Still, the Kremlin is preparing an attack from the territory of Belarus
The British newspaper The Times writes that Russia will launch a second large-scale offensive in April. Another 500,000 people will be mobilized for these purposes. But Russian experts scared us that a big war would begin in mid-January. Ukraine, on the other hand, is preparing for a war of retribution and is no longer ready to cede its territory. But there is a third weird in this war – Belarus. This is the topic for discussion with the coordinator of the European Belarus Civil Campaign Dzmitry Bandarenka in the framework of the ‘Obozrevatel.Belarus’ Special Project.
– Russia continues to turn Belarus into its own fortified region, a huge military base on the border with Europe. And I think we’ll start with that. What do you think about the further participation of Belarus in this war?
– Now the Lukashenka regime is completely under the control of the Kremlin, and therefore any activity from the territory of Belarus will depend on Putin’s decision, on the decision of the Russian General Staff. Unfortunately, my country is under the full military control of the Russian Federation today, the country is occupied in fact. I think that an attack from the territory of Belarus on Ukraine, specifically on Kyiv, is destined.
– You know, on the previous broadcast, Aliaksandr Alesin, a columnist from Minsk, I think you know him very well, said that the Belarusian defence industry would work for Russia. But manpower, in his opinion, is very small for someone to notice their presence or participation. What do you think? In your opinion, I will ask this way, did Lukashenka give only the defence industry at the disposal of Putin, or will manpower be used in the near future behind the backs of Russian soldiers or in general groups of forces?
– It does not matter much, because, indeed, the Belarusian army is not very large. But I am a person who lived for a sufficient time in the Soviet Union, served in the Soviet army and was an occupier in the group of Soviet troops in Germany. The Kremlin has many years of rich experience in using the territories of its satellites, the satellites’ military economies and troops. Unfortunately, Belarus has remained one of the few allies of the Kremlin this time, but Russia will use its potential. More’s the pity, it will be used against our closest neighbour and closest friend – Ukraine.
Yes, of course, the Belarusian soldiers do not want war and no one wants to die, especially since Belarusians do not have these imperial complexes: “Kyiv is ours”, “Kharkiv is ours”, Novorossiya, Ekaterina, Suvorov. The Russians have been enemies for many hundreds of years for the Belarusian elite, just as they have been for the Ukrainians. The partially brainwashed military are guided by the self-preservation instinct, of course.
Russia is using the Belarusian military enterprises, they have been doing it for a long time, since 2014. Since the beginning of the war, many repair enterprises in Belarus have simultaneously repaired equipment of the so-called LPR and DPR, and the Russian Federation, and even Ukrainian equipment. There was such a point. But now, of course, Lukashenka is definitely on Putin’s side.
– According to some reports, Lukashenka is gathering conscripts from the villages in order to more or less, let’s say, hide this mobilization. And you said that people are not ready to fight, people are not ready to support this regime. But can we expect complete sabotage among conscripts and reservists? After all, we saw that a few days ago there was such an episode related to oppositionists. The mother of one of the guys rushed at the policemen with an axe to protect her son. Can such things now become massive in order to protect their children so that they do not go to die for Russia?
– No, unfortunately. This is the same mobilization that is taking place in Crimea, in the occupied Luhansk and Donetsk regions. Even on the territory of the occupied Kherson and Zaporizhzhia regions. If a person refuses to serve, then prison is the minimum punishment. They are beating these people and arresting their relatives, threatening them with murder. There are needed preliminary preparations for a partisan movement to arise in Belarus.
Unfortunately, neither Western countries nor Ukraine has done this, and the tools for influencing the minds of Belarusians are very limited. But the difference, perhaps, with the residents of Crimea and the Luhansk and Donetsk regions is that the Belarusians have recently rebelled against the Lukashenka regime, and most young people of drafting age are certainly not its supporters.
Quiet sabotage is possible. Maybe they will go over to the side of the Ukrainian army and surrender in the event of an invasion. The Kalinouski Regiment is extremely popular in Belarus, the regiment is fighting on the side of Ukraine and, naturally, Lukashenka is afraid of it. But the Belarusian officers are also afraid of it, because they will get a bullet in the back in which case. Although they say, many young Belarusian officers oppose Lukashenka.
– We have already touched a little on the Kalinouski Regiment. Let’s continue developing the topic with possible conscripts and reservists. One of the leaders of the opposition, Pavel Latushka, proposed three ways to cut off Lukashenka from power. And that’s why I say that some kind of sabotage is possible. Because, firstly, he says that more than 200,000 people living in Belarus are ready to protest at a moment that is vital for young people. The second strong point really related to your statement: the battalion fighting in Ukraine. Indeed, we all count on the fact that we will have a joint victory, and the battalion will then return to Belarus and restore order there. The last element is the long-term efforts to create an international tribunal for Aliaksandr Lukashenka and his crimes. Well, we really count on the tribunal: for both Putin and Lukashenka. But still, you see, you are talking about the fact that now any protest movements are impossible: in two years we have seen that they are all suppressed, people are imprisoned, they are mocked in every possible way. The dictatorship has already outdone itself at this point. Where then to get these 200,000?
