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Did Pavel Latushka's arrival in Kyiv open the door for Tsikhanovskaya?

Pavel Latushka about meetings in Kiev

On June 01, 2023, Pavel Latushka found himself in a bomb shelter in Kyiv, where he stayed for several days. The NAM team accompanied him during this time, and the politician stated that he presented himself as a representative of the United Transitional Cabinet during his conversations.

Did Latushko's visit pave the way for Svetlana Tsikhanovskaya to gain access to Kyiv? What discussions took place between Latushka and Mikhail Podalak, and did Podalak alter his stance towards the Belarusian people? Furthermore, could these interactions have provoked such anger from Lukashenko that Ukraine would face an extended front of hundreds of kilometers?

During that night, Latushka remained in the bomb shelter. We managed to catch up with him after he had already left Kyiv and posed these questions to him.

"Official Kyiv does not engage with the Lukashenko regime."

Latushka at the memorial in Kiev
Latushka at the memorial in Kiev. Photo: NAM-media

—Mr. Pavel, was this an official visit, or was it merely informal discussions?

—I prefer not to play with words because, as a diplomat, I understand the distinction between an official visit, a working visit, and the overall meaning of the term 'visit.' We should focus on terms like 'meeting' and 'negotiations'—and the specific subjects discussed. The NAM team was with me, but I made it clear that I also represented the Joint Transitional Cabinet. Names are merely conventions; they are not the priority at this moment. The priority lies in the substance. And the essence is this: 'We are here to offer assistance, not to make demands.'

—Not long ago, representatives of the Belarusian democratic forces met with the Ukrainian expert community in Warsaw. During that meeting, they expressed the same sentiment: if there is a desire for contacts with Ukraine, let us collaborate on a joint project. Shortly after that, you provided the Ukrainian side with evidence regarding the export of Ukrainian children to Belarus. Is this in response to their request?

Press conference at Ukrinform
Press conference at Ukrinform. Photo: The NAM-media

— No, these are unrelated matters. We initiated our report on the involvement of Lukashenko and the Union State in the movement and re-education of Ukrainian children a while ago. We discovered the facts and transmitted them through diplomatic channels to the Ukrainian embassy at the end of April.

Subsequently, we shared this information with the Prosecutor General's Office of Ukraine, and they confirmed that a preliminary investigation had been initiated. We also engaged with Ukrainian deputies of the Verkhovna Rada who are members of the inter-faction group "For Democratic Belarus." As a result, the Verkhovna Rada amended its decision, which previously only implicated Russia in these crimes, to include the Lukashenko regime.

We had additional unofficial meetings, but we didn't consider it important to discuss them publicly. Our focus was on doing the work. Eventually, we received an invitation from Bogdan Yaremenko, a member of the ruling party "Servant of the People," to have a working meeting in Kyiv.

As a result, we held meetings with the Prosecutor General's Office, the Commissioner for Human Rights, the Office of the President, and the Ministry of Culture and Information of Ukraine. We also met with representatives of analytical centers involved in Belarus policy development.

There were other meetings as well, but we intentionally refrain from disclosing them. Our priority is to take action rather than simply showcasing meetings. We will share the results of our work once we have achieved them.

You also met with Mykhailo Podolyak, advisor to the head of the Office of the President of Ukraine. However, he has made specific remarks about Belarus and the Belarusian people. How did your meeting with him go?

Press conference at Ukrinform
Press conference at Ukrinform. Screenshot from video

— It was a meeting between two motivated individuals. He expressed confidence in Ukraine's victory and anticipated changes in Belarus, and I share that sentiment.

As a Belarusian and a politician, what conclusions can I draw from this conversation? First, Lukashenko's train has departed, and it will not stop at the Ukrainian station. This station is closed to his regime.

Another conclusion is that official Kyiv does not engage with Lukashenko's regime.

Furthermore, I am not the only Belarusian politician who has visited Kyiv. Kyiv is willing to meet with representatives of the Democratic Forces of Belarus. I am referring to the collective democratic movement, not just individuals.

There is an understanding of the need for a strategy, and we have discussed it. We have also presented our previous document on the role of the Union State as a criminal organization to Kyiv.

It is crucial to highlight that we depicted the Union State's role as the organizer of aggression. Previously, our counterparts did not view the situation from this perspective or recognize that Lukashenko was shielding the Union State. They did not see that the Russian Federation was using the Union State as a means to incorporate Belarus into Russia.

"When will you meet with Tsikhanovskaya?"

— When Belarusian politicians meet with the Ukrainian side, they always hear the same question: why don't you meet with Svetlana Tsikhanovskaya? Have you asked yourself that question?

— Yes, I did ask that question. Let me put it this way: maybe a little later. Let's wait. There's no need to get ahead of ourselves. That's good, but we need to prepare for it, let's put it in perspective. I haven't heard a critical view on this subject. I'm not going to create a fog. But I think that everything should develop calmly. It is important to understand: Ukraine can give up some formal elements of communication, but it needs concrete deeds.

— What about the conspiracy theory that "Ukraine does not talk to the Belarusian democrats in order not to make Lukashenko angry"?

— This is a question of strategy. It was discussed with analysts from Ukraine's main analytical centers. Is this approach dominating? Does it solve Ukraine's problems? Or is it an illusion? Maybe the problem is that we have not communicated our point of view in a way that the Ukrainian side can better understand what is happening in Belarus?

— Will this visit infuriate Lukashenko?

— I do not rule it out. But we are trying to catch him. You heard that he offered to exchange me for Andrzej Poczobut. Of course, that would also anger him. But he's the criminal, not us. He commits a crime - we help Ukraine. He dreams of someone talking to a criminal.

— A direct question: would that create an extra hundreds of kilometers of frontline?

— I don't think so. This issue has been discussed, but we said from the beginning: Lukashenko is very afraid to go into Ukraine because it could be a trigger for changes inside the country if some of the military refuses to obey orders. He won't go for it. But if Russia needs it, they will bring in troops. Lukashenko has no influence over that. He can only show his anger.

* * *

— Mr. Latushka, have you often had to go down into a bomb shelter?

Latushka in a bomb shelter in Kiev
Latushka in a bomb shelter in Kiev

—When you are in a bomb shelter, you become even more aware of the terrible things happening in Ukraine. During the first shelling, we didn't go down due to fatigue, although we saw rockets being shot down in the sky near our hotel. The next time, everyone advised us to do so because we were expecting heavy shelling. Unfortunately, there are casualties today, and this is the reality in which Ukraine lives. Sitting in the basement, you understand that.

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