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Hosting Russian nukes “destroys our sovereignty”

Российское ядерное оружие в Беларуси

Pavel Latushka for Notes from Poland, the VoiCEE podcast JUN 1, 2023

1. Can you tell us what has been happening in Belarus these past few weeks?

This is what has been happening since 2020 – mass repression and torture, violation of human rights.

Thus, only last week several university teachers were detained; 8 people in Lida were detained and forced to burn the national white-red-white flag; a doctor of science from Mahiliou, who analyzed the causes of the 2020 protests, was sentenced to 2 years; Eduard Babaryko, son of Viktar Babaryko, ex-presidential candidate, faces 20 years in jail; the head of a private school was given 3 years of restricted freedom. Ex-presidential candidate Viktar Babaryko was beaten by the guards of the colony and taken to the hospital, it is unknown whether he is alive now. We have torture in our country today. Lukashenko gave an order to toughen the attitude towards political prisoners. People make suicide attempts not to die, but to stop torture. Political prisoner Palina Sharenda-Panasiuk renounces her citizenship in protest against torture.

There are officially more than 1,500 political prisoners in the country. In reality there are many more. We have not known anything for months about many political prisoners – Statkevich, Kalesnikava, are they even alive?

The migration crisis continues, every day about 100 migrants try to cross the border illegally. And complicity in the war – Lukashenko confirmed the placement of nuclear weapons on the territory of Belarus. Does anyone in the West see this?

2. Let’s talk a little about the recent deal with Moscow to deploy nuclear weapons. How serious is it?

I have no doubt that these are serious statements. Let’s just look at it in retrospect: Lukashenko amended the constitution in February 2022, where Belarus lost its nuclear-free status. That means that the option of placing nuclear weapons on the territory of Belarus was being considered at the time the constitutional amendments were made. In January 2022, the military doctrine of the so-called Union State was adopted, which also focused on nuclear weapons as a security guarantee for this union. Lukashenko himself had always dreamed of nuclear weapons and was very sorry that Belarus gave it away. He sees nuclear weapons for himself as a guarantee of his power. By the way, it’s the natural way of any dictator – dictators want to possess nuclear weapons because only nuclear weapons guarantee the most important thing for them – eternal power.

But in this situation Lukashenko, unless of course there are any secret protocols in the treaty, finds himself in a very bad situation. He is no longer needed.

3. Who would ultimately control the launch capability? Could Belarus object or stop their use?

If not, what does it mean for Belarus’ sovereignty?

We do not have exact information, but according to Shoigu, the Kremlin will control these weapons, and therefore the Russian forces will most likely ensure the functioning and protection of the weapons. Accordingly, Lukashenko will not be able to use them on his own, much less to stop the use of nuclear weapons. Of course, he dreams to independently dispose of nuclear weapons and threaten the whole world, but at the moment these nuclear weapons are the last point in the way to destroy the sovereignty of Belarus. And this point was set by Lukashenko, who in order to keep his power and to leave for himself a phantom possibility of getting into the chair of the Kremlin, sold off the sovereignty of Belarus piece by piece. This imperial man has never been a guarantor of sovereignty, but a trader in favor of his political ambitions.

4. Can you tell us what the report by National Anti-Crisis Management is about?

Main points: how many children were taken away, how old they were?

National Anti-Crisis Management prepared a report titled “The Role of the Lukashenko Regime and the Union State of Belarus and Russia in the Illegal Transfer and Re-Education of Ukrainian Children”.

This report provides evidence and legal grounds justifying reasonable grounds to believe that Lukashenko commits war crimes against Ukrainian civilians, specifically children, orphans.

Today we may claim that starting September 2022 and until May 2023 at least 2150 children have been brought to Belarus, dozens of them are orphans and social orphans from Russian-occupied territories of Ukraine aged 6 to 15 years.

How was the report created?

The report was created by the National Anti-Crisis Management Team. During analyses of regime propaganda media, we found some news on the arrival of children from the occupied territories of Ukraine for rehabilitation to Belarus. In this news, it was openly spoken about orphans. In view of the arrest warrant against Putin, this information has attracted our attention.