– I want to say that Latushka is not an opposition leader at all. He is a long-term official of the Lukashenka regime, who has been licking his boots all these years, unlike the European Belarus, which I represent. Over the past 20 years, we have been the organizers of the vast majority of mass protests. Many leaders of the European Belarus, as well as the leaders of other initiatives, such as Mikola Statkevich, Pavel Seviarynets, Yauhen Afnahel, who actually had been organizing mass actions for many years, are in prison today.
Today the fate of Belarus can be decided only by military means. The war is going on in our region. Someone says that this is the beginning of the Third World War. We know that Russia has announced mass mobilization. There is a covert mobilization going on, the draft age has been increased from 27 to 30, but not canceled from 18 to 21. There is such a writer Viktor Suvorov, he has a famous trilogy: Icebreaker, Day “M”, The Last Republic. I advise everyone to read the Day “M”, where he describes in detail the mechanism of the hidden mobilization of Stalin’s troops, who were preparing an attack on Germany.
We see the same developments in Russia: an increase of three years means that six draft groups of 100-120 thousand people are secretly involved. That is, they are drafted, the draft has not been canceled for eighteen-year-olds. There are a lot of such actions. Russia can really call up them, it is preparing this mobilization, 2-3 million people. Today, protests in Belarus are meaningless, people will not decide to go to troubles in this situation. Yes, someone is preparing for a partisan war, someone is preparing to emigrate, someone is preparing to leave and join the Kalinouski Regiment fighting for the Armed Forces of Ukraine. But fate will be decided mainly by the Armed Forces of Ukraine and NATO allies.
Real help from NATO will make a victory. The Belarusians will do what they can in their place. But, unfortunately, the Belarusians will not have a critical influence on the situation in the near future.
– Regarding joining the ranks of the Kalinouski Regiment, I will add that there is a decision of the Verkhovna Rada of Ukraine. They expanded the rights of foreign volunteers, including potential volunteers who are ready to fight on the side of Ukraine. We are talking about military contractors, the law allows them to easily stay on the territory of Ukraine and receive Ukrainian citizenship in a simplified procedure. I think that those Belarusians who are now in Lithuania, Latvia, Poland and other European countries can come to Ukraine, for them this is an additional element of simplifying the procedure so that they really help both Ukraine and the Belarusian people.
But let’s go further. You corrected me regarding Mr. Latushka and I would like to understand it better. Because if we just use the Google search engine and put “the opposition of the Republic of Belarus” there, then we will see more materials about Mrs. Tsikhanouskaya and there will be some actual articles that Pavel Latushka is conducting some kind of opposition activity. But all the names that you listed, most of the leaders who are in prison – they are now almost imperceptible on the media scene. I want to discuss this information bias with you. For example, the Davos Forum 2023 is ongoing and it is one of the few cases in history when a lot of time was devoted to Belarus. Yesterday was the main day of the forum. Mrs. Tsikhanouskaya spoke there, tomorrow, January 19, she will again speak about women’s leadership. Why do you think there is such a bias towards some leaders, whom you probably do not consider the main contenders for subsequent participation in the elections in future democratic Belarus?
– Just so happened that Tsikhanouskaya had to continue the work of her husband Siarhei, who was also one of the leaders of the Belarusian revolution. Yes, of course, he was a neophyte, he was making mistakes, but he put everything on the line and risked his fate. Unlike Tsikhanouskaya, who calls herself the “leader of the nation” without regaining consciousness, Siarhei said that Mikola Statkevich, Yauhen Afnahel and Pavel Seviarynets were examples for him in his politics. Because he is a man and understands that these people have much more experience. Siarhei Tsikhanouski, in our general plan for preparing the revolution, is a candidate for the presidency of the protest. It was Mikola Statkevich’s idea, because he was not allowed to participate in the elections, because he had a criminal record. About 20 people were prepared who were ready to take a risk and go to the polls. It so happened that Tsikhanouskaya hesitated for a long time, but nevertheless went, and the people voted for her fortunately, at the same time implying that they were voting for Siarhei, as well as for those who were not allowed to participate in the elections.
– Yes, but this is the story of 2020, then it was really necessary to take some urgent measures, but do you manage to shift the focus on the media scene of Europe and show that there are other political forces, there are other activists, there are other initiatives that are definitely should also be considered in some parliamentary groups, should they be discussed in the same way between the leaders of European countries? Is there something happening in this regard that we do not see in Ukraine?
