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Lukashenko knows Ukraine's victory is his end, says minister in exile

Pavel Latushka in an interview for the Czech portal Seznam Zprávy Unofficial translation from the Czech language

"Putin and his vassal Lukashenko want to live in a different world. A world without freedom and human rights standards," says Pavel Latushka, an exiled minister in Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya's government who was sentenced to 18 years in prison in his home country.

"We are looking for partners in Europe and in the world. We have many, but mostly for handshakes and photos, that's where it ends. Then we have allies who are willing to support us, and they do. But we are looking for active allies," Pavel Latushka, a minister in the exiled Belarusian government of Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya, told Seznam Zpravy.

This is why, in addition to speaking at Forum 2000, Latushka held a number of meetings with Czech officials, seeking their active support. In particular, he appealed for support to the Belarusians living in the Czech Republic, for whom the authorities of dictator Alexander Lukashenko do not renew their passports. If they return to their homeland, many of them will face imprisonment.

"Unfortunately, the only country with a clear strategy on Lukashenko's regime is Russia. Nobody in Brussels or anywhere else in the world has one," Latushka says, claiming that the world is forgetting his country and the Belarusian nation is gradually disappearing under Russian influence.

To begin with, let me ask a topical question: what do you think about the results of the elections in Poland? The opposition is likely to get the majority of votes, will anything change in the relations between Poland and Belarus or Poland and the Belarusian opposition?

This question is difficult to answer, you are asking me as a member of the Belarusian government in exile, and therefore I can hardly comment on the internal politics of another country. Nevertheless, 300,000 Belarusians chose to live in Poland, so Polish authorities and Polish society are friendly towards Belarusians. Poland is the number one country for Belarusians seeking asylum. We have good and constructive relations with the current Polish government, and I am sure that the same relations will be with the opposition, because Belarus and support for its democratisation are not a subject of discussion in Poland.

I would rather mention the issue of the referendum on the border between Poland and Belarus and the demolition of the wall between the two countries. In the end, the result was invalid because not enough voters voted. But 97% of them voted in favour of keeping the wall.

However, I don't think that Poles voted this way because of their desire to disconnect from Belarusian society. I am sure that this is a reaction to the policy of Lukashenko's regime, which provokes conflicts on the border every day. In the future this wall will disappear, I am sure of it. Belarusians want to be part of Europe, and we have already adopted a relevant resolution at the Congress of Belarusian Democratic Forces in Warsaw in August.

A few weeks ago I wrote about the fact that Lukashenko's regime had stopped issuing passports at embassies and that applicants are forced to return home. One Belarusian student told me that he would have problems because the Czechs issue student visas on the basis of the passport. Now he does not know what to do. Will you discuss this issue with Czech officials?

Yes, we are discussing it with the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, with the head of parliament and with the Ministry of Justice. It is an unprecedented situation when the authorities of a country decide not to support its citizens abroad and not to allow them to get valid documents. It's important to solve this; we have 1.5 million Belarusians abroad. Half a million people decided to leave after the rigged elections and the violence of Lukashenko's regime, which is still going on. People are arrested every day.

Pavel Latushka
Pavel Latushka

We have two options. The first one is to start issuing New Belarus passports – we have already started this procedure and received a positive reaction from Brussels. However, it is up to the national governments to decide whether to accept them. We are negotiating with them, including the Czech Republic.

Another option is to use the legislation of the countries where Belarusians live. For example, in Poland and Lithuania, we are negotiating that these countries issue their own travel documents for three years. In the Czech Republic it is a matter of law, not a decision of the ministry. It is impossible to change the law in a short time, the situation is critical. That is why we appeal to the Czech government. There are about 10,000 Belarusians living in this country, of whom three thousand will solve this problem. You, Czech Republic, are a symbol of the struggle for freedom, and your support is extremely important for us.

In your first reply you mentioned the wall on the border with Poland. A few days ago I watched a new film by Agnieszka Holland, which depicts the humanitarian crisis in that country. What is the situation there now?

It is still dramatic, the humanitarian problem continues. But it is important to understand who created this crisis. The initiators are Alexander Lukashenko and Vladimir Putin. They provoked this situation on the border for two reasons. Lukashenko wants to be recognised as president, so he is putting pressure on the European Union. He also wants the West to stop sanctions against his regime. Lithuania has already taken the case to the UN international court in New York.

How do you assess Lukashenko's proposed trilateral co-operation between Russia, Belarus and North Korea? Can this group of countries change the situation?

Many years ago, the former head of US diplomacy Condoleezza Rice spoke about the "axis of evil". Now we see a new axis of evil: Pyongyang, Tehran, Moscow and — I find it hard to say this — Minsk. Lukashenko and Putin want to live in a different world, without human rights standards.

Yesterday (the interview was on 16.10.2023 — ed.) Lukashenko's former press secretary, now editor-in-chief of the largest newspaper in Belarus, appeared in the first programme of Belarusian TV. He said that all people who talk about human rights in Belarus are enemies of the state.

This is their civilisation: without human rights and without freedom. They co-operate to survive. They are not friends, but they have common interests. Pyongyang would never survive without Russia, and Russia now needs weapons from North Korea. And it is clear to Lukashenko that a Ukrainian victory in the war would mean the end for him.

Let's take a look at your relations with Ukraine. It seems that President Volodymyr Zelenskyy is keeping the door open for Lukashenko; he has not yet recognised the government of Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya. What can you say about this?

I've had several confidential meetings with Ukrainian officials on this topic. When there is a war somewhere, the government always looks after its own interests and the interests of its people first. As a diplomat, I understand Zelenskyy. I can't confirm that Ukrainians are negotiating with Lukashenko, they don't officially recognise him. Even the EU countries do not recognise Tsikhanouskaya and our government. So why should we criticise Ukraine for this?

After the brief rebellion of the Wagner mercenaries in Russia, some of their troops were sent to Belarus. Did this have any effect on the situation in your country?

Lukashenko decided to support Putin at a crucial moment. At the moment when Prigozhinmoved on Moscow, he realised that he and Putin were in the same boat and could perish together. So he decided to save himself.

He made a mistake only later — he began to publicly declare that it was he who had managed to solve a huge problem for Russia and Putin. And Putin will never forgive him or forget it. This is the reason why they stopped communicating for a month, Putin stopped giving Lukashenko money and supporting him.

Today we have 500–1000 Wagner mercenaries in Belarus, and Lukashenko claimed that Wagner was alive, is alive, and will live on. Well, you know how it turned out. Lukashenko thought that Putin would give him money for the Wagner mercenaries, but he got nothing.

A few days ago, Ukrainian security services said that Russia could wage war until at least 2025. How long will Lukashenko, whose regime is under sanctions, last?

A journalist recently asked me about our motivation, how long it would last. I replied that I was sentenced to 18 years, so my motivation is for 18 years. I was joking, of course.

Lukashenko started mass repression in 2020, in 2021 he hijacked a Ryanair civilian plane, in the same year he started a migration war against the EU. In 2022 he gave our territory to Russia for its aggression against Ukraine, in 2023 there are Wagner mercenaries and nuclear weapons in Belarus. What are we waiting for? The question is not only for Belarusians, but also for Czechs, Poles, Lithuanians and others, what can we do. We will support Ukraine as much as we can, Belarusians who are fighting against Russia are dying there. By supporting Ukraine, we support ourselves. The victory of Ukraine is one of the conditions of our victory.

We do not want to be a balcony of Russia and remain in the sphere of its interests. We want to be a part of the European community, so our goal is membership in the European Union. Not tomorrow and not the day after tomorrow, but this is our strategic goal.


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