Our Law Unit said that if this information is true, it may amount to war crimes. So, we started to research. In the first stage, our research group collected indisputable evidence of transferring of Ukrainian orphans from occupied territories through Russia to Belarus. We received information from open sources and from specific individuals and organizations, including those from Belarus.

In the second stage, our Unit of Law prepared a legal analysis of this evidence and came to the conclusion that there are reasonable grounds to believe that Lukashenko and a number of other top officials of Belarus and Russia are committing war crimes against Ukrainian children, orphans, by transferring them to Belarus from occupied territories of Ukraine.

Our team has prepared a public version of the report and is currently finalizing a сclassified version containing sensitive information that will be shared with the Ukrainian side and the Office of the Prosecutor of the International Criminal Court.

5. Do we know the personal stories of any of these children?

We have the personal details of these children. We know their names, surnames, ages, places of living etc.

However, it is our belief that such private information concerning children cannot be the subject of public discussion. It will be more correct if the relevant information is subsequently provided to the public by those to whom we pass this information (Ukrainian authorities, ICC).

How the children were vetted to be taken out of Ukraine? What did their transport look like? What happened to them once they reached Belarus?

Primarily these children were visited by the representative of a so-called Charity Foundation named after Alexei Talay, which reached an agreement with the local administrations of the orphanages on the conditions of transferring children to Belarus.

Usually, the transfer is organized by buses from occupied territories to Rostov (South of Russia). Then these children are moved by train to Minsk. From Minsk, children are taken by bus to four camps: Dubrava (near Salihorsk, belonging to Belaruskali), Golden Sands (near Homel), Astrashytski Haradok (near Minsk), Zubryonak (near Myadel).

In these camps, children are subjected to enhanced ideological re-education. Re-education is carried out by representatives of children's paramilitary organizations, the Russian Orthodox Church, as well as well-known propagandists of the Lukashenka regime.

The main ideological narratives of the re-education programs are "denazification, demilitarization of Ukraine", "denial of the existence of the Ukrainian state and Ukrainian nation". Particularly, I would like to quote one of the propagandists who said to these children the following: “I wish that we live in peace, that Biden dies, Zelensky too, and Putin prospers and takes control of all Ukraine”.

6. What will the most immediate future look like for these children?

Unfortunately, we cannot predict the future of these children. It is necessary to achieve their return to Ukraine. The prosecution of those responsible for crimes against these children is part of this work. Obviously, after such "rehabilitation" in the Belarusian camps, these children will need serious help and attention from real psychologists and doctors.

7. What should the EU do in the face of these findings?

The European Union must keep sanctions against Belaruskali.

What would lifting of the sanctions mean for the Belarusian government?

The EU should maintain sanctions against Belarusian fertilizer producers, because lifting them would generate 1.5 billion dollars for the Lukashenko regime. According to Lithuanian Foreign Minister Gabrielius Landsbergis, the cost of the proposed package of new restrictions is estimated at 200 million euros, and the lifting sanctions will bring Lukashenko’s regime much more - 8 billion euros.

Are there calls to lift the sanctions? If so, what are the arguments for it? Do you think they are justified?

Yes, there are calls to lift the sanctions. The key argument of lobbyists is that the exit from the market of Belaruskali and other companies that extract and process potash from Belarus allegedly harms the global food market. However, the facts show otherwise.

According to the UN, the average value of the world food price index has been falling, fertilizer prices are also falling. All fertilizers are now double digits lower compared to one year ago. Potash is 26% less expensive compared to a year prior.

Although the Russian potash, which competes with the Belarusian one, is not under sanctions, its sale in the EU is limited by quotas. This does not allow Russia to either increase the output of its own products or help the Lukashenko regime to bypass sanctions by re-export the Belarusian potash.

In addition, there is no shortage of potash fertilizers in the EU and other countries that joined the sanctions. In general, the EU’s dependence on Belarusian potassium is minimal: the EU used to depend on Belarusian potash for at most 5% of the consumption.

