April 25, 2023 Special Dispatch No. 10577

Belarusian Political Scientist Gronski: How Can Belarus Formulate A Clear Position On Ukraine When Russia's Own Position Is Totally Contradictory?

April 25, 2023
Russia | Special Dispatch No. 10577

A recent Business Online ( interview conducted by Vadim Bondar with Aleksandr Gronski provides insight as to the state of Russia's relations with Belarus. The two countries are supposedly more than allies, being members of an evolving Union State. This union is far from a union as can be seen in mundane things such as phone rates and train fares but also in policy positions. Gronski, a Belarusian, is well equipped to share his understanding of the situation between the two nations  since he holds academic positions in both Russia and Belarus. He is a head researcher at the Russian Academy of Sciences' prestigious Institute of World Economy and International Relations where he specializes on Belarus, Ukraine, and Moldova.

Bondar poses hard questions to Gronski regarding the reason that Belarus has not, thus far, provided active military support to Russia in Ukraine and why there are Belarusians who are fighting for Ukraine but none participating on Russia's side. Gronski responds to these questions in the interview below:[1]

Leader of Belarus Aleksander Lukashenko with Vladimir Putin (Source:

Q: "Alexander Dmitrievich [Gronski], last week's meeting between Russian President Vladimir Putin and Belarus President Alexander Lukashenko lasted more than 6 hours. According to Lukashenko, more than a dozen issues were raised and discussed during the meeting. In your opinion, what issues did the sides talk about and agree upon?"

A: "It was about building the Union State, as well as about military security. It is quite possible that that is what the 10 questions were about. I do not believe anything else was discussed there, because everything else at the current stage is apparently secondary."

Q: "What can we expect as the outcome of their talks? Will there be any breakthroughs?"

A: "This is a rather interesting question, as it is not known what the basis for discussion was. These 28 alliance programs are still not open to the general public. There is a lot of figurative talk about them, about what they specifically say. Alexander Grigoryevich Lukashenko says that these programs have been 80% implemented. But if one recalls the conversations that took place a few months ago, when these allied programs were recalled, then the percentage of completion mentioned by officials varied quite seriously (by 15%). So, it is hard to say whether these programs are, in fact, 80% completed. Maybe it was done, maybe not, and practically no one knows what exactly was included in these programs.

"There is a very good indicator of the state of the union between two countries, a popular one perhaps, that consists of the fact that roaming of phone services between the two countries still remains. And no matter how many times they have tried to remove it, it has not yet been completely successful. They have only made it a little easier. Now, if a person calls from Russia to Belarus, the roaming rules are in place, while for the person who receives a call in Belarus, the call is free. Previously, the latter had to pay too. So, there was a certain liberalization of roaming, but it was not cancelled altogether. This roaming issue has become more than a joke among experts, but the stuff of legend. It will be possible to talk about further Union State building when it [roaming charges] are completely lifted.

"In addition, there is the problem of prices on passenger tickets [for travelling between the two states]. A ticket from Moscow to Minsk is twice as expensive as travelling same distance from the Russian capital to the east of the country. This is another striking indicator.

"There are still trains to Central Russia from Kaliningrad through Lithuania. But if you take a ticket to Smolensk, which is further than Minsk, it will be cheaper than a ticket from Kaliningrad to Minsk. And all this happens only because the [officials of the] Union State haven't agreed that the prices should be domestic. As a result, it constitutes a problem, not for officials, but for ordinary people, who face such issues all the time. Well, we have a Union State, but at the level of normal human economic relations such issues persist."

Q: "So, supposedly there is the Union State agreement that stands, but at a domestic level it is still two different countries?"

A: "True, many problems associated with this remain. Nevertheless, they say, there are no border guard posts within the Union State.

"In the Bryansk Oblast [Russia], on the border with the Gomel region, naturally, there are border guard posts, because the border is located close to the war zone... but, let's say, you travel from Minsk to Moscow via Smolensk Oblast; there are only Russian border guards conducting checks, (they inspect that the travelers' passports are either Russian or Belarusian, because foreigners must enter through border control points). There are two of the latter. One is damaged now, as it's situated on the border of Bryansk, Chernigov, and Gomel oblasts, while the other is operating at the 'junction' of Russia, Belarus, and Latvia. Thus, there are pluses in the Union State, but there are also unresolved minuses."

