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How to negotiate with Lukashenko and release political prisoners?

Recently, we discussed the regime's initiative on the so-called "return of the fugitives,"which it wants to sell to the West under the guise of the coming" thaw. Simultaneously with this initiative called "repent and crawl home on your knees" the "let's negotiate with Lukashenko" narrative has intensified dramatically. It is promoted both by the pro-governmental analytical centers and by some politicians who consider themselves part of the Belarusian democratic forces.

The formula they propose sounds something like this: "there is no need to introduce new sanctions, it is better to start lifting the old ones and at least partially return Lukashenko's recognition by the West”. Then, according to supporters of concessions to the regime, which are proposed to do unilaterally, Lukashenko can reciprocate, release some of the political prisoners and at the same time "escape from the embrace of the Kremlin”.

However, if we try to look for logic in this, we will find... its complete absence. It is enough to compare the two parallel theses promoted by the adherents of the idea of the necessity of concessions to the regime and the rejection of sanctions.

First: the strategy of pressure and sanctions is not effective, and it is not the regime that suffers from sanctions, but the people.

Second: the sanctions pushed Lukashenko into the "arms of the Kremlin", forcing him to refocus on Russia and further deepen his integration with it.

It seems that separately these theses can even be believed, right?

Lukashenka meets with political prisoners in the KGB jail
Lukashenka meets with political prisoners in the KGB jail. Photo: Pool One

However, if we analyze each of them individually, we will quickly discover that not only individual enterprises, but entire sectors of the economy, which have fallen under sanctions, are sources of personal enrichment for the regime – like the potash and oil industries. Or, for example, the tobacco industry. And they are controlled by his inner circle and "wallets": Golovaty – the godfather of Kolya Lukashenko, Gutseriev, Vorobey, Oleksin. Looking into almost any industry, we find the same story there. That is, even without digging deep, we come to the obvious conclusion: the sanctions directly affect the money of Lukashenko's cartel and hit his wallets directly.

The second thesis is even more absurd if we consider all the integration processes with Russia, which Lukashenko promoted throughout his rule, his pro-Russian and anti-national policy, as well as the credit and subsidy needle, on which he put Belarus from the very first days of his coming to power. As well as all of Lukashenko's international crimes, even before the war started, which led to the harshest sanctions at the time – the airplane hijacking and the migration crisis.

After all, the sanctions imposed against Lukashenko's regime for violating the rights of Belarusians – that is, before he committed the mentioned crimes – were not that powerful. Unfortunately, it is a fact – rigged elections, mass repressions, torture – all this did not prompt the West to act harshly and decisively at once. The really serious sanctions happened only when Lukashenko's crimes went beyond the borders of Belarus and became a threat to the EU.

But Lukashenko could simply not have committed them. It is silly to suggest that he did not understand the consequences. Nevertheless, he deliberately committed an act of air piracy and unleashed a hybrid war with the EU. And he himself provoked the next sanctions. We emphasize that this happened long before the start of Russia's war against Ukraine, in which Belarus – again, with Lukashenko's voluntary and full assistance – became a military springboard, and its infrastructure and economy were put on a war footing to support Russian aggression. In response, serious new sanctions have been imposed. And the next ones are being prepared.

That is, time after time, Lukashenko could simply not have committed international – and now already military – crimes, would not have received new sanctions for it and, as some ladies and gentlemen claim, would not have fallen into the very "embrace of Russia" from which he must now be "rescued" by lifting sanctions on him. And hence, absolving him of responsibility for the crimes that he knowingly committed and quite deliberately pushed Belarus deeper and deeper into dependence on Russia, which at the start of the war actually turned into the Russian occupation of our country.

It turns out that none of the theses of those who today offer to "negotiate" with Lukashenko, simply does not stand up to criticism. It is populism, to say the least. Even if we take them apart.

Lukashenko and Putin in Sochi

But together they merge into an absolutely ridiculous oxymoron. Just think about it: if the regime is not suffering from "sanctions that don't work" (and we have already found out that this is not true), why would it want to deepen its dependence on Russia? Is it really to save the Belarusians who suffer from them? To "save" from the sanctions, which Lukashenko himself provoked? But in order to do that, at the very least, he could have simply not hijacked a civilian airplane and not brought thousands of illegal migrants to the border with the EU. And at most, he should have simply accepted his electoral defeat back in 2020. But he did the opposite.

So where is the logic? And if the sanctions don’t work, how can they push Lukashenko anywhere in principle? Or do they work?

It turns out that they do. And quite effectively — so that all possible arguments are used to get rid of them. The key one is the notorious "embrace of Russia" - into which, as we found out, Lukashenko himself pushed our country, but not any sanctions. So, this argument is just banal speculation, which, by the way, the regime and its lobbyists have resorted to more than once. They already "sold" exactly the same thing to the West after 2010. In 2015, the sanctions were suspended. In 2020, Lukashenko declared war on the Belarusian people. In 2021, he declared a hybrid war against the European Union. In 2022, he took and continues to take part in a war against Ukraine. So how do you like this effect of the sanctions' suspension in 2015? Are we going to make the same mistakes again?

