Belarus is probably the country most openly siding with Russia in the war in Ukraine.
As such, Belarus is the subject of much debate and assessments. In recent years, Belarus and the President Alexander Lukasenko have gone through the accusations of authoritarianism, protests which the government claimed to be a ‘Color Revolution’ organized by the West, sanctions and discussions on whether to get involved in the war. Most recently, the situation in Transnistria has brought Belarus back to the forefront.
We talked about all this with Alexey Dzermant in a comprehensive interview.
Alexey Dzermant is political scientist and the Director of the Centre for Research and Development of Continental Integration of North Eurasia, Minsk.
How do you regard the war in Ukraine? To what extent is it a threat to Belarus?
Why has the Minsk Agreement failed?
In general, every war and conflict means a threat, especially to neighboring countries.
Of course, we don’t want war on our territory and that’s why we are not going to go with our troops on the territory of Ukraine. Belarus’ international policy had an orientation to make peace, not war. We tried to avoid conflict and establish peace in Donbas and in Ukraine in general through the Minsk Process. But unfortunately, we failed because the position of Ukraine and the collective West was to start a really big war. Now you see the situation.
Will Belarus be involved in the war?
There are many talks and news that Belarus will get involved in the war, and that Russia will or already now is trying to open a new front from the region of Belarus. What do you think about this?
Belarus will not get involved in the war. Yet, we support Russia in this conflict in different ways.
I think these are some kind of fake news produced in Ukraine and the West. In fact, the only possibility to be a part of this conflict for Belarus is when, for example, Ukraine or Poland or Lithuania attack our own territory. There is no reason for Belarus to attack Ukraine or other neighbors.
Our President Alexander Lukashenko always says that our army, our troops and our state is only to defend our own territory, our state and our people. This is his position on this conflict. And I think he is right. At the same time, Belarusian people don’t want to attack Ukraine to be some kind of occupant.
But still we perceive the situation in Ukraine as a threat because of terrorist attacks and Ukraine’s pro-Western position. We would like to see Ukraine as a good neighbor and a brother state, but not as the frontline of NATO on our borders. The Ukrainian government is very hostile to our country and to our values.
What is going on in Transnistria
Another heated topic is the latest developments in Transnistria. Some claim that the US wants to make a provocation there and try to enlarge the territory of the war. Is that true?
Yes. I think the Byelorussian government is already projecting these kinds of possibilities. Terrorist attack attempts occurred at our military airports and the Bryansk region. All these events are exactly in line with the policy of the Ukrainian government and its Western supporters. They are trying to enlarge the territory of the conflict.
They are trying to make more harm to Russia, especially in territories like Transnistria, Belarus and borderlands with Ukraine. I think the Ukrainian regime tries to get more Western finance and weapon to attack Russia and the Russian allies.
There are people in the region that have close relations with Russia. So it is sensitive to provocations. We know that the Ukrainian Special Forces and intelligence services are working there.
Reorientation of the economy in the face of sanctions
What do you think about the sanctions against Belarus and Russia? Did they have a considerable impact on the economy of Belarus?
There are very severe sanctions against Russia and Belarus. I think sanctions have more heavily affected the economy of Russia. Still, it has also been harmful to our economy too. But yet it has not been a catastrophe for us because in the last years we reoriented our export in other markets, especially Russia, China and other countries in the Eastern world. So the Western countries could not reach their aim to destroy our economy.
The world is now a different one than before. There is not only the West as an economic power but also countries like India, Türkiye, Iran, China, Latin America, and Africa. We succeed in reorienting our economy in this direction.
In previous years we had a good trade with Europe, with Western Europe, Central Europe, with our neighbors like Poland and the Baltic states. But now they are building a new Berlin Wall.
Lukashenko in Beijing
President Lukashenko met with the President of China Xi Jinping. Were these issues addressed in this meeting?
Yes. They reached an agreement to develop deeper and more active ties in the economy. In political and military spheres too.
We can see a new alliance now is developing between Russia, China, Belarus, Iran, and Democratic People’s Republic of Korea. It is not a real alliance for now, but we can see some clues implying a promising future. Our strategy is to develop these relations, especially with China because China is an economic giant. Russia is undoubtedly a close ally and all Russian markets are now opened for our goods.
Color Revolution or righteous protest against and authoritarian government?
In 2020 there were demonstrations against President Lukashenko and the government. Some people call it Color Revolution attempt while others a just protest against an authoritarian government. What is the main tendency within the Belarusian people? President Lukashenko and the government have the full support or enough support of the Belarus Belarusian people?
In 2020 we faced an attempt of a Color Revolution against the President. These protests were organized and supported by the West. That is quite obvious.