Q: "Let's get back to the aforementioned 28 programs. As I understand it, there are no details about what their content is, what are their end goals, who is responsible for them, what money has been allocated for them, who and what exactly is being funded?"

A: "Correct. It is not publicized widely. But those among my colleagues who have seen the programs claim that they are very well prepared and [result] will be visible and effective, provided they are implemented. But because there are agreements not to publicize the content of the programs, there are no details. They [the officials] only share their opinion on what will happen if these programs are implemented."

Q: "Are we talking about purely economic programs, or are there military, politico-military ones as well?"

A: "These 28 programs are purely economic in nature. At first, there were 30 or 32 of them, the exact number kept fluctuating, eventually some programs were abandoned, because they were not quite profitable economically, and the Belarus side didn't want to implement them. In other words, the economic implementation is still underway, but since there is ongoing SVO, and the Western pressure has increased, security issues were added to these 28 programs.

"Security issues are not being discussed under these programs, but they were deliberated upon at the State Council on April 5-6. Thus, it is a separate topic, although it is now actively intertwined with the economy.

"It includes import substitution, urgent request of the Belarusian authorities for Russia to open its market for Belarusian goods (as European markets are closed for them now), etc. In other words, the current situation adjusts these programs in one way or another, although it is hard to say exactly how much and in what way. Nobody talks about it."

Q: "In his address to the parliament and the people of Belarus, Lukashenko spoke of the need to expand and develop cooperation between Belarus military-industrial complex and the Russian one. We are aware that in the course of the SVO, the Russian Armed Forces and volunteer formations experienced (and probably still experience) some problems with ammunition, components, electronics, the very same UAVs, etc. Is Belarus going to supply us with all this for the SVO, or will it distance itself?"

A: "I believe that this will happen, as it is a good opportunity to earn money. Belarus does not enjoy too many options in the current situation. If we are talking about electronics, they have always been supplied to Russia, even before the SVO. The Minsk Wheeled Tractor Plant has always been supplying chassis for Russian strategic missiles. Parts of tracks used in Russian air defence systems are made in Minsk. There are other areas of cooperation, as well. This military cooperation has been in place since Soviet times. After the collapse of the USSR, it slipped a bit, but later it recovered, as the Russian market is a good fit for Belarusian defence products.

"As far as ammunition is concerned, one must understand what quantities Belarus possesses in its stockpiles. In this regard, we must take into consideration that the country actively traded arms, as well as ammunition, when it was possible to do so. Belarus used to sell them to Azerbaijan, Armenia, Asian countries, Eastern Europe, Africa. Naturally, the arms in storage were sold. This is why, to be honest, I do not know whether the amount of ammunition that Russia needs remains in the stockpiles. It is quite possible that Belarus will sell to Russia the ammunition it needs, provided it exists in stock."

Q: "Now let's get back to the official events. Provided Putin and Lukashenko discussed and agreed on everything during their 6-hour meeting on April 5, why was it necessary to arrange a meeting of the Supreme State Council of the Union State on 6 April, which both leaders attended? Were any decisions put on paper there?"

A: "They met on April 5, to talk through all the fundamental things, so that everything would run smoothly during the State Council and no disputes would arise. It was a sort of pre-meeting to clarify and coordinate the stances. By the end of such meetings, the leaders usually report on their results, and Lukashenko, being an emotional man, almost always reveals in such reports whether the event went well or poorly. This time it seemed to have gone well.

"If there was any hesitation on part of the two sides, it was resolved in principle at the personal meeting of the presidents. All these things were formally discussed at the State Council. Be that as it may, for now, in theory, as I understand it, both sides are satisfied. In the future, in the course of implementation of the decisions made all sorts of rough edges and disagreements may emerge, but so far that is not the case."

Q: "So, basically, nothing important has been signed, right?"

A: "As far as I know, there were no breakthrough documents signed. Apparently, everything is going as planned. If something important were to be signed there, there would be an announcement beforehand, and after the signing there would be a high-profile press conference. Accordingly, there would have been leaks and reactions on the part of foreign media. The latter are now very attentively following Russo-Belarus relations, how and what is developing there."

