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In the shadow of the war – prospects for democratic change in Eastern Europe

Speech by Pavel Latushko at the conference
Speech by Pavel Latushko at the conference. Photo: The NAM-media

Speech by H.E. Pavel Latushka, Head of the National Anti-Crisis Management, Deputy Head of the United Transitional Cabinet of Belarus at Round-Table Conference on Baltic Sea Cooperation in Post-War Europe

2 June 2023


Dear Chairman,

All wars end. And this terrible war, the war waged by the Union State of Russia and Belarus against Ukraine will end. I believe I am convinced – it will end with the victory of Ukraine. With the full restoration of Ukraine's territorial integrity. The defeat of Rashism and the ideology of the "Russian world". The defeat of the so-called Union State. It is no coincidence that I mention this particular configuration and I will explain why a little later.

The war will end. But whether peace and security will come to the region afterwards depends on how exactly this war will end. What will happen to the aggressors after Ukraine's victory? Whether they will retain the capacity to repeat their aggression in the future.

I am sure you believe, as I do, that there is only one acceptable outcome: the victory of Ukraine, the aggressors, cannot be reversed and the conflict cannot resume, at least in the medium term. The shadow of war is disappearing from the region. And if we want this outcome – because only this outcome will allow us to talk about the prospects for secure development and democratic sustainability in Eastern Europe – we have two priority tasks ahead of us. And in fact, these tasks have been at least declared at the level of the EU, the US and their allies:

  1. Contribute to the unconditional victory of Ukraine;

  2. Help Belarusians to abolish the Lukashenko regime in Belarus.

And these are two tasks that should not be carried out sequentially, but in parallel.

Why? Remember the rhetoric heard during the war. What narratives are being constructed and what hopes are pinned on Ukraine‘s victory?

In the eyes of today’s civilized world, Ukraine seems to be fighting not only for itself but for the whole of Europe, fighting for freedom, independence and democratic values worldwide. And Ukraine is fighting for Belarus. It is often said that after Ukraine's victory, according to many, will open a window of opportunity for the liberation and democratization of Belarus.

But aren't we putting too much onto Ukraine? Yes, I am not saying that Ukraine is fighting against Russia on its own, that Ukraine has been thrown to the mercy of fate in this fight. Of course not. But should and can Ukraine be the solution to all problems? Maybe there is a problem very close to us which should be solved in parallel – and thus help Ukraine to win faster, and come to the security of the whole region faster?

Let me put it straight – is it rational to put off solving the problem of Lukashenko's pro-Russian, and in fact Russian puppet regime in Belarus? A regime that is Russia's main ally and accomplice in the war against Ukraine. Which provides territory, infrastructure, firing ranges, ammunition, industrial facilities of the country to the Russian army and the Russian military-industrial complex. Helps it circumvent sanctions, helps it get weapons, helps it train the military, helps it keep waging war!

Is it rational, logical and right to postpone this problem until Ukraine’s victory? Is it not obvious that by doing so, we are postponing this victory itself?

And, unfortunately, we are postponing. The Russian ally, the Lukashenko's regime is actually forgotten by the West. Yes, it is remembered in declarations, resolutions, and tweets. But when it comes to real actions, where do all these declarations and resolutions turn out? They remain only on paper. And that means that the decisions, which are necessary to speed up the victory of Ukraine, to ensure security in the region, and to secure prospects for the democratization of Belarus and the existence of a free and independent Belarus in principle – these decisions remain only verbal.

Today the only country which really has a strategy of actions with regard to Belarus is Russia.

And this strategy is written down not in declarations and resolutions. But in concrete plans which are being implemented. This strategy is written down in the treaties, in the integration programmes of the Union State of Russia and Belarus, including its common Military Doctrine. The Union State project itself is Russia's strategy. The strategy of restoring the empire.

Let us recall the recent words of Kazakhstan's President Kassym-Jomart Tokayev at the Eurasian Economic Forum in Moscow:

"We have a Union State in the Eurasian Economic Union, a unique precedent, or phenomenon, as you like, in world political history – the creation of a state on the formula "two countries – one state" with a single political, legal, military, economic, currency, cultural and humanitarian space. With one union government, with one union parliament, I apologize, and even nuclear weapons are one for two now."