– I have been involved in politics, in the Belarusian Resistance for a long time. So, I know that Western and Ukrainian politicians are reacting to what they see on TV. Since there were mass protests and there was a presidential candidate Tsikhanouskaya, they reacted to her. But they forgot those who are in prisons and not on TV. I want to say, for example, that the men, our guys, who created the battalion, the future Kastus Kalinouski Regiment, were not guided either by Tsikhanouskaya or by the headquarters. They simply took up arms, many were in the defence of Kyiv, many had experience in military operations, and began to create a military unit.
I also want to say that the European Belarus Civil Campaign provided assistance to the Kalinouski Regiment for more than a million euros (this is not our money, but we were able to attract the funds). Tsikhanouskaya’s Office, all these ladies and so on, didn’t even come close to providing such assistance. They seem to have other goals.
But there is a war and our main goal is to help both the Ukrainians and all the Belarusians who are fighting with arms. We’ll figure it out later. Those people who get out of prison will be the main newsmakers, but so far we have a lot of serious things to do. The liberation of Ukraine and the liberation of Belarus are the priority goals.
I saw Tsikhanouskaya’s speech in Davos. When it was about security, about armaments, the person said: “I don’t really understand this, I’m weak in this”. I’m just ashamed that such opportunities are wasted ineptly. Well, maybe this is such a game that there is a lot of “blah blah blah’, and the result is zero. She could have said: “Help Kalinouski Regiment”.
I would like to note that a lot also depends on Ukraine. We would like the Kalinouski Regiment to stand in the North, because not all Belarusians today are ready to fight in Bakhmut and Kherson. I understand that these are the goals of the Armed Forces of Ukraine. But if Ukraine wants to get thousands of Belarusian volunteers, then it is necessary to think about creating a separate military structure based on the Kalinouski Regiment, and then there will be thousands of Belarusians.
– In general, the leadership of the Kalinouski Regiment say that they are ready to stand in the north to meet their compatriots and take precautionary steps in order to stop them at the border. I think that everyone really needs to work to ensure that the Kalinouski Regiment grows and the number of Belarusian soldiers who support the Armed Forces of Ukraine grows. But Europe may also provide support. President of the European Commission Ursula von der Leyen made a new statement about the imposition of new sanctions against the Lukashenka regime. We had such a period of pause when Europe thought a little about whether it was worth further touching the “self-proclaimed one”? Now this story with sanctions has resumed again. Can it finally, let’s say, restrain this regime or not?
– You know, none of the sane people in Belarus would call Lukashenka president: neither self-proclaimed, nor some other. I got from you the following position of the Ukrainian establishment: “Well, maybe we will manage to come to an agreement with Lukashenka, because we’ve been trading so much, and the opposition for some reason cannot overthrow him.” Well, because you traded, you financed it, and, as columnist Yevhen Mahda said, “The Ukrainian leadership filled its ears and eyes with bitumen and did not want to listen to intelligence that spoke of the inevitability of an attack.”
Although the Ukrainian MFA denies this, it is indeed very strange that five packages of European sanctions did not affect the Belarusian regime, and then the topic suddenly arose: it would not be bad to send Ukrainian wheat and Belarusian potassium to help the starving children of Africa through the ports of Lithuania. These things are very scary. After all, Lukashenka is a dictator, Lukashenka is a co-aggressor, Lukashenka is a murderer.
There are people who have always been on the side of Ukraine for decades and will be on the side of Ukraine further. I personally came for the orange Maidan, and when we were returning with friends from the Zubr movement, we were captured by Kuchma’s special services, pulled out of the train at the border, we spent a day in a Ukrainian prison, my arm was broken… We are consistent in support, and Belarusians have been fighting since 2014 and are fighting today. You should bet on that.
We would also expect words from Ukraine: “NATO, help, please. A Belarusian combat unit is needed to neutralize Lukashenka. It will become the prototype of a new army. Help them”. Or, “I must know that we will help: some of the weapons, some gear, and other resources we will send to help the Belarusians.” Then you will see that there can be thousands of Belarusians.
The Russians are talking about creating 12 new divisions and several army corps, deploying new armies today. I assure you that these people, the Belarusian volunteers, will not be superfluous. But we must treat them with due understanding and respect, and we must understand what is going on. Latushka and Tsikhanouskaya won’t help you. People from the Young Front, Zubr, European Belarus, Krai will help…
– I think there is a clear position of the Office of the President and our Parliament that there is no emphasis on Tsikhanouskaya or anyone else, we really support the Kalinouski Regiment. We are ready to defeat the dictatorship through joint efforts. I’m thinking about trading. It seems to me that oil products and other goods traded by our countries generally worked for the economy of Belarus, and we cannot simply be reproached for cooperation with Lukashenka. Lukashenka is really a murderer, a dictator, and we must take him down. But tell me, please, if we fire on the airfields in Belarus and the military bases that Russia has placed in the country with the weapons that we receive and the missiles that our allies supply us, what will the Belarusians say, what will be the reaction?