"I Think The Belarusian Higher-Ups Are Aware That Under The Current Conditions Neither Ukraine Nor Russia Will Agree To A Ceasefire."

Q: "What is the meaning of Lukashenko's proposal to halt hostilities and declare a truce without the right to move groups of troops and redeploy arms and equipment? Does he fear that a hypothetical Ukrainian counterattack might prove successful, and the Russian leadership would require a direct military involvement from its ally, something Belarus is trying to avoid in every possible way?"

A: "The thing is that Belarus society is divided on the issue of support for SVO: some support it, others do not. It is difficult to tell what percentage of population is on each side, because there is social science [opinion polling], in this case opposition social science, which is not very trustworthy. It has already been noticed that in some issues they 'play' with figures in their favor. But by and large, it is possible to argue that Belarus society has no ardent desire to see its army participating in armed conflicts. It does not matter, in which ones.

"For Lukashenko, therefore, this appeal for peace was both an appeal to the nation, conveying the message that we are not going to directly engage in war, and an appeal to the West conveying the message that Minsk is still a place where peace could be negotiated. Regarding the second component it is, naturally, a weak attempt, since the West will not go for such a thing now. Nevertheless, why wouldn't they? Thus, here one can certainly perceive the question of whether one believes that the Ukrainians will reach Crimea in the course of their offensive or not. This is one of the issues, though not the  only one nor the main one.

"I think that the Belarusian higher-ups are aware that under the current conditions neither Ukraine nor Russia will agree to a ceasefire. Moscow cannot leave the regions it has already incorporated, whereas Kyiv demands it return everything, withdraw Russian troops, and only after that, it would be prepared to negotiate.

"Therefore, Lukashenko's statement was addressed into a void, as it was clear from the outset that no one would respond to it. Well, it had to be said. Belarus has always been advertised as a sort of island of stability and it was necessary to preserve the image of the country, which aspires to have peace and quiet on its borders. In other words, it is not so much an assessment of Russia's and Ukraine's military capabilities, as a combination of political and psychological aspects."

Q: "Could this proposal by Lukashenko mean additional 'transmission' [i.e., support] of the Chinese stance on the start of the peace talks? Rumor has it that the Chinese wanted to discuss the details of their peace plan during their visit to Moscow but did not perceive any readiness on Russia's part, leaving with no results in this matter. Now they are trying to come at us from the Belarusian side as well."

A: "In my opinion, this version is quite dubious. Provided the Chinese wanted and tried to do something, then it could have been discussed confidentially at the meeting of the presidents on April 5, rather than being introduced to the masses via the president's address. Provided the Chinese really wanted to get through to Putin, why was it necessary to express it in front of the Belarusian parliament and people?"

Q: "Maybe the expectation here was that after they came up with the initiative, the closest ally under Union State would come up with the same proposal too. A sort of last drop of water to crack the stone. So, in this case, could it be a similar idea?"

A: "No. It seems to me that if you listen to Lukashenko, he conveyed what was on his mind. That is not what we suggest. Our Chinese comrades agree, but that the initiative is specifically coming from the Belarusian side. So, I do not believe that this initiative was somehow connected with the Chinese proposals."

Q: "By the way, why did Lukashenko fly to China and meet with Xi Jinping in late February-early March? Was he looking for a 'counterweight' [in PRC] to Moscow, a new multi-vector approach, or were there some other reasons? The talks were closed, after all."

A: "True, there are no details of this meeting, nor is there any insider information on the issue. But Lukashenko's relations with China are mainly economic in nature. There is a Chinese industrial park 'Velikiy Kamen' located near Minsk, which is partly a high-tech park and partly a warehouse for Chinese products to be transshipped to the West.

"But since access to the West is now closed, there is much to discuss now. Also, China buys Belarusian fertilizers. Apart from China, Lukashenko also went to Africa. He now needs to search for additional opportunities to export Belarusian products, as the West in this respect is now shut off. That is why, most probably, they were talking about economics. They did not sign anything, because the Chinese only made promises. That is why no documents were signed. But if they promised, naturally, one can pretend to be satisfied.

