Minsk Forum XXI Warsaw Session: Belarus and the War in Ukraine

The workshop focused on issues surrounding the Russian aggression against Ukraine and implications of the crisis on the situation in Belarus

One of the workshops of this year’s Minsk Forum conference in Warsaw that took place on 2 October 2023 focused on the topic of Belarus and Russia’s War in Ukraine. The workshop gathered Belarusian experts and activists that addressed the issues surrounding the Russian aggression against Ukraine and implications of the crisis on the situation in Belarus. The following key points were formulated by the workshop participants.

The group divided into several sub-groups to assess the situation from various perspectives.

The first group, centering on the perspective of the Lukashenka regime, came up with the following key points:

Belarus-Centric Agenda

  • A fundamental principle agreed upon during the workshop was that any public discourse regarding Belarus’s role in the Ukrainian conflict must prioritize a Belarus-centric perspective. This means framing discussions, narratives, and actions with the welfare and interests of Belarusians at the forefront. While acknowledging the broader international implications, the workshop participants emphasized that the focus should always return to the impact on Belarus.

Hybrid Occupation of Belarus

  • The occupation of Belarus was a topic of significant debate. The consensus was that de facto, Belarus is subject to a “hybrid” occupation by Russia. This occupation does not neatly fit into established legal definitions, creating a unique challenge for international discussions. To effectively address this issue in public discourse, it was recommended that an honest and thorough examination of the situation’s nuances be undertaken, while highlighting the real impact on Belarusians and the erosion of their sovereignty.

Differentiation of Responsibility

  • Workshop participants highlighted the need to distinguish between the Belarusian society, the Belarusian state, and the Lukashenka regime when discussing Belarus’s role in the Ukrainian crisis. Public discourse should consistently use wording that distinguishes between these entities to avoid painting all Belarusians with the same brush. It is essential for Belarusians, when assessing the role of Belarus in the present war, to balance self-criticism with appeals to the historical experiences of other nations facing authoritarian regimes.

Justice for Belarus through the Ukrainian Situation

  • The workshop discussed the importance of seeking justice for Belarus by addressing its connection to the Ukrainian crisis. It was noted that the regime in Minsk has been implicated in the abduction of Ukrainian children, a grave human rights violation. This could be the first step towards holding the Belarusian regime legally accountable for its actions not only related to the Ukrainian conflict but also for its track record of human rights violations inside Belarus.

The workshop provided valuable insights and recommendations for shaping public discourse regarding Belarus and its role in the Russian aggression against Ukraine. The consensus was that a Belarus-centric approach is essential, recognizing the complexities of the hybrid occupation and differentiating responsibility between the society and the regime. Additionally, the pursuit of justice for Belarus through its connection to the Ukrainian crisis was deemed crucial. By implementing these recommendations, it is hoped that international discussions will better reflect the nuances of the situation and contribute to a more informed and empathetic understanding of Belarus’s unique position.

The second group, which centered its attention on Belarusian democratic forces abroad, formulated the following key points:

  1. Belarus is not an aggressor state: it is the key message the democratic forces of Belarus should communicate.
    It is necessary to separate the country from Lukashenka’s regime. Belarusian mass media should also emphasise public manifestations of solidarity of the Belarusian people with Ukraine.
  2. Sanctions must be individual and targeted, aimed at senior officials of the regime.
    The imposition of sanctions requires taking into account a large number of factors in order not to isolate Belarus and complicate the life of the «ordinary citizens» of the country.
  3. There needs to be long-term programme of stable financing of civil initiatives abroad.
    – The majority of Belarusians who have left the country are not able to quickly integrate and provide a decent standard of living for themselves and their families. Such structures need material support.
    – Plans for a constant development of Belarusian professionals and programmes in the field of local self-government should be developed together with Western partners. For example, these could be internships for doctors, teachers, and cultural figures.