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Lukashenko’s Role Aiding Putin’s War on Ukraine

Comments of Pavel Latushka during the expert panel

On the 10 of August Pavel Latushka took part in an online conference organized by the Human Rights Foundation "Lukashenko’s Role Aiding Putin’s War on Ukraine" as one of our main speakers. During the panel it was discussed Lukashenko’s domestic repression, his role in aiding Putin’s full-scale invasions of Ukraine, and the strategy the democratic international community can pursue in order to contain the threat coming from Lukashenko. Other speakers included:

Hanna Liubakova, a Belarusian journalist and non-resident fellow at the Atlantic Council, who covered in a comprehensive way the issues of human rights abuses and political violence in Belarus, and the developments in the war in Ukraine.

David Kramer: the Executive Director for Global Policy at the George W. Bush Institute. Formerly, David Kramer served as the Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for European & Eurasian Affairs (2005-2008) and Assistant Secretary of State for Democracy, Human Rights, & Labor (2008-2009).

Moderator: Pavel Kutsevol

Moderator: Mr. Latushka, could you please tell us about the current state of affairs when it comes to sanctions on Belarus and other measures the democratic community is currently pursuing to put pressure on Lukashenko?

The problem of sanctions is crucial for the democratic forces of Belarus. This is one of the many instruments which our foreign partners can use as an answer to the violence of the Lukashenko regime, one of the instruments for bringing to liability.

The main problem was that shock sanctions were not imposed in 2020, when the elections were falsified. This gave Lukashenko's regime an opportunity to adapt to them. Sectoral sanctions were also introduced late. US financial sanctions have not been imposed until now.

Another key problem is the fact that the sanctions imposed on Lukashenko's regime and on Russia have not yet been fully harmonized.

Given the existence of a single economic space, in fact - a single economy of Russia and Belarus within the framework of the Union State of Belarus and Russia - the lack of harmonization of sanctions against both countries actually turns Belarus into a "gray zone" and an offshore for bypassing sanctions.

This strategic mistake of a number of partners in the West reveals a deep misunderstanding of the role of Belarus in the economic system of the Union State. They do not understand that Belarus' military-industrial complex is Russia's military-industrial complex.

And this mistake is all the more terrible in the conditions of the war against Ukraine, which is being waged not just by Russia, but precisely by the Union State.

To understand the nonsense of the current sanctions policy of the West against Belarus, imagine that you impose sanctions against the Russian Federation, but do not impose them, for example, against Udmurtia, where the city of Izhevsk with the largest arms factories is located.

Thus, the tasks to be solved are:

  1. Strengthen and fully harmonize sanctions against Russia and Lukashenko's regime in Belarus;

  2. To introduce the strictest control over their observance and to start punishing harshly for their violation;

  3. Make it as expensive as possible for Russia to sponsor Lukashenko's regime.

And, what is also very important, to neutralize the voices of lobbyists who advocate weakening or lifting sanctions on Lukashenko's regime.

To this end, we have developed a well-founded, reasoned position on:

  • the need to harmonize sanctions against Russia and Lukashenko's regime (as the difference in sanctions between Russia and Belarus is the main loophole that allows the regime to bypass sanctions and reduces their effectiveness);

  • establishing trade quotas against third countries involved in circumventing sanctions;

  • eliminating gaps in the system of financial settlements;

  • improving mechanisms to prevent the circumvention of sanctions.

These measures should be taken to improve the regime of sectoral sanctions - which are key and have the greatest effect on the regime.

Personal sanctions are also needed as a complement and form of accountability for those who commit crimes against Belarusians. To this end, we have collected evidence and propose to impose personal sanctions on 340 representatives of the regime (judges, "deputies", officials, propagandists, etc.).

The purpose of the sanction pressure should be:

  • destabilise and weaken Lukashenko's system;

  • create conditions for a split of the elites or the regime's readiness to make concessions;

  • bring to justice those guilty of crimes against Belarusians.

In addition to sanctions, we consider it necessary to involve all possible mechanisms of international legal pressure to bring representatives of the regime and Lukashenko himself to responsibility already now:

  • an arrest warrant for Lukashenko for war crimes, namely the illegal transfer of Ukrainian children,

  • the responsibility of the Lukashenko regime for the crime of aggression against Ukraine,

  • bringing the representatives of the regime to justice within the framework of universal jurisdiction mechanisms,

  • establishment of a Special Tribunal for violation of the Convention on Torture.