"One can also consider the fact that there are Chinese students studying at Belarus universities. From time to time, they travel to China to advertise Belarusian education. Given the fact that a significant part of Belarusian applicants now actively enrolls in Russia, the Belarusian education system is short of first-year students. I do not know what the situation will look like this year, but in 2021, not a single Belarusian university was able to get first-year students. And since there aren't enough Belarusians, they are trying to attract foreigners. The Chinese, for example."

Q: "How do you, as a Belarus citizen, view the future Ukraine? What role will it play? Will it pivot to the West, hiding behind the 'Polish wall,' or will it pivot towards us, acceding into the Greater Eurasia? What is the stance of the Belarus political class on this issue?"

A: "It's hard to say anything definite about any stance. If there are any speeches by Belarus high-ranking officials, they mostly correspond to the talking points of Lukashenko's own speeches. Whatever the president says is, in principle, supported by others. At the level of some behind-the-scenes talks, of course, there may be issues [of disagreement].

"Here's the thing: Russia per se has not really articulated what it perceives as the [desired] outcome of SVO. De-Nazification, de-militarization... But what does it exactly mean? For instance, up to what borders is the Russian army ready to advance? If Russia, our closest ally, is vague and unclear about the main issues, then obviously, the Belarus authorities cannot proclaim their full support either. The Russian Federation simultaneously says that there is a possibility for negotiations and advocates for de-Nazification.

"Thus, it turns out that it intends to negotiate with the Nazis. How would this be perceived from the point of view of historical memory? Therefore, Russia should determine its messages more precisely, what and to whom it wants to convey via its speakers and mass media. Then it will be possible to see how Belarus reacts to this.

"As for the ordinary people of Belarus, with whom I communicate a lot, in private conversations they overwhelmingly support the SVO, especially those who reside in the provinces. It is a common thing, which can be recorded both in Russia and Ukraine: the capital is always more oppositional than the provinces. The same is true for Belarus.

"There is Minsk, where there are more SVO opponents, and there is a province, where the situation is the opposite. Interestingly, in the Brest and Gomel oblasts bordering on Ukraine, SVO is supported en masse."

Q: "True, an interesting point."

A: "Belarusian sociologists aren't addressing it, though it would certainly be interesting to find out why this is the case. In these border regions, support for SVO is higher than in Minsk and even in the Vitebsk oblasts, which border on Russia."

Q: "That is, the closer [the region is] to Ukraine, the higher and more serious the support of the Belarus people for the SVO and the further away [the region is] from Ukraine, the support diminishes. Is that how it works?"

A: "Well, it comes out that way. As far as I remember, the results of the polls (again opposition polls) the Minsk and Grodno oblasts are the least supportive of the SVO, while Brest, Gomel, and Mogilev oblasts are the most supportive."

Q: "There was an interesting message in the statement. If someone attacks Belarus, the same Ukrainians, the Poles or NATO en masse, Russia will defend it, because both countries are the Union State members. But the question arises: if now, in the course of a counter-offensive, the Ukrainians attack, say, the Bryansk or Belgorod oblasts of 'old [pre-2014]' Russia and enter there on NATO tanks, and begin to advance deep into our indigenous historical territory towards Moscow, how will the Union Treaty work? Will the Belarusian army immediately join the war and together with us repel the aggression of Ukraine or will the double standards work again? Why do we have to defend them [Belarus people] in case of war, and they do not have to do the same [for us]?"

A: "If we hypothetically imagine such a situation, the Belarus army would not be able to enter the war immediately, as it is not mobilized and would not be able to do so overnight. The Belarusian army is not in a wartime state right now. Thus, if it supports Russian troops, it will do so after some time. In this case one additional important issue must be considered: all mobilization activities, maneuvers, the same territorial defense forces, which are gaining popularity now – it is all fine-tuned for operations on their own territory. For defending rather than attacking."

Q: "But there is a joint Russo-Belarusian grouping deployed on the territory of Belarus, which is in constant combat readiness. It has at least two corps that can literally be loaded into transport planes and trains and transported to any theater of combat operations within 24 hours. It can be done, can't it?"

A: "Yes. But we must bear in mind that it is mainly composed of light infantry. If you want to strike the aggressor, and the Ukrainians have put minefields on the border with Belarus, built fortifications, deployed fire defense systems (including heavy ones), then you need something heavier to break through all of this. So, these forces you have mentioned may create nervousness [on part of the enemy], but it is unlikely they will be used for a breakthrough, because the losses will be very high. That is, basically, not the task they were created for.