I think it was more geopolitical conflict rather than our inner conflict. Belarus is very important in the geopolitical sense for Russia especially in the circumstances when Ukraine is positioned against Russia together with Baltic states. Belarus is a key country for the region. That’s why the West tried to organize Color Revolution to transform the regime into a pro-Western one.
The situation today is different. Our state tried to disorganize all these networks created by the West to support Color Revolution. Today, two-three years after the attempt, our country is ‘more clear’.
‘Belarus would have been the arena of war’
Besides, our people saw the situation in Ukraine and even those who were against President Lukashenko, now understood what would happen in Belarus if the Color Revolution had been successful in 2020. In that scenario, Belarus would have been the arena of civil war or even a great war between Russia and the West. Most of the Belarusian people are now aware that Lukashenko saved the country by not allowing the war in our territory.
If we compare Belarus with Türkiye in this context, a large majority of the people think that the US is interfering in the internal affairs of Türkiye (in cases like backing the coup attempt on 15 July 2016 and supporting terror organizations), but yet approximately half of the population do not vote for the government in the elections and oppose most of its policies. Is it rather similar or different in Belarus? There are charges of authoritarianism against Erdoğan and Lukashenko.
‘Democracy’ and ‘authoritarianism’
I think, for most Byelorussians, the problem is ‘democracy’ or ‘authoritarianism’ at all. The problem is the economy, salaries, to produce goods for different markets, etc. And Lukashenko is quite successful in that sense. The Byelorussian people have not suffered a decline in living standards in recent years despite all adverse circumstances.
Most of the people support him, even if they don’t like the ‘authoritarian style’, because they understand well that it’s the only way of governance in this difficult geopolitical and geo-economic situation.
As a matter of fact, the Byelorussian people are not pro-Western at their core. Only a little part of Byelorussian really believes in ‘Western democracy’ because they saw the examples in Ukraine, Moldova and Georgia.
So we have no problem like the dichotomy between ‘democratic’ and ‘authoritarian’ government models. We just need to be a stable sovereign state that takes its own decisions with a strong leader.
Just like Belarus, Hungary, Russia, Türkiye, Iran, Democratic People’s Republic of Korea and China are labeled as ‘authoritarian’ as well.
The division between ‘democratic’ and ‘authoritarian’ regimes is very artificial. I think the only criterion of significance is whether a state is sovereign or so-called ‘democracy’, ‘parliamentary democracy’ and so-called pursuer of ‘human rights’ under Western pressure. This division is just a way to promote and ensure the hegemony of imperialism and the Western way of living. We should not be so naive to believe in these tales.
In Eurasia, we should develop our own models of statehood and economy and never mind these Western opinions. All the states you mentioned tried to organize a more fair system of international relations.
A frontier between the West and the East
There seem to be two camps in the world with the main lines. One is Eurasia and the other is Atlantic or NATO. Some countries like Belarus and Ukraine are located on the border lines of these camps. Now and in the future, how can Belarus and similar countries in this sense, handle this geopolitical difficulty?
Belarus is like a frontier between the West and the East, between Euro-Atlantic and Eurasia. At the moment we are facing a conflict between the West and the East. In such a situation, the only way to be a sovereign state is to realize its own national interests. In the case of Belarus, the national interests lie in being a part of the Eastern Alliance. We feel no political pressure in sense of ideology in values from the East. It’s a good decision for us to be a part of the European Union because they destroy our economy and our way of living.
I think, maybe in future after this war, we can organize a new system of relations with the West, especially with Europe. But that would be only possible on the condition that we win the war because Western Europe has respect only for strong countries and strong leaders.
Maybe in the future, there will be more countries like Hungary with its own sovereign stance in Europe. Besides, Europe itself is not sovereign. Germany, France, Belgium and the like are under the control of the US.
If this situation changes, then we can realize the concept of being a ‘bridge’ between the East and the West.
Thank you for your answers. Is there anything else you would like to point out?
Yes, some words about Türkiye.
‘The West wants a pro-Western leader in Türkiye’
We know that situation is also very difficult for Türkiye, on the one hand being a part of NATO, but at the same time not desiring to be a part of the conflict in Ukraine. The Turkish government tries to organize some peace negotiations. Such a neutral position is far better for Türkiye than being a part of the pro-Western coalition against Russia. The strategic aim of Britain and Americans is to organize a new conflict in Southern Caucasus and Eastern Mediterranean and thus make Türkiye confront Russia.
We see that the West tries to influence the elections in Türkiye because President Erdoğan is a very difficult partner for them. The West wants a pro-Western leader in Türkiye. In the near future, the West can try to organize some kind of Color Revolution or a military coup.
I think it will be better for such a great country like Türkiye to be sovereign and strong out of the control of Western imperialism.