At the words about nuclear weapons, Putin and Lukashenko shook hands happily, and Lukashenko said "thank you" to Putin. Lukashenko later commented that:

"When talking about nuclear weapons – I couldn't really hear because of the acoustics – Vladimir Vladimirovich tells me: 'The decision has been made to deploy tactical nuclear weapons in Belarus'. I said: "Thank you".

And the very next day the defense ministers of the Russian Federation and the Republic of Belarus in Minsk signed documents on the deployment of nuclear weapons. This was something that Putin, Lukashenko and other Russian and Belarusian officials had said many times before. But for some reason, nobody wanted to take their words seriously.

Well then, here is another quote from Lukashenko, said after the signing of those very documents:

"The President of Russia informed me that today he signed a decree on our actions regarding the deployment of nuclear weapons in Belarus. It was about a specific document. A decision was made in the development of what was said orally. We had to prepare storage sites and so on. We did that, so the relocation of nuclear warheads has already begun."

At the very beginning of my speech, I focused specifically on the Union State of Russia and Belarus and promised to explain why. And here is why.

On November 4, 2021, the so-called Supreme State Council of the Union State adopted the Military Doctrine of the Union State.

A month after the adoption of the Military Doctrine, in December 2021, Putin and Lukashenko decided to hold a joint exercise – Union Resolve 2022. On January 18, 2022, at a briefing for foreign military attachés, Russian Deputy Defense Minister Alexander Fomin said that the purpose of the exercise was to conduct an unscheduled inspection of troops and practice various options for joint actions to neutralize threats and stabilize the situation on the borders of the Union State.

And it was under the guise of these exercises that four days after the end of them there was an invasion of the territory of Ukraine from the territory of... yes, the Union State.

And all Lukashenko's further actions of complicity in the aggression against Ukraine are implemented within the framework of the Union State and its Military Doctrine.

Just as the decision to deploy nuclear weapons in Belarus was taken on the basis of the decision to establish a regional grouping of troops on October 10, 2022, created, in turn, again on the basis of the Military Doctrine of the Union State of Russia and Belarus.

Precisely so. Unfortunately, we do not have time today to delve into the documents – but all of them, including the mentioned Military Doctrine, are publicly available on the legal portal of the Union State. It is not difficult to draw conclusions and build a logical sequence after reading them. All it takes is the will.

I'll just finish my thought.

It is the Union State of Russia and Belarus that is responsible for unleashing the war against Ukraine in February 2022, for the war crimes perpetrated in the process and for creating a nuclear threat to the entire region today.

One such war crime is the illegal deportation of children from the occupied territories of Ukraine. The role of the Union State in the organization of this crime is clearly outlined in the relevant report of the National Anti-Crisis Management, which we handed over to the Ukrainian side and other international partners.

Should I recall that Alexander Lukashenko is the Chairman of the so-called Supreme State Council – the supreme governing body of the Union State?

Yes. And I'm talking about it right now. I'm bringing it to your attention.

And at the same time, I come back to the question – so does it really seem rational to anyone to put off solving the problem of the Lukashenko regime in Belarus? A regime that is exactly as much a part and cause of the global problem – the Union State war against Ukraine – as Russia is.

Having said that, I hope the key challenges in relation to Russia in this room today are obvious to everyone.

  1. To weaken its armed forces to the point of incapacity to pose a threat and carry out aggression.

  2. Exhaust the Russian Federation financially through the harshest possible sanctions.

  3. Prosecute it criminally through a tribunal.

And these tasks, maybe not as quickly as one would like, but they are being achieved.

Now let's look at the Lukashenko regime.

First, during the entire war in Belarus, permanent, daily, round-the-clock exercises of the armed forces at all training ranges and all branches of the armed forces take place. Let me remind you – the result of the pre-war exercises of the Union State in Belarus was the war.

