Ambassador Brzezinski’s Interview with Belsat

9 August 2022

Igor Kuley, Belsat: Ambassador Brzezinski, thank you very much for this opportunity that we can sit here to talk to you here today. I know that you are not Ambassador to Belarus.  You are Ambassador to Poland, but anyway, you decided that you can talk to us about Belarus. And I think that our viewers will appreciate that.

Ambassador Brzezinski: Thank you, Igor, for having me today. I think most important in terms of the topic of our conversation today, the second anniversary of the fraudulent elections held in Belarus in 2020, is that I’m a US ambassador, and the US government, in its entirety, stands with the freedom fighters and the democracy activists of Belarus. We’re proud of them. We’re proud of their struggle. We acknowledge their sacrifice, the suffering that they endure and their families. And I’m highly aware that the journalist Iryna Slaunikava is in prison in Belarus, is suffering because of her trade, free media. We stand in solidarity with her, and we call for her immediate release.

Igor Kuley, Belsat: Thank you for mentioning our former colleague. It’s very important for us that diplomats and politicians from other countries remember about what’s going on in Belarus, because two years have passed since the elections. And since the war in Ukraine started, we think that sometimes Belarus is overshaded by what’s going now in Ukraine. Is that true? or is Belarus still a topic that is important for Western democracies?

Ambassador Brzezinski: Well, freedom and democracy in Belarus is absolutely an imperative, in America for the US government, and for democracies around the world. We see what is happening. We saw what happened two years ago, with the election that was not free and fair. We saw what happened two years ago, in terms of Lukashenko assuming power, not on the basis of a free and fair election by his people. And we see the human rights violations that are occurring today. This is not forgotten by us. It’s actually tremendously important and interdependent to the crisis the US government and Poland face in this region. There is a fundamental challenge to democracy and freedom in Eastern Europe, based on what we see happening in Ukraine, but also based on what we see happening in Belarus. And that’s why this anniversary is important. And that’s why we stand with the democracy activists who stand up for democracy in Belarus.

Igor Kuley, Belsat: You mentioned our colleague Iryna Slaunikava was sentenced two days ago to five years in prison. And last month our other colleague, Katsyaryna Andreyeva, had her second sentence to eight years in prison. What more can the United States and European Union do to bring forward the day of their release so that they will be released …

Ambassador Brzezinski: Immediately.  We seek their release immediately. And we continue a broad, multifaceted, multi-dimensional approach in terms of promoting freedom and democracy in Belarus. We stand with our special friends the Poles, in calling for this change in Belarus.  It is not lost on us what is happening there, that you have an authoritarian leader who is in power on the basis of unfree and Unfair Elections, and who is using jail sentences, and the machinations of government, to intimidate those who participate in free and fair media. And we will continue to stand with them to support activism in a variety of different ways so as to minimize the reach and practices of the authoritarian leaders and to maximize the potential of democracy activists and those who attempt to promote on free and fair media. We’re doing that even through the program and through the platform that you and I are speaking on right now. And that’s Belsat.

Igor Kuley, Belsat: What do you think? During these two years after the 2020 elections, the situation with democracy and human rights and values is getting worse and worse? or has Lukashenko managed to stabilize the situation inside the country? we can use this word “stability?”

Ambassador Brzezinski: Sure, well, I’m not going to get into parsing: when it’s better, when it’s worse – when you have a leader who is in power on the basis of unfree and unfair elections, using the machinations of government to intimidate those who engage in what is legitimate in any democracy around the world – and that’s free and fair media. That’s what’s happening in Belarus, and we will continue to work to empower those who would attempt to stand for the rights of the people of Belarus, and to stand for freedom and, quite frankly, humanity in that country.  The people of Belarus deserve better. They have seen how democracy and freedom can flourish immediately to its west. I think that in many ways, what’s happened in the first three decades of the post-communist era in Central Eastern Europe provides important models, important examples of what works, what doesn’t work, and we hope the same for the people of Belarus. They deserve better, and I hope as soon as possible get better.

Igor Kuley, Belsat: The United States did not recognize Alexander Lukashenko as president, and they did not recognize the elections in 2020. But did something change from this time? I mean, who is Alexander Lukashanko today for the U.S.?

Ambassador Brzezinski: Well, Alexander Lukashenko is someone who has, quite frankly, shifted his positions, as many different ways as humanly possible over the last 30 years, with regard to his orientation with the West, with regard to his orientation towards Russia, in order to advance a fundamentally arrogant and self-centered goal, keeping himself in power. That is who he is to us. And the people of Belarus deserve better.

Igor Kuley, Belsat: And if I may ask about authorities of Alexander Lukashenka, the government clerks who work for him and the  diplomatic, staff, do you recognize them? I mean, do you split them from Alexander Lukashenko?