"As for the Russian troops that could theoretically attack Ukraine from the territory of Belarus, as they did in February, their manpower is insufficient to form a full-fledged strike force."

"The National Idea Of Belarus Per Se Has Not Been Formulated."

Q: "Why is there an entire regiment and battalion of Belarusian nationalists fighting against us in the ranks of the ZSU [the Armed Forces of Ukraine], not to mention individual Belarusian volunteers in various other units, while there are practically no Belarus citizens in the Russian Armed Forces?"

A: "Belarus passed a law back in 2016 or 2017 prosecuting volunteers who take part in armed conflicts. Several people who participated in the defense of Donbass before 2022 have already been pursued under this criminal article. I believe four people received actual prison sentences. Interestingly, those who took part in the hostilities on the Ukrainian side are also in prison, though not for participation in the conflict, but for crimes committed on the territory of Belarus, such as hooliganism, illegal arms trafficking,  etc. This law and article of the [Belarus] Criminal Code are still in force.

"As for the aforementioned two units (the Kastus Kalinowski Regiment and the Terror Battalion), criminal cases have been opened against those who are fighting in their ranks."

Q: "Why [were criminal cases opened] in relation to the internationalists who fought for Novorossiya [the breakaway regions of Ukraine], as well?"

A: "After 2014, the Belarusian authorities started distancing themselves a bit from both Russia and the Union State. All sorts of problems were appearing, to the point that several journalists, citizens of Belarus, who were working for the Russian media, were detained and were sentenced to five years' imprisonment, suspended, for their accurate warning that flirting with nationalism and the West will lead to a Maidan in Belarus.

"This is what happened in 2020. The nationalist opposition, backed by the West, didn't recognize the outcome of the presidential election and a rather serious unrest began, which was neutralized with great effort. After that, the Belarusian authorities changed their rhetoric. It has now dawned on them that, one way or another, if it is possible, the West will try to implement its plans and orchestrate something on the territory of Belarus.

"That is why the state has reconsidered its attitude towards those who are fighting on the side of Ukraine. These people are largely to blame themselves, because they openly promised that after everything was over, they would enter the territory of Belarus in order to establish their authority there."

Q: "In his address, Lukashenko made some dramatic statements that for some reason no one pays attention to. Namely, that both Russian and Ukrainian combatants at the front lines are already negotiating with each other, warning each other about strikes. That is, in fact, fraternization is taking place and not at the level of privates and sergeants, but even higher. But here, no one is talking or writing about this: neither official sources, nor military bloggers or frontline workers. Is it true? If so, why are they all keeping quiet about it? It turns out that the combatants are acting against their states, against the military authorities, and this is a crime. But what do they want? And if it is not true, then why is Lukashenko talking about it?"

A: "If such facts have indeed occurred, or still happening, it is a matter for the Russian special services. As for the question of how and why these words got into the president's speech, that is really not very clear. It is quite possible that there was some intel that surfaced in Telegram channels. Whether it is true or not is a different question. It is quite possible that this line is simply an element of information warfare.

"However, since it fits very well into the fabric of the peace negotiations initiative, this element was put into the speech as an example of the fact that the people on the front line are ready to reconcile even through their own means, while politicians are still procrastinating. Provided people on the front line (who are supposed to be shooting at each other) are ready to 'bury the hatchet,' then [negotiation efforts] must be accelerated.

"Thus, it is quite possible that unconfirmed information was found somewhere, but it fit comfortably into the paradigm of a peace appeal and was presented as an illustration."

Q: "That is, in essence, it was made for effect?"

A: "It is quite possible. Let us recall the story with the nuclear arms, which are in fact Russian, but have been called Belarussian."

Q: "In his message, Lukashenko claimed that the current difficult time has defined the national idea of Belarus and that everyone must serve it 'in word and in deed.' What is this national idea, what is the purpose of serving it?"

A: "There is quite a big problem here, because the national idea of Belarus per se has not been formulated. Lukashenko has repeatedly made statements over several years, that we have an ideology. But we do not. There is an institution that aims at educating ideologists in Belarus. There are ideologists in executive committees, at factories, at schools and, if I am not mistaken, a Belarusian ideology was introduced in 2003.

