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Tomorrow never comes. "Soldiers of the defeated army" of Belarus, and how Ukraine should react to Lukashenko

Photo: A_Matskevich/Pixabay

Photo: A_Matskevich/Pixabay

A year has passed since the beginning of virtually mass protests in Belarus. Alexander Lukashenko, almost like Volodymyr Zelenskyy after the first 100 days of his presidency (in that case the event lasted 14 hours—ed. note), gave more than eight hours of press conference and managed to speak not only about the situation in his country, but also about Ukraine, Crimea , the war in Donbass, and his own political repressions.

Belarusian journalist Dmitry Galko, political observer and supporter of velvet revolutions Andrei Kuznetsov, and two international political scientists told The Page about how fugitive Belarusian journalists feel now, about Lukashenko's true intentions, about what Belarus will face in the near future and what role Putin plays in all of this.

It’s been a year since protests in Belarusr: the whole story

A year ago, presidential elections were held in Belarus, and Lukashenko declared himself the winner for the sixth time. That year, the real result was as different as that announced (the protesters joked: "Sasha 3%"—ed. note), and the Belarusians once again pour into the streets to struggle.

This moment became a turning point: 4,691 criminal cases related to "extremism and terrorism"; 608 political prisoners, eight dead; liquidation of 56 human rights, research, environmental, cultural, and media organizations.

More than 30,000 Belarusians were convicted on administrative charges after the elections.

Independent print media were closed, internet media websites were blocked, international media were stripped of their accreditation, and journalists were arrested en masse.

This led to a large-scale wave of migrants from Belarus to neighboring countries.

Who benefits from totalitarian Belarus

Oppositional Belarusians have long been used to senseless detentions, accusations and beatings of protesters by the security officials: there were even sentences for applause to people without hands (for years, applause was a symbol of opposition in Belarus—ed. note). But this time, so massive peaceful protests took place in the country, and the participants were treated so brutally that it became obvious that authoritarian Belarus had turned into totalitarian.

Quote"Lukashenko now plays the role for Putin that he had assigned to the DPR and LPR. But if the "republics" embitter Ukraine, then Lukashenko should embitter the West, divert attention from the real culprit—from Putin," political scientist and conflict analyst Bohdan Petrenko says.

According to him, at the recent EU summit that took place after Lukashenko had landed the plane with Protasevich, they first of all considered the issue of sanctions against Belarus, although before that it had been planned to consider measures against Russia.

I think that Putin liked this very much, and he will continue to use Lukashenko to transfer the vector of hatred and negativity to Belarus. Unfortunately, it is even more convenient for Western countries to have a small Belarus as an enemy, and not the Russian Federation, because this is a huge market. Now Lukashenko is playing the role of a demon who is actually Putin's puppet, so he will say what the Russian president orders him to.

Bohdan Petrenko

Bohdan Petrenko

Political analyst

Bohdan Petrenko also added that, apart from Putin, Lukashenko personally wins in this situation, because he is guaranteed to get financial assistance from Putin and a certain preservation of subjectivity. There will be neither full integration of Belarus into the Russian Federation, nor any restrictions on Lukashenko's powers on the territory of Belarus.

Andrei Kuznetsov, political observer and editor of Orange East, also believes that Lukashenko's eight-hour speech was intended for one person who sits in the Kremlin. All that was sounded was loyalty to Putin and his foreign policy. Therefore, he spoke about Crimea and Ukraine in a tone that Moscow wanted to hear. And it is not at all surprising that after such a marathon of demonstrating loyalty, Lukashenko asked Putin for another loan, although he has already received a billion dollars from Russia since the beginning of the year.

After the protests, Lukashenko finally lost even the semblance of independence and now he completely depends on Putin—he returned to the post, so to speak, of the collective farm chairman, from which he began his career.

How Belarusian oppositionists and journalists lived through this year

Former editor of Pavel Sheremet's website Belarusian Partisan and political refugee Dmitry Galko told The Page about how the year proceeded for the Belarusians who did not support Lukashenko and for the Belarusian media.

For me, this year was, above all, tragic. My eldest son fled to Moscow and died there under suspicious circumstances, the middle one was forced to flee with his mother to Poland after being tortured at Akrestin (a prison complex in Minsk where political prisoners were tortured—ed. note) and further persecution.

Dmitry Galko

Dmitry Galko

Former editor of Pavel Sheremet's website Belarusian Partisan and political refugee

Dmitry himself, according to him, suffered from the dictatorship much earlier than others.

Quote"For me, the catastrophe began in 2017 during a large preventive cleanup before the elections that was not noticed either in the world or even in Belarus," he says.

There are almost no optimists among the Belarusians in Kyiv who fled here over the past year, Galko adds:

Quote"I meet mentally disabled people who take Phenibut (a sedative that does not affect performance ability—ed. note) and experience panic attacks. In general, they differ little from the settlers from the Crimea, the occupied part of Donbass, those who were in captivity and caught in the maelstrom of war. All of the symptoms show that the majority have real PTSD. "We feel like soldiers of a completely defeated army," they say."

The Belarusian society has gone through a serious trauma, and it is still trying to cope with this, licking its wounds, the oppositionist stresses. According to him, now conscious Belarusians only hope that the Lukashenko regime will bury itself with its own insane actions.

Journalists were particularly affected by Lukashenka this time

Among Galko’s colleagues he is acquainted with, there are almost no those who would not have been affected in one way or another. There are many more of his acquaintances in prisons and in forced emigration today than those at home at large.

The better half of Belarusian journalism now lives like this. People are either behind bars or carry parcels to their wives or husbands. The other day I asked a colleague from my pool of respondents within the country for a comment. He said he would answer "tomorrow" if possible. But in today's Belarus, tomorrow never comes. Therefore, when tomorrow came, a colleague was arrested.

Dmitry Galko

Dmitry Galko

Former editor of Pavel Sheremet's website Belarusian Partisan and political refugee

According to him, the absolute majority of the editorial offices of independent Belarusian media now exist in the format of the Russian Meduza, that is, in exile—the editorial offices are located abroad. In Kyiv, Warsaw, and Vilnius. The journalist believes that if one looks optimistically, they have become harsher, tougher, and more daring.

How Ukraine should react to Lukashenko's provocative statements

According to political scientist and head of the Ukrainian Institute of Politics Ruslan Bortnik, Lukashenko's statements indicate that he is trying to preserve the subjectivity of Belarus and at the same time get the most from all its neighbors.

He is trying to bargain, thus he offers the countries of the West and Ukraine to resume cooperation at the pre-sanction level.

Ruslan Bortnik

Ruslan Bortnik

Political scientist

And the Belarusian journalist Dmitry Galko is convinced that Ukraine should react to Lukashenko's statements "in the same way as people react to the accusations of a thug in an alleyway".

Quote"If Ukraine doesn’t want another thousand kilometers of border to be exposed, it must act quickly and toughly. The call of the LPR investigators to interrogate Protasevich, the statement of Lukashenko that he and Putin would instantly bring Ukraine to its knees—such things should not remain unanswered. And the response must be painful for the dictator," he believes.

Conflict expert Bohdan Petrenko shares the same opinion: because of the long-term and unlimited power, Lukashenko does not understand the limits, except for one—and this is Putin.

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