«Belarus is occupied.» Interview with the oppositionist exiled in Ukraine

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Belarus has launched military exercises on its territory, and Alexander Lukashenko has instructed to establish an operational command of troops on the border with Ukraine. Lviv Now asked Oleksii Frantskevich, a Belarusian oppositionist and coordinator of the «Belarusian Crisis Centre» in Lviv, whether Belarus could invade Ukraine to open a new front, and what the manoeuvres of Russian-Belarusian troops meant.

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Is the invasion from the territory of Belarus possible now?

Belarus is an occupied territory, and Lukashenko no longer has subjectivity, no room for manoeuvre. There, Putin has achieved his goal, and he understands this clearly. Everything is quite complicated.

What to expect from the territory of Belarus is still a question. Its occupation began in 1996 and ended on February 20, 2022, when Russian troops did not withdraw after the exercises. Lukashenko lost his subjectivity in 2020 after the rigged election and the peaceful opposition movement in the country which he succeeded to suppress.

Can Lukashenko order an invasion now? Maybe, yes. But the issue of Belarus and the Belarusian army has not been resolved in Belarus for a long time. After 2021, its defense minister has his office in the Kremlin. He received the keys to it after the creation of the CSTO [Collective Security Treaty Organization, a Russian-dominated international military-political organization that includes Belarus, Armenia, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, and Tajikistan, which are de facto covered by Russia. – Ed.]

Read also: «It is not worth underestimating the threat of the Belarusian attack», – military analyst Ostap Kryvdyk

It should also be noted that the Belarusian military was not allowed to approach the «Iskanders», which Russia moved to the territory of Belarus and from which it fired on Ukraine. All of these point to the complete occupation of Belarus.

It’s often mentioned that Lukashenko did not know about the attack. This is also not true. But whether he is asked or not when something happens is another question. It is also unknown whether he is aware of the course of events.

The «referendum» on Belarus’ accession to Russia

Now in Belarus itself, there is a question of holding a «referendum» on joining Russia. Although Russia has, in fact, already occupied Belarus, it can now be legally enshrined to give it some status. And if so, then a country like Belarus may disappear from the map of the world altogether. This is a problem. Therefore, we need to be active here and now.

That is why we held the Forum of Democratic Forces of Belarus in Warsaw on May 18. There we, the opposition forces, signed a declaration that Belarus is an occupied state.

The «smooth» occupation began in 1996 [in 1995 and 1996, Lukashenko illegally held the first and second referendums, which greatly expanded the president’s powers. Parliamentary and civil rallies called the Minsk Spring were suppressed in 1996. Soon after those events, integration into Russia began: the Russian language was given the right to a second state along with the Belarusian, the state flag and coat of arms were changed – Ed.] Therefore, it would be right now to work with Ukrainian parliamentarians, possibly Lithuanian ones, to set a precedent and still recognize Belarus as an occupied territory at the state level. It is necessary to solve all this in some way, because Belarus is a co-aggressor.

Read also: They won’t manage to take Odesa. A political scientist about a potential invasion from Transnistria

Belarusians now have a stalemate: dictatorship, hundreds of thousands of refugees, thousands of political prisoners. Even for a single picket «No to War», it’s possible to be sentenced two or three years in prison. The call for anything is interpreted by the court as a call for terrorism – and this is the death penalty. Belarusians face up to 20 years in prison for talking about the movement of enemy forces, such as the «Belaruski Hayun» Telegram channel. That’s what we have…

Kremlin’s plans for Belarus

The fact is that the «special operation» in Donbas is underway, Russia is trying to keep the Belarusian-Ukrainian border in tension so that Ukraine cannot send troops to Donbas from the west. This is the first moment. The second point: an offensive by Belarus was planned in March. Russia was probably considering a scenario of capturing Lutsk and Lviv to prevent Western aid to the Ukrainian military.

Read also: Russians terrorize Western Ukraine to make refugees emigrate even further

Well, this is the same site. Troops went from Belarus to the same Bucha and to Kyiv in the direction of Zhytomyr. In addition, there is information that Russia is deploying missile systems in Belarus. Whether they will be involved or not is also a question, because the Polish direction and infrastructure in western Ukraine are really important. Russia understands that both the United States with the lease and Europe are very helpful to Ukraine. Not to the extent that is needed, and perhaps not as fast as we would like, but still, they supply weapons that Ukraine needs today like air. Russia may try to sever this link.