– We have been waiting for these strikes for a long time. Is it possible that a mistake will be made a second time and you will allow the Russians to bring tens of thousands of military personnel, armored vehicles, equipment, rocket launchers to the borders and there will be no strikes on them? Will the Ukrainians be beaten near Kyiv again? Will Bucha and Irpin repeat, will everything be like this again? Why doesn’t Ukraine launch these strikes on airfields? Why are Russian targets not being attacked?
– Do you mean that the people will understand if we move these lines to the territory of the country and start stopping Russian soldiers already on your territories?
– Well, firstly, the people understand that Lukashenka has already dragged the country into the war. But people are different. If we are talking about people who are actively on the side of Ukraine, then yes, we expect these strikes, we are surprised that this did not happen, we do not agree that this trade helped the Belarusian economy. No, the EU sanctions were in 2021. But these sanctions were imposed with one goal: to release Belarusian political prisoners, real leaders. At that time, Ukraine had the status of an associated EU member state, nevertheless, it traded and fattened with it. It invested $3 billion in the security services and the Belarusian army, and the Russian military was supported by Ukrainian money during these so-called drills.
Therefore, it is necessary to draw conclusions from the previous mistakes, because the fights will be very serious. For Ukraine, every ally, every Belarusian who comes and is ready to fight in Ukraine will be important. We do not know if the uprising will then begin in Belarus. But we must prepare for this. For many years we have warned the leadership of Ukraine that your trade will end with aggression from Belarus, we said that there will be helicopter landings, that these things are being worked out in drills. They did not hear us. Therefore, now there is an opportunity to create a serious combat unit. We need to think about the Kalinouski Division. At the same time, we need to think and take a number of organizational and informational actions to make it possible.
– Do you see any obstacles from the Ukrainian authorities?
– Yes, certainly.
– What needs to be changed, in your opinion, in order for the Kalinouski Regiment to increase?
– The Kalinouski Regiment is a part of the international legion. There are a lot of fighters, and they are real heroes. Still, it is necessary to create a separate Belarusian unit in order to neutralize this scene of operations, the left flank for Ukraine and the right flank for Russia. It is important for this separate Belarusian to have its own number, to be sufficiently autonomous, and it’s also necessary that the Ukrainian leadership understands the need to create such a unit. Because in the current form: yes, the leadership of the Kalinouski Regiment is conducting recruitment, but we are dealing with dozens of people who come in a few months. However, there can be hundreds and thousands of Belarusians on the side of Ukraine.
– But finally, let’s discuss one more thing. We have repeatedly mentioned those leaders who are in prison these days. You often emphasize that everything possible must be done to free these people when speaking in Europe. We are counting on this, because this is truly the future of democratic Belarus. But what are the chances? Can this happen before our victory over Russia, or will it happen after?
– You know, Mrs. von der Leyen recently said that the Belarusian regime will finally appear again in the tenth package of sanctions against Russia, and we very much hope that it will be aimed at stopping sanctions evasion. We know that the Lukashenka regime is running products, including dual-use products. It goes to Russia because there is no border. Sanctions against Russia, against the regime in Belarus can not only release Belarusian political prisoners, but they can also stop the war.
The reason is that the sanctions against the Russian energy sector, which Europe has already imposed, will sober up Putin. I am sure that his activities can continue for several months, maybe until the summer, maybe until the end of the summer, and then the blow to the Russian economy will even be catastrophic. It is impossible to replace these decades of experience in the nuclear power industry, oil refining, gas, coal and so on which will be affected. Russia is already suffering losses of hundreds of billions of dollars.
– You are right, this process is already underway and we see that Europe has abandoned Russia’s energy resources, prices have fallen and what Russia was counting on will no longer happen. They can not replenish the budget at the expense of their oil, gas and other resources anyhow.
– It is the most important point. So that there is no way to bypass the sanctions, and then we will see the addition of these three components: the courage of Ukraine and its Armed Forces, NATO assistance with weapons and sanctions. These three elements can end the war fairly quickly. Well, and the fate of Belarus…
– Yes, political prisoners. We must sum up with you that political prisoners will also have a chance to be free, but you say that these three components will be decisive.
– Well, thank you. Dzmitry Bandarenka, the coordinator of the European Belarus Civil Campaign, set the priorities. Yes, I think that the country’s leadership can also take something from this dialogue. Changes that will help jointly overcome the dictatorship and regime that destroys Ukrainians, mocks Belarusians and completely disfigures the prospect of a democratic, normal and full life in the two countries. Thank you very much, Dzmitry, we will contact you. Long Live Belarus!
– Glory to Ukraine!
– Glory to the Heroes!
– Let’s win together!
– Surely! Till we meet again.