"There are people who preach something, but what they are preaching exactly is not clearly articulated. In general, it is clear that we stand for peace, we have multi-confessional friendship between the peoples, we are open to the world, and want to cooperate with everyone, etc. There is quite an amorphous understanding of what the Belarus national idea is. There is no clarity, as, in fact, in Russia, where the national idea has not been worked out either."

Q: "But no one in Russia argues that everyone must serve the national idea 'in word and in deed,' while Lukashenko does. And if there is no such idea, how can one serve it?"

A: "There is also another issue associated with the year 2020, when a small number of officials and other civil servants sided with the protesters. The Ministry of Foreign Affairs was most prominent in this respect. Lukashenko himself said that about 6% of diplomats sided with the protesters. Thus, there was also an attempt to urge the officials to fulfil their official duties.

"In this respect, the image of a country as a besieged fortress, with enemies practically coming from all directions, conveys the idea that we should all unite, grit our teeth, and [even] if wages have fallen, continue to work for the good of the motherland.

"The message that we should serve the idea has not just appeared now. It was there a little earlier too. When times are not quite stable, such things appear. These are all variants that have been tried and tested. When economic or political crises occur, such appeals begin to be heard more often."

Q: "OK, but all those who are now fighting on the side of Ukraine or have simply fled Belarus and are hiding abroad as nationalist oppositionists didn't emerge overnight. As in Ukraine, under the supposedly pro-Russian Viktor Yanukovych, they created their nationalist 'cultural centers,' societies, cells, camps, they were preparing to actively fight for their ideas, and no one touched them, and sometimes they were even encouraged. Until 2020, [when] they tried to create their own Maidan. How and why was this allowed to happen?"

[Gronski ducks the question with a long historical digression.]

"Six Months After The Events Of 2020, Statements Regarding Multi-Vector Policy Have Reappeared"

Q: "Taking into account what you said, another strange thing emerges. On the one hand, Lukashenko in his address stigmatizes the Poles for staging provocations on the border, accumulating troops, wanting to invade Belarus, while on the other hand, since March 2, Belarus has introduced a visa-free regime for Poles at all the checkpoints with the EU. If they are so bad, then why introduce a de facto [sic.] visa-free regime for them? If they are actually good, why stigmatize them in one's message?"

A: "If I am not mistaken, a concept such as 'multi-vector policy' first appeared in Belarus politics back in 1996. It became even more relevant when the late Vladimir Makei was appointed to the office of the Minister of Foreign Affairs. At that time, this multi-vector approach, as a matter of fact the motto, 'let's serve two masters,' had bad results for Belarus. Armenia with its problems is a striking example of a multi-vector policy. [Ukraine's ousted leader Viktor] Yanukovych was dabbling in this idea; it was called different-vector policy in Ukraine.

"But the essence of such policy was universal: we situated at an equal distance both from Russia and Europe, i.e., from all the strong world centers. However, while such policy is understandable in case of Ukraine, Armenia and Kazakhstan, it looks more than strange with Belarus, considering the existence of the Union State. It turns out that Minsk is putting itself at the same distance from Moscow as from Warsaw. None of the politicians have been able to explain it.

"It was claimed, naturally, that multi-vector policy was normal, we should not be afraid of it and etc., but in the end, it led in Ukraine to [the anti-Russia Maidan uprising in ] 2014 and in Belarus, to the events of 2020. The most interesting thing is that six months after the events, statements about multi-vector policy have reappeared.

"They were voiced back in May-June 2021, and even now Belarus has not abandoned its multi-vector policy. It simply cannot be implemented in the current circumstances. Therefore, an attempt to provide visa-free entry for the Poles and at the same time criticize them is a multi-vector approach, which requires some steps towards the West so that it would react positively and restore some ties.

"There are also minor economic interests to be considered here. Belarus has good sanatoriums and medical tourism, as medical treatment is more expensive in Lithuania and Poland. Therefore, up to 2022, even former natives of Belarus who settled in the West still came here, for instance, to visit a dentist.

"The visa-free travel was very beneficial for such people. Because of it, they could come here, without any bureaucratic delays, for instance, to be treated in a health resort, or to improve their health via other treatments. So that this visa-free travel was important at the level of such stand-alone social and economic aspects. It is unclear how many people are travelling now on a visa-free basis.