The second argument of the regime and its lobbyists is an attempt to sell the West a "thaw" in the form of a specially created commission for the "return of fugitives". Except there is no one who wants to "crawl home on their knees". Lukashenko is obviously not ready to release 1500 officially recognized political prisoners under the guise of "thaw". Moreover, he is not ready to stop repressions and thousands of criminal cases initiated "for extremism" beginning from August 9, 2020. The regime itself names the figure of 11 thousand such cases, each of which can involve several people at once, even the whole families. Then there are those convicted under the "economic" articles, which the regime has always used to mask politically motivated convictions.

In other words, in reality we can talk about thousands, maybe tens of thousands of political prisoners. So, does anyone believe that the regime would let them all go if sanctions were lifted? Stop the repression?

Maybe then it will stop participating in the aggression against Ukraine? Or maybe it will start democratic reforms, hold democratic, free and transparent elections?

"Let's be realistic!" - say those who want to negotiate. What they are saying is that Belarusians should give up some of their demands, that they should refuse to remove Lukashenko from power, for example. They say that they have to "come to terms" with Lukashenko — that is, to agree that the regime will continue functioning, and not all of the political prisoners will leave prisons.

So how many will? 10? 20? 50? 100 people? "We don’t know — but let’s lift the sanctions, and then we’ll see," - they offer us. Undoubtedly, every life saved is important. But thousands — I emphasize, thousands of people — will continue to be prisoners of Lukashenko’s regime. Hundreds of thousands will never be able to return home. Millions will continue to live in a concentration camp. And this concentration camp called not Belarus but "Belorussia" will continue to be a threat to Ukraine and the EU. So this is how they suggest us to "negotiate"?

And they suggest it precisely when a new package of sanctions is about to be adopted, and it is impossible to hide the effect of the sanctions that were imposed earlier. It’s a good time to put the brakes on everything, isn’t it? And to the first ridiculous imitation of a "thaw" from the regime — we need to give up those few, in fact, tools of external pressure, which strengthen our position, rather than put us in the position of begging, crawling on our knees. Or does anyone really think that it is possible to agree on something with Lukashenko while kneeling before him? Does anyone really think this is the most convenient negotiating position?

Let’s be realistic, shall we? Ok, here’s the realistic approach — the only effective negotiating position for any talks with Lukashenko is a position of force.

Let's be realistic, shall we? Ok, here’s the realistic approach – the only effective negotiating position for any talks with Lukashenko is a position of force.

And this is exactly the position with regard to Lukashenko’s regime that is being demonstrated to us today by Poland, which applied new personal sanctions against a number of the regime’s officials, as well as closing the border crossing "Bobrovniki-Berestovitsa". The fact that both decisions of the Polish government are primarily related to the eight-year prison sentence handed down by the Lukashenko regime to journalist and activist of the Union of Poles Andrzej Poczobut is not in doubt. Despite the fact that the closure of the border crossing was officially justified by the "interests of state security”.

But we understand that in this way Poland delivered an ultimatum to Lukashenko. Only one of the two currently operating freight border crossing points – “Kukuryki-Kozlovitchi” – remains open now. But if the regime does not release Poczobut and the chairwoman of the Union of Poles, Angelika Borys, who is currently under house arrest, this border crossing may meet the same fate as Bobrownniki. Polish Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki spoke directly about this.

It is extremely important to emphasize that the press release on the decision of the Polish government to impose new sanctions clearly states Poland's demand for the release of all Belarusian political prisoners.

It is possible that two other EU countries bordering Belarus – Lithuania and Latvia – will join Poland's actions at the national level. They do not need a common decision of the EU – the "interests of national security" can also be the justification. Lithuania, for example, has already used this argument before by closing the transit of Belarusian potash through its territory. And given that today the Lukashenko regime is an accomplice to military aggression, any country neighboring Belarus has the right to close its borders.

The consequences for the regime in this case will be simply catastrophic. And no loans from Russia will help.

Poland closed Berestovitsa checkpoint

Even the closure of the Bobrovniks already strikes a huge blow to the cargo flows going through Belarus to Russia. If all other border crossings with the EU are closed, the transit will stop at all. This is a collapse. Which, in addition, will directly affect Russia and China. The level of problems that Lukashenko will face will not be comparable to the effect of all the existing sanctions taken together. And the cumulative effect could become fatal for his regime.

Yes, it has not yet come to such radical measures. But the determination that Poland is demonstrating today is very eloquent. And it deserves respect. Instead of appeasing Lukashenko, it stakes on increased pressure, giving him an extremely grim prospect of non-compliance with the terms of the ultimatum.

But this is not only a signal to the mustachioed dictator. Poland's actions are an example for all Western countries. And an answer for all those who want to "negotiate" with Lukashenko. This is the only way to deal with terrorists. From the position of force. That's why the new, synchronized package of sanctions against Russia and the Lukashenko regime should not contain any exceptions for Belarusian potash – one of the key sources of Lukashenko's cartel revenues. We must not forget that we are dealing with an organized crime group headed by a dictator, not a legitimate government.

Only this position – the position of force and deprivation of resources of the regime – opens the way for the release of political prisoners and Belarus itself in principle. Not "by crawling on the knees" – but by decisive steps and actions. At full tilt.

It is time to act!



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