Second, for almost 12 months now, the European Union has not adopted any new package of sanctions against Lukashenko's regime, which allows both Lukashenko himself to stabilize the economy and allows Russia to circumvent the sanctions through Belarus and obtain everything it needs, including microelectronics, to continue the war.

At the Eurasian Economic Forum, Lukashenko, speaking about industrial cooperation and import substitution within the framework of the Union State, openly said:

"Have you noticed: this is the third year they are trying to bend us over? Well, it’s ok, practically everything flies, everything explodes and so on and so forth. So we can do something, and we are doing it already."

Why do they have "everything that flies and explodes" – and this is obviously about missiles? Because the sanctions on the Lukashenko regime and Russia are simply still not harmonized.

And third, no real, not declarative, steps have been taken to hold the Lukashenko regime criminally accountable – neither for crimes against Belarusians, nor for crimes against the EU, nor for war crimes against Ukraine.

This is how irresponsibility breeds only more and more crimes. This is how the aggressor's irresponsibility continues the war.

And yet, with regard to the Lukashenko regime, we see the exact opposite strategy as applied to Russia. Despite the fact that he is not just its key ally, who by real actions helps Russia in the war against Ukraine and commits war crimes together with the Russian Federation – but is an integral part of the Union State, which is leading this war.

I understand that this is a new thesis for everyone. But the war against Ukraine is being waged not by Russia alone, but by the Union State of Russia and Belarus. In which Belarus is only because of Lukashenko's regime. Whereas, the Union State exists only because there is Belarus. And as long as the Lukashenko regime exists, this arrangement will not change.

Therefore, if we seriously want to change it, we need to recall the words of former Estonian Foreign Minister Urmas Reinsalu, who said that the most powerful sanction the West can apply to Russia is the abolition of the Lukashenko regime in Belarus.

After all, this is the only way we can bring about the collapse of the Union State that is right now waging a bloody war in the center of Europe.

Without the possibility for Russia to use Belarus within the framework of the Union State, this war would not be possible in principle. Neither would Russia's threat to Poland, Lithuania or Latvia be possible.

So the formula I am proposing to you today looks like this:

Abolish the Lukashenko regime – abolish the Union State.

Only in this way can we ensure the unconditional victory for Ukraine and the security for the whole region that we all want.

And to answer the title question about the prospects for democratic change.

Belarus has them – only if the Lukashenko regime is abolished and only outside the Union State with Russia. Otherwise – we have nothing to talk about.

So where do you want to see Belarus tomorrow? In the Union State? Or in Europe?

After all, the relationship between the West and Belarus has only two paths: Belarus as an enemy or Belarus as an ally. And right now, the West is at this fork.

Belarus as an enemy is Belarus with Lukashenko, which means Belarus under Russia, Belarus as part of the Union State and other Russian integration projects, economic and military alliances with Russia. Belarus as an ally is a Belarus without Lukashenko, a democratic, independent, European Belarus, Belarus in the Baltic-Black Sea Union, Belarus in NATO.

To follow the first path, it is enough for the West to continue having no strategy on Belarus, or to have an anti-strategy as I mentioned above.

But if the West wants an ally, a strategy is needed. And this strategy cannot come from postponing the Lukashenko problem for later. No. The first point of this strategy must be the solution to this problem – the abolition of the Lukashenko regime in Belarus. The West is able to create such a strategy and has enough tools and resources, including resources of the Belarusian democratic forces and civil society, to implement it. But this requires a strong political will.

So far, the only country that has a strategy for Belarus is Russia. And this strategy is based on the Union State. To free Belarus from Lukashenko's regime, to tear it away from the Union State with Russia, is to break that strategy, to strike at the heart of Russia's neo-imperialism.

Yesterday I came back from Kyiv. I had to spend the night in bomb shelters and hear Russian ballistic missiles flying over Kyiv and exploding. And it was these missiles that were flying and exploding thanks to Lukashenko as he himself admits. Coincidentally, yesterday he said that Russia and Belarus made a mistake in 2014. Exactly when Ukraine had no army it should have been occupied – these are Lukashenko's exact words. So does someone really want to negotiate with him?

Thank you for your attention.



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