about targeting of sanctions and making sure we get the right people. Is it working? Are we making mistakes? And if so, how do we avoid them in future?
Franak Viacorka 56:02
I can start perhaps, Edward can continue. So, this is the oldest question and this is always the argument for those who tried to explain the sanctions don’t work where they should not be imposed, and Lukashenko made all possible not to, to create this narrative, and to cede some uncertainty within European ministers, as [inaudible] just spoke to 27 ministers of Foreign Affairs, they before they adopted the sanction pension, still, they had some hesitation. So, in Belarus, good thing, it’s pretty clear what assets, what companies, what enterprises belong to Lukashenko, his cronies, his people, and what are and what are not. It’s very clear who the oligarchs are, what they own, how they operate. So, there is, if we speak about oil sector, or petrochemical sector, let’s say, you know, it’s pretty clear how it works. And all the benefits of the sector, and all the income goes directly through the people connected to the administration of President. And of course, it will, it can damage people who are employees of these enterprises. Of course, it can harm the economy of the regime. But in the last turn, first of all, it will damage the interests of the specific people and specific companies connected to Lukashenko, who were taking advantage of buying cheap Russian oil and then resell in expensive oil, petrochemical products. We have the consensus in Belarus society, we have conducted several surveys and analysis. People understand why sanctions are needed, but they want sanctions to be short. And I think this is our goal right now. We want sanctions, efficient sanctions, which will be efficient enough, in order to be short, and strong and short.
Dr Liam Fox MP 58:01
Thank you very much, Edward, you’ve got about 30 seconds if you want to add to that.
Ed Lucas 58:08
Sanctions aren’t a magic bullet. And they’re easier to put on than they are to take off. And I think they can only be part of a much broader thing. We’re not going to win this by having the right cocktail of sanctions against the regime in Minsk. We’re going to win this by changing the way that Europe behaves as a geopolitical actor, both as the EU and with Britain and putting pressure on Putin.
Dr Liam Fox MP 58:32
Superb comment to finish on. Can I thank the Henry Jackson Society for allowing me the privilege and the honor of chairing this? It’s been lovely. A Pity we couldn’t meet up in person, but it’s been a real joy to be part of, of such a terrific discussion. And with that, I’ll hand back to you Jade to say goodbye to everybody.
Dr Jade McGlynn 58:54
Thank you so much. I thank you for being such a wonderful, excellent chair Dr Fox, and thank you so much, Edward, Franak, Vadislav and Franak, of course, pass on my thanks to Mrs Tsikhanouskaya for such wonderful comments and such thought provoking answers. And I think we’ve managed to cover quite a lot of ground but and thank you, of course, for our audience for the wonderful questions and I do hope we get to do this event or a similar event again, sometime soon. Thank you and goodbye. Thank you. Bye.