Lukashenko, the Belarusian Dictator, Talks to Roman Protasevich

Photo by Artem Podrez on

Aleksandr Lukashenko leads Protasevich to a private room, just the two of them, so he can have a face to face talk with the activist. They sit across each other, the moment tense. 

‘I forced your plane down… to have you make the confessions that you started mass unrest here in Minsk. I could do it and I did… but that doesn’t mean that I don’t admire you.’

Protasevich is surprised by the statement.

‘Yes, admire you,’ says Lukashenko. 

‘I admire… that when you were only 17 you started being an activist against my regime. At that young age, you had a strong belief that Belarus should be a free nation… not under the influence of Putin.’

Protasevich is surprised by Lukashenko’s candor. He lowers his head, not sure what to say. He now looks up at Lukashenko. ‘Do you want to stay under Putin’s influence?’

Lukashenko looks off, uncertain. 

‘I’ve not felt free as a leader… not felt like I could do what was right for Belarus.’

‘Why not?’ presses Protasevich. ‘What is stopping you?’

‘I’ve made mistakes… have not had advisers with independent minds… but that’s my fault.’

Sensing an opening, Protasevich leans forward, and as he eyes Lukashenko says, ‘You feel trapped?’

Lukashenko stares back at him.

‘I don’t even know why I’m having this conversation with you. I don’t have to. Do you understand?’

Lukashenko’s cold stare sends a wave of fear through Protasevich, but the activist holds his gaze. 

‘Maybe I do feel trapped…’ continues Lukashenko, ‘no way out for me… maybe life in a dacha near Moscow while Putin is alive. After that, who knows what.’

‘You could…’ begins Protasevich, tentatively… ‘decide to change course…’

Lukashenko frowns.

‘I mean