We condemn the instrumentalisation of Belarus by Lukashenka and Putin
The Arbeitskreis Belarus* (Working Group on Belarus) are appalled by the attack of the Russian leadership on Ukraine and the involvement of Belarus in this war by illegitimate ruler Aliaksandr Lukashenka, which goes against the will of the majority of Belarusian society.
We support the efforts of the Ukrainian people and the international community to immediately end the war, repel the aggressor, and protect human lives whilst preserving the independence and democratic character of Ukraine. We are committed to providing aid to Ukraine, advocating for solidarity and unity within the EU, as well as urging our friends and partners in Belarus to support Ukraine.
Within the context of the current situation, we would like to draw your attention to the following:
- Dictator Lukashenka makes Belarus a war party with no right
Belarusian ruler Aliaksandr Lukashenka, who has lost his legitimacy following the rigged elections in August 2020 and is now directly dependent on Putin, did not prevent the prolonged deployment of Russian forces in Belarus after the joint military exercises under the Union State of Belarus and Russia. The territory of Belarus has been abused for military attacks against Ukraine, including the launch of ballistic missiles, since 24 February 2022. Furthermore, Lukashenka has not ruled out moving Belarusian troops into Ukraine.
We condemn this war of aggression against Belarus’ neighbour, which violates international law. In so doing, Lukashenka has made Belarus de facto a participant in the war and an aggressor state aligned with the Russian leadership. As the Belarusian democratic forces in exile have pointed out, Lukashenka can no longer be seen as a guarantor of Belarusian sovereignty. He has become, rather, an imminent threat to the country’s territorial integrity. His position does not represent the view of the Belarusian population, a clear majority of which is against the war.
- Non-nuclear status of Belarus has been renounced
In the course of the undemocratic and rigged constitutional referendum of 27 February 2022, the non-nuclear and neutral status of Belarus has been renounced. This presents a real danger that nuclear weapons from Russia will be stationed on Belarusian territory. There is also a high risk that Russian military forces and possibly weapons will remain in Belarus after the war. This is unacceptable.
- People in Belarus demand neutrality while being subject to repression
The majority of Belarusians see themselves as a peaceful society and, according to recent Chatham House surveys, wish for their country to remain neutral. An absolute majority does not support Lukashenka or the participation of the Belarusian army in the war against Ukraine. Many Belarusians joined anti-war protests on the day of the constitutional referendum. Over 1,000 people were arrested as a result. Since the outbreak of the protests against the rigged presidential elections in August 2020, thousands of Belarusians have been subjected to state violence on an unprecedented scale even for authoritarian Belarus. There are currently more than 1,000 political prisoners in Belarus, suffering from inhumane conditions. Many of them are being tortured. Tens of thousands of Belarusians were forced to flee to Ukraine between 2020 and 2022 due to political persecution. They now find themselves in a war zone together with the Ukrainians.
We have formulated the following recommendations for European politicians and societies:
- Apply similar sanctions to Lukashenka as to Putin
The illegitimate Lukashenka regime, including government representatives as well as the Belarusian economic, military and secret services, must be immediately sanctioned for participating in the war against Ukraine and in the same way as the Putin regime. The sanctions will have maximum effect only if they target both regimes equally.
- Grant Belarusians entry on humanitarian grounds
Belarusian citizens who had to flee to Ukraine following repressions of the Lukashenka regime are now in danger of being persecuted and extradited to Belarus by the Russian occupiers. Refugees from Belarus, just like other refugees from Ukraine, must therefore be granted entry into the EU countries as well as Moldova without bureaucracy and visas. If necessary, they should be allowed to travel freely to Germany and other EU Member States and be able to stay there safely.
- Do not equate societies with political regimes
We call on European media, civil society, and the wider public to differentiate between the actions of authoritarian governments and citizens. Belarus should not be equated with the Lukashenka regime, and sanctions are being imposed in response to the actions of the government – not the people.
- Say no to prejudices based on nationality and language
No prejudice or hatred based on nationality or language should be tolerated. In wartime, autocratic regimes use propaganda and defamation to polarise societies and increase their loyalty. That is why it is important that policymakers, civil society, and the public support those in Belarus and Russia who oppose the war: We see and hear you; we appeal to you to support our efforts. We should also actively approach the Russian-speaking populations in our democratic societies and clearly signal to them that they are part of us.
- Respect and protect the sovereignty of Belarus
Belarus must continue to be perceived and protected by international politics and society as an independent country, even though the independence of Belarus is extremely threatened by the illegitimate actions of the Lukashenka and Putin regimes, and a “creeping annexation” by Russia is becoming increasingly likely.
* The Arbeitskreis Belarus (Working Group on Belarus) was formed in August 2020 as a result of the dramatic events in Belarus. With more than 120 members from civil society, political and expert groups, it now constitutes an important platform for knowledge and contact exchange on Belarus. The Working Group has been established by the DRA, Human Rights in Belarus, LibMod, the European Exchange, German-Belarusian Society, and the Belarusian community “Razam”.