“Voice of America”: Ukrainian dream of Andrei Sannikov

Belarus needs a path to democracy, not the stability of the dictatorship, Belarusian opposition members think. Belarusian opposition members call on official Kyiv not to share the “interest in the dictatorial regime” of Aliaksandr Lukashenka. Andrei Sannkov, a former presidential candidate and coordinator of the European Belarus civil campaign, said it in Kyiv on December 16 ahead of the fourth anniversary of the suppression of the mass post-election protests in Belarus.

Andrei Sannikov said at a press conference in Kyiv that “help from the Ukrainians” in the development of democracy in Belarus was in fact the only right democratic and pro-European choice for Ukraine.

“We need steps towards democracy instead of the stability of the dictatorial regime,” Andrei Sannikov said. “Yes, we need help from the Ukrainians urgently. We’d like the official policy of Kyiv to have solidarity with the Belarusians who struggle for the same values. We don’t want Kyiv to support the dictatorial regime of Lukashenka. Kyiv should understand that the struggle for democracy in the neighbouring republic, the struggle for European values and human rights, however much someone may dislike it, are the things necessary for Ukraine, too.”

Sannikov, who was granted asylum in the UK after almost a year in prison for his independent views, spoke about his “old dream”: “I have an old dream about Ukraine. I want to see Ukraine an important country of the region. I want Ukraine to realise its power and became a player in both the post-Soviet space and Europe. Ukraine got these opportunities after the Euromaidan protests and the ouster of Yanukovych, but we see from opinion polls that democratic Ukraine shows its interest in the dictatorial regime in Belarus.”

“Growth medium” for dictators

Andrei Sannikov thinks “the Lukashenka regime became the growth medium” and a behaviour pattern that Russian authorities use in their country. Former president Viktor Yanukovych tried to implement the pattern in Ukraine.

“The absolute power, the elimination of opposition as well as civil society, human rights movement and independent press – all these things were almost fulfilled in Belarus. It is impossible in Belarus to carry out legal activities that do not meet the rules of the regime and to look for alternatives to the government’s behaviour,” Andrei Sannikov thinks.

He notes it’s surprising that the policy of Aliaksandr Lukashenka finds understanding among leaders of democratic Ukraine. Andrei Sannikov is rather sceptical about the potential of the opposition movement inside Belarus at the current historical stage.

“The potential [of opposition] has weakened due to the events in Ukraine, Russia’s aggression and Russian propaganda,” Andrei Sannikov said.

Natallia Radzina, the chief editor of charter97.org, thinks the only allies of Ukraine are the democratic forces in Belarus. Ukrainian politicians should not count on the cooperation with the “dictatorial regime of Aliaksandr Lukshenka”, Natallia Radzina warns.

Ukraine’s tactics and strategy

“We have arrived in Ukraine with a message that Ukraine’s only allies are the democratic forces of Belarus. We heard from Ukrainian politicians, in particular from Deputy Speaker of the Verkhovna Rada Andriy Parubiy, that the strategy of the Ukrainian authorities is as follows: maintaning relations with Lukashenka tactically and supporting Belarusian opposition strategically,” Natallia Radzina said at a press conference in Kyiv on December 16 to a question from a correspondent of the Russian Service of Voice of America.

Natallia Radzina thinks the Ukrainian authorities earlier demonstrated this rhetoric in relation to the situation of the development of civil freedoms and democracy in Belarus.

“We are returning to the year 2004, when leaders of the Orange Revolution Yushchenko and Tymoshenko didn’t hold a single meeting with Belarusian opposition leaders. They arrived in Minsk in fact to kiss Lukashenka. Yushchenko was actually an advocate of Lukashenka in Europe. It led to the fall of the democratic regime, the restoration of authoritarian trends and Yanukovych’s coming to power,” Natallia Radzina says.

She calls the regime of Aliaksandr Lukashenka in Belarus “Putin’s lodgement against Ukraine” and thinks Minsk will officially take the side of the Kremlin after the new escalation of the conflict between Ukraine and Russia.

Democratic resource for Belarus

“Belarus is in a military union with Russia. There’s a joint group against NATO and Ukraine. If Putin gives an order, Russian troops can attack Ukraine from Belarus. Russian Su-27 fighter jets are stationed at an aerodrome in Baranavichy in Belarus. A Russian air base in Babruisk will open next year,” Natallia Radzina says.

She thinks that many Ukrainians who accept the Lukashenka regime don’t know about political prisoners and tortures in prisons. The republic of president Aliaksandr Lukashenka has no independent press, free speech, freedom of assembly, independent courts and parliament, Radzina notes.

Bohdan Yaremenko, an Ukrainian diplomat and head of the Maidan of Foreign Affairs Foundation, Ukraine has huge resources to mobilise the forces that support democracy and development of Belarus.

“Ukraine has the so called soft power, though the country has never suspected it. It is huge resources for Belarus <...> Ukraine is able to become a factor that consolidates the rising activity of democratic society in Belarus,” Bohdan Yaremenko said.