Moderator: Could you please talk about what kind of evidence there is to suggest that Minsk is complicit in taking Ukrainian children, how many children were taken, and will there be any repercussions for Lukashenko now that this information has surfaced?

The question of the regime's liability is crucial for all the Belarusian people. Today it looks like an exam or a test for our own understanding of democracy. Belarusians are waiting for justice in practice. For the National Anti-Crisis Management as well as for me as a member of the United Transitional Cabinet the main goal is to do everything in this regard to achieve success.

On 27 June 2023, the National Anti-Crisis Management submitted to the International Criminal Court a communication under Article 15 of the Rome Statute "On the illegal deportation or transfer of Ukrainian children from the Russian-occupied territories to Belarus".

According to the data cited in the communication, from September 2022 to May 2023, more than 2,100 children aged 6 to 15 from the Russian-occupied territories of Ukraine were sent to so-called health camps or sanatoriums in Belarus. All cases of displacement of children mentioned in the communication were organized and carried out by the Talai Foundation in cooperation with the Belarusian authorities acting on behalf of the so-called Union State of Belarus and Russia, as well as the Russian occupation authorities.

In 2022-2023, Alexander Lukashenko, as head of the Supreme State Council of the Union State signed documents concerning the provision and financing of "humanitarian aid" to the population of the so-called Donetsk and Luhansk People's Republics from the general budget of the Union State.

The measures stipulated by the decree of the Council of Ministers of the Union State of 16 September 2022 include, among other things, that funds from the Union State budget will be allocated for the transportation of children, and the Standing Committee of the Union State is responsible for this.

Lukashenka's arrest warrant is how the civilized world can fix its image in the eyes of Belarusians. Today Belarusians see the inefficiency of the international legal system. The crime will not stop until there is no accountability. The warrant is a motivation for Belarusians and a precondition to lead to the split of the elites. But, as a lawyer, I'm talking about the facts of crime. And their legal assessment is the main thing.

Moderator: It was reported that Lukashenko coordinated negotiations between the Kremlin and Prigozhin. What do you make of this? Does that signal that Lukashenko’s role and influence have increased in the last year and a half or do you think it’s a charade to make him look more important than he actually is?

What is necessary to understand first is that Putin and Lukashenko are in one boat. And Lukashenko in this difficult situation tried to help himself when he stopped Prigozhin’s march to Moscow. Any problems in Moscow means problems in Minsk.

We see the destabilization of the situation on the border using the Wagner group, illegal migrants, and by moving the armed forces of Belarus primarily to the borders of Poland, but also Latvia, Lithuania and Ukraine. It looks like escalation of the situation in order to achieve de-escalation: to make the West pressure Ukraine and force it to negotiate.

Today it is an information and propaganda special operation organized by Lukashenko and Putin. They try to make provocations on the borders of Belarus with Poland, Latvia, Lithuania and Ukraine. They are using Wagner, they locate their groups in different places in Brest and Grodno regions, near the Polish-Ukrainian border and Polish-Lithuanian border. The last information that we’ve got is that they want to locate one of the camps near the Ukrainian border. The central camp is not far from Minsk.

They destabilize the situation near the borders with NATO countries and Ukraine pushing illegal migrants. Recently there were up to 300 daily attempts to cross the border with Poland. We know that a lot of migrants are living in the Brest and Grodno regions waiting to cross the border.

Another way of provocation is that they move the armed forces of Belarus closer to the borders of Poland, Ukraine and Lithuania, and the Suvalski corridor.

So this is a special informational operation. We hear what Putin is saying. That the territory of Poland was a present from Stalin after the Second World War. We hear the words of Lukashenko saying that Wagners are dreaming of going to Rzeszow and Warsaw to spend a couple of days here.

Why are they doing this? They want to have an influence on Polish society, and European society, given the parliamentary elections scheduled for October. Their goal is that more money, resources and weapons of NATO are allocated for Poland, Lithuania and Latvia to defend these NATO-members countries, and allocate less support for Ukraine. This is their strategy, as I can see it.

It is important to send a clear message to Lukashenko about all the consequences that await him if he does not stop the destabilization on the border. What Lukashenka will be afraid of is a trade embargo of Poland, Lithuania and Latvia. This will also become a strong message to China as it is interested in the transit of goods through the territory of Belarus.


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