Ambassador Brzezinski: I understnad your question. Alexander Lukashenko is not doing this on his own. He has people working with him, collaborators, that are part of this unfortunate effort that he has undertaken.  It’s not something that we miss, we have a pretty detailed scientific understanding of what it has taken to put Aleksandr Lukashenko in power in Belarus, and who participated in this and who didn’t.  It’s not lost on us at all. At the same time, we stand with those promoting democracy, freedom and human rights in Belarus. We do so responsibly.  We do so with the view, not to make matters worse, but to make matters better for them, in particular, but also for all the people of Belarus, who deserve much better than what they have today.

Igor Kuley, Belsat: Representatives of the United States, including the US Ambassador to OSCE Carpenter, recognized Lukashenka as an ally of Russia in this attack on Ukraine.  A lot of other representatives of the US repeat this statement that Alexander Lukashenko also is responsible for this war, because he helps Russia to attack Ukraine. But then why are the consequences for these two regimes –  Russian and Belarusian – not the same in terms of sanctions? because the sanctions that are imposed against Russia are stronger than those on Lukashenko.

Ambassador Brzezinski: Sure. Well,  sanctions are targeted at different entities in this part of the world for different reasons. Clearly, Putin is not operating on his own, in terms of what has manifested into the crisis in Ukraine, and has turned humanity in Eastern Europe upside down by forcing millions and millions of East Europeans from their homes.  What we’re seeing today,  Igor, is images that you would see from footage from World War Two, in Ukraine, people being put on buses, and driven away into Russia, bombs being thrown into apartment buildings, schools, medical facilities.  We understand that Putin is not operating alone. And we are well prepared to first of all, support the people of Ukraine in their fight to push back Russia, and then also to protect every square inch of NATO territory, which we are in right now in Poland.  So I will leave it at that in terms of how we differentiate between who gets sanctioned, and how, but there are many actors in this part of the world, who we have our eyes on, because of pernicious atrocious activities that they’ve been conducting in Ukraine, in Russia, and in Belarus.

Igor Kuley, Belsat: Let me rephrase my question: do you think that sanctions that were imposed against the Russian regime are enough?

Ambassador Brzezinski: Well, sanctions take a while to have an effect.  We’re seeing across this region the slow but increasing pressure: economically, legally, in terms of the ability to travel, in terms of the ability of people to engage in the West, as those sanctions have an effect. Hundreds and hundreds of entities in this part of the world are now sanctioned.  That is with the view that they may not have the impact today, that we want them to have, as soon as we impose those sanctions, but they will have their impact. And it is not lost on authorities in the West, who was sanctioned and how.  We live at a time, Igor, when it’s forensically easier than ever before, to understand who was doing what, who was traveling where, and that should be relevant to the people and entities who are sanctioned.

Igor Kuley, Belsat: The Belarus democratic movement, including Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya and Pavel Latushka believe that Belarus is now under occupation. You can even hear experts are saying that we are under the double occupation, first is from the (quote/unquote) regime of Alexander Lukashenka, and the other is from the friendly Russian side. Would you agree with his definition that Belarus is occupied?

Ambassador Brzezinski: I think engaging in trying to define whether Belarus is occupied or not misses the point.  The point most importantly is that activists, and journalists, and those fighting for democracy and freedom in Belarus, have been imprisoned, have been treated horrorifically now for a number of years. So those are acts under under the authority and under the claim of the state that cannot be missed.  So what we are doing in the West is identifying who was perpetrating what, and preparing and getting ready to take steps to engage with those who are trying to help them and to engage those who are being treated brutally,  in order to improve the situation. We have sanctions in place to send the message that you will not be part of the modern world, you will not be part of the West, if you engage in behavior that is more reminiscent of World War Two.

Igor Kuley, Belsat: Do leaders like Lukashenko and Putin really care?

Ambassador Brzezinski: I believe over time, they will care because it’s not just them who are sanctioned. It is those who have helped them and facilitate and expedite for them who will also be sanctioned. And over time, they will have to face those whose ability to engage around the world, and travel around the world to do business around the world, to participate in activities that anyone who lives in the modern world can participate in, that they’re denied that.  Is that the kind of life that they want? Is that success? Is that something that they chose when they chose to support these people in power, who were put there through unfree and unfair elections? I don’t think so. I don’t think that’s the world that they hoped for.  That’s the kind of thing that sanctions are intended to message and to create a context to approve.

Igor Kuley, Belsat: One of the main ideas of modern a not insignificant part of Russian society, is to re restore the Soviet Union.  They want the  Soviet Union back. They want to live in this past when the Russians were in the middle.  They were the main part of this country and Belarus, and Ukraine, and Kazakhstan, and everybody were united with Russia. And they have this iron curtain. They want to be the Soviet Union again.