The countries with low food security (African region) do not also face the lack of potash. At the moment, Belarus has no statistics on the export of fertilizers, so it's hard to say how things stand with the supply of Belarusian potash to Africa. But in 2020, Belarus earned only $123 million (5% Belarusian export) from the supply of potash fertilizers to the African countries.

Minsk’s main clients were historically not food-insecure countries. Topping the charts in 2021, with over 35% of the share between them, were agricultural powerhouses Brazil and China, whose farm industries are geared toward breeding livestock and growing animal feed.

Also, Canada is expanding its own mines and will churn out 4 to 6 million tons more potash each year by 2027. Nutrien, K+S and Mosaic — the companies that produce potash in Canada — have stepped up and increased production of potash. Canada-based miner Millennial Potash has recently acquired the Banio Potash Project in Gabon. With its large resource and control of a strategic location, Millennial Potash's acquisition of the Banio Potash Project could help provide a reliable source of potash for countries around the world, especially in the Southern Hemisphere.

What can the EU countries neighbouring Belarus, Poland, Lithuania and Latvia, can do?

They can block the border, that is, close the Belarus-EU freight traffic, including for transit cargo.

In February Poland offered to launch a joint initiative with the European Commission to trace Ukrainian children who have been abducted and taken to Russia during the ongoing war in Ukraine. Have you been in touch with the Polish authorities regarding cases of Ukrainian children that have been taken to Belarus?

We handed over our report to the Polish side. We are permanently in contact with the Polish side on this issue.

8. In recent weeks there were questions raised about the health of Lukashenko, what do we know about his health?

Reports about Lukashenko's health condition cannot yet be verified, but let’s remember that he has had health problems before. We know from various sources that he has back problems, knee problems, overweight, diabetes, and that he takes medication. Even his appearance confirms this. We also know that Lukashenko has been very nervous lately; he has even increased his personal security.

Lukashenko is afraid.

He is afraid of doctors, because spinal surgery requires anesthesia, and he is afraid of whether he will wake up after this anesthesia. He is afraid of Belarusians, he is afraid of Ukraine.

The Kremlin is ready that Lukashenko will no longer be able to rule the country. Putin is already thinking about two people who could replace Lukashenko. The first is Natalia Kachanava, head of the upper house of the Belarusian parliament, a Russian by birth. During her recent visit to Moscow she met with Lavrov. In my view, as a former ambassador and minister, this is an unprecedented situation. The second candidate is Alexander Volfovich, of Russian descent, secretary of the Security Council of Belarus, a graduate of the Moscow Higher School, the so-called “Kremlevka”. He is an agent of the Kremlin's influence in Belarus. We know, of course, that he has many friends among Russian generals and direct contacts with the Secretary of the Russian Security Council Patrushev, in the FSB, in the General Staff, in the Russian Defense Ministry. Generals in the Security Council support Lukashenko, but when Moscow gives an order, they can immediately carry out Moscow's orders. After all, Russia is the only country that has a strategy on what to do with Belarus. Unfortunately, our Western partners have no strategy.

Is there an opportunity for the Belarusian opposition?

With the understanding that in the case of the dictator's demise before Russia's defeat in the war, our common task will also be to actively resist Russia's attempt to "stabilize" the situation. But these are risks that we all have to be aware of in any case – whether Lukashenko will be alive at moment x (any trigger that will cause a powerful shock within the system, such as a successful counterattack by the Ukrainian army and the liberation of Ukrainian territory) or the moment x will be his demise. Russia will not let Belarus just go, unless the processes of dismantling of the federation begin within itself.

However, it is impossible to count exclusively on such an outcome. We must all understand that we will have to fight for freedom and independence, as any other country and nation had to do in the history of the world.

Belarusians want to be a free and independent nation and to have a free and independent state. Russia, in fact, denies our right to have such a state and to be an independent nation. And following the ideology of Racism it wants to turn us into Russians, they want to turn Belarus into a part of Russia and the "Russian world".

Therefore, in any scenario, the question is this: whose desire and willingness to act accordingly will be stronger.


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