I repeat, all that Ukraine needs now is heavy offensive weapons. Russia is artificially creating famine and thus terrorizing Europe, forcing Ukraine to sit down at the negotiating table, to surrender, to armistice – as it pleases, motivated by economic issues.

About the manoeuvres of the Russian-Belarusian troops

It’s difficult to say whether these manoeuvres are a sham or whether they are really a preparation for an invasion. We have known Lukashenko’s position for six years. His position is blackmail. Perhaps this is also a question of starting a conversation with Lukashenko.

We remember 2013, when he succeeded. He «took off his shoes in the air», and a new concept appeared in Europe – «former dictator» [because of the preparations for the Revolution of Dignity in Ukraine and the significant revolutionary potential of Belarus, opposition forces and bloggers began to appear, and Lukashenko in 2013 softened his policy and rhetoric – Ed.]

​​Read also: What if Putin officially declares war? Interview with the Razumkov centre expert

One thing I can say is that 86% of Belarusians are against the war with Ukraine. Virtually, all of Belarus is against the involvement of its citizens in certain military actions. That is, I’m not talking about whether or not they support Russian aggression. This clearly focuses on the fact that they are against the involvement of Belarusians in hostilities in general. This has historically happened, and by the way, Lukashenko also uses it. This is a stamp. Hence «we are not there» and anything like that, «so that there is no war.» On these «staples» Lukashenko has been in power for 26 years and remains, as it’s said, afloat. It is supposed to guarantee that the whole world is armed to capture this «island of happiness and prosperity», and it is supposed to be a guarantee that there is no war.

The media justification for the invasion from Belarus

An invasion is also being prepared in the media. Once, they have faked the whole day that there would be an attack by Belarus at 4 am. I saw it on Ukrainian social networks and received such a message. In particular, about the advance of 15-20 kilometers, the use of artillery and the destruction of certain objects.

Even the Belarusian-Russian exercises and Lukashenko’s statements that if it weren’t for Russia, Ukraine would attack Belarus… He doesn’t just do them from time to time. This is all to justify aggression.

The approach of a common victory

In any case, what we are trying to do with our actions is very important now. Volunteers, volunteer battalions, the «Belaruski Hayun» Telegram channel – Belarusians, in spite of everything and risking their lives, continue to publish information about the movements of Russian troops, do everything to bring our common victory closer.

The message that one must distinguish between Belarusians and Lukashenkoists must be very important now. Because this is the same as Chechens and Kadyrovites. Needless to say, Belarusians will attack or Belarusians want war. No, that’s what Lukashenko wants! This is completely different, the Belarusians have nothing to do with it. Today, on the contrary, they are at the forefront and are doing everything to «divide Russia to zero.» Because if we do not divide, a sad scenario will happen.

Read also: «Call me Johnny». A story of a Belarusian forced to exile in Lviv

If the whole civilized world does not unite, appetites will grow.

The likelihood of internal protests in Belarus

It is difficult now, because in 2020, the whole civil society, hundreds of thousands of refugees, thousands of political prisoners were cleaned up, preventive measures are taken every day to intimidate the action, arrests and searches have been carried out every day.

Yesterday in Belarus, another day was called «Black Thursday», because the parents of the activists were arrested. All over Belarus. That is why the Belarusians need to unite around Ukraine, to do everything for a common victory. Then, in the second stage, to resolve the issue of de-occupation of Ukraine, and in the third – the de-occupation of Belarus.

Read also: For Belarus: Slavs and Americans Create a Folk Alliance

Now, I am in Prague, I am applying and organizing an action here on the first of June. We coordinate our actions – the same actions will take place in Berlin, Poland and Lithuania on Children’s Day. We are doing this in order to ask the world community to give Ukraine heavy offensive weapons.

We signed it at a forum in Warsaw. They declared that Belarus is an occupied territory, that the Belarusians will fight side by side with Ukraine against a common enemy – Russia. We appeal to the world community to disconnect Russia from SWIFT and impose a full economic embargo. Belarusians need help, because we will not be able to cope on our own, we will not gain freedom.

Roman Tyshchenko-Lamanskyi, translated by Vitalii Holich

Follow us on Facebook and Instagram. Lviv Now is an English-language website for Lviv, Ukraine’s «tech-friendly cultural hub.» It is produced by Tvoe Misto («Your City») media-hub, which also hosts regular problem-solving public forums to benefit the city and its people.

 



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