"In addition, recently a terrorist was captured in Grodno. They claim he entered from Pskov, i.e., via Russia, but let us say he did not have anything with him (i.e., explosives or weapons), he could've easily entered from Poland. Why didn't he? Commenting on the terrorist attack in St. Petersburg, during which Vladlen Tatarsky was killed, Lukashenko said that nobody carries explosives in his pocket across the border nowadays. Clearly, there are already caches [of explosives] on the territory of Belarus and Russia.

"Let us imagine that without a visa a person could freely enter with no weapons, knowing where the arms caches are located in Belarus. Bombs do not explode on their own, after all. They are set in motion by people who, among other things, enter without a visa. Therefore, it is quite a problematic decision in the current situation.

"But so far, there have been no major incidents like the one that occurred in St. Petersburg, so the visa-free regime remains. If, God forbid, something happens, they [the authorities] will, obviously, think about it. It is a normal Slavic thing: don't do anything until the rooster pecks you."

Q: "By the way, until recently there existed the Polish Institute in Minsk, the Polish Higher Humanities School of the Belarusian Institute of Law, the Stefan Bator Foundation and other quite powerful Polish-centered organizations, which in various ways inculcated the cult of the Radziwills family along with the idea of how well the Belarus people lived under the Grand Duchy of Lithuania and the Commonwealth of Poland, and how bad things were during the 'imperial oppression' by Russia. Do they still exist, without any ideological revision?"

A: "If I am not mistaken, the Polish Institute still operates. All the foundations withdrew from the country back in 2020, for obvious reasons.

"Here there is one important problem, which the Belarusian authorities have just taken up, and it is the tour guides. During the period of independence, they have developed such an interesting presentation of material, especially during Russian tours, when they say that you, Moscals [derogatory term for Russians], oppressed us, and we [Belarus people] are Lithuanians, not even Slavs.

"As a result, those who have no historical knowledge start to believe it. Only at the beginning of this year did the Belarusian authorities start working with tour guides in some way. A few years ago, I heard an interview with one such guide, who confessed that he tells the Russians on tours how they oppressed us, that we are completely different peoples, we are Europeans, and they are barbarians. He did not hide this despite the fact that the Union State exists."

Q: "Let's get back to Lukashenko's address. He talked for probably 15-20 minutes about how he is not clinging to power, he would leave after the constitutional reform. In your opinion, is this mere rhetoric or will he actually leave?"

A: "Most likely he will move to the office of the head of the Belarusian People's Assembly, because, according to the new Constitution, he cannot hold the President's office due to reaching the term limit.

"As for Lukashenko 'not clinging to power,' he used to say it before every presidential election, 'Provided the people elect someone else, I will leave office.' Thus, this is a figure of speech, which he uses on the eve of every election.

"Even if he moves to another government office which, by the way, is also very important and significant in terms of functionality, he will still remain in a dominant role and far from the lower ranks. It will be either the chief position or the equivalent of the chief position."

Q: "So why has he been actively fighting pro-Russian parties, movements that advocated closer integration with Russia, rapprochement with the Russian world, almost throughout his whole presidency? Meanwhile, there was nothing of the kind with Poland. Why?"

A: "Until 2020, the Belarus population had much more pro-Russian than pro-Polish or pro-Western sentiments, and this had to be somehow restrained [by Lukashenko]. Two-thirds of Belarusians in opinion polls argued that the reunification of Crimea with Russia was an act of historical justice, and that Crimea is Russian.

"And the Belarusian authorities didn't want to show all this to the Kremlin, because then it would be possible to speed up integration [of the two states], which, in turn, would mean that they would not get any privileges, like 'you will provide us with this and that, and then we will pick up the pace [of unification].'

"However, if the majority of people strive for it anyway, then why should the [Russian] authorities provide any privileges?

"Thus, in this case the pro-Russian sympathies were not exactly perceived as dangerous, but they encroach on a 'field', on which the authorities operate. It is necessary to demonstrate that in this matter, the authorities play first fiddle and that it is they who determine what the level of integration should be (and not the people)."

Aleksandr Gronski (Source:


[1], April 19, 2023.

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