Ambassador Brzezinski: We’re talking about two leaders, Putin and Lukashenko, who literally hail back professionally to the former Soviet Union. One a KGB agent who was the son of a KGB agent, and the other who was a member of the Soviet bureaucratic apparatus. And it’s now 2022, three decades, since the collapse of the Soviet bloc, how is that progress? How is that at all modern?  Generational change is meant to produce new ideas, new approaches to what makes people (…) in our time, and you have two countries that literally are led by people who are throwbacks to the old Soviet Union, and the worst parts of the old Soviet Union. I think that that’s atrocious. And it’s worth thinking about how unfortunate that is.  Anyone who talks or act in a way to promote the former Soviet bloc, the people around them have to ask themselves, what are they doing? How is that something that the people desire? I don’t see people calling for the restoration of the old Soviet bloc. I’ve never seen and that is these quote “leaders” unquote aspired to. That’s a terribly unfortunate situation. And again, the people of Belarus and Russia deserve better.

Igor Kuley, Belsat: Let’s stop talking about Putin and Lukashenka and their past. Let’s talk about 2022. Since 2020, Belarusian democratic forces have been discussing the creation of a government in exile – a  Belarusian Democratic Government in exile.  If it should be created, would the United States recognize it?

Ambassador Brzezinski: What we’re doing, Igor, is we’re supporting as many different in Mechanisms and platforms as possible to advance democratic governance, and the rule of law and human rights in Belarus. I don’t want to get into specifics about what we will support and what we will not support. But clearly what I’ve just said, are consistent with the US government activities in Belarus for a number of years now.  We fully intend to continue to support (…) the positive step forward in Belarus, much more important, not less important.

Igor Kuley, Belsat: What do you think about Belarusians fighting for Ukrainian freedom, the Kalinouski Regiment and (…)?

Ambassador Brzezinski: We support those fighting for Ukrainian freedom and independence.  The U.S. Government is providing that support ourselves.  We stand with the brave people of Ukraine who are risking their lives and those of their families every single day to try to throw out the Russian occupiers.  I feel that the people of Ukraine 100 years from now, will remember those who were their freedom fighters. (…)

Igor Kuley, Belsat: Mr. Ambassador, among the democratic forces, there is a discussion on the creation of aNational Liberation Movement. There is talk about creating a force that can liberate Belarus, maybe even a military force.  And the critics of this idea say that it would never be recognized by any country, any allied country.

Ambassador Brzezinski: (…) The United States supports the movement to promote democracy, freedom, and human rights in Belarus, in a way that’s catalytic to progress as something that the people of Belarus deserve. And we’re gonna continue to do that. And I feel that the people of  Belarus have stepped up in ways that are so great, in the sense that they went out to the streets, they protested peacefully for the replacement of authoritarian government, with truly freely elected and fairly elected representatives of their people. Before I became ambassador to Poland, I was in the private sector. And I did a lot of television in America as it pertains to Belarus. And I would repeat three words consistently, when I did those interviews. “I support Sviatlana.” And that’s something that the US government has made clear that we support, and we will continue to support, Sviatlana and all the democracy activists in Belarus.  They are the epitome of bravery. They are the people we know as heroes.   They are deserving of our support. And they’ll go down in the history of their country, as people who risked everything for something much larger than themselves – and that’s the freedom and individual and personal liberty of their people. That is a great statement in terms of what the people are doing in Belarus today.

Igor Kuley, Belsat: Maybe my last question: we hear many voices, and they are coming from the United States and European Union countries that Ukraine needs to make concessions to Russia, give up part of its territory to Russia to stop this war. Is it possible that one day United States will give up on this?  They will be tired of this Ukrainian war with Russia, and they will recognize Ukraine and Belarus, by the way, as part of the Russian world? And will say, “Okay, we retreat from this territory.  It’s up to you what to do here.”

Ambassador Brzezinski: So, Igor, I could not be more clear, in terms of what I’m about to say. The United States supports the people of Ukraine, as they throw out their Russian occupiers in an enduring and long-term way. We stand with the people of Ukraine, to supply them what they need to undertake their fight with the Russian military, who occupied their lands. Supporting the people of Ukraine, as they fight against this occupier is an absolute imperative for the US government. It is something that is enduring, and that’s not just talk.  Look at the legislation coming from Congress, in the form of billions and billions of dollars to provide the support to the people of Ukraine that they need. Importantly, the people of Ukraine are winning. We have (…) debate early on in this conflict when Putin expected to literally and figuratively roll over the people of Ukraine that they were able to put up a total and complete fight against a army that’s, tragically, equipped and capable of doing terrible things – we’ve seen them do their terrible things – but the people of Ukraine have not been vanquished. It is so impressive to the people of the United States. And we will stand with the people of Ukraine and the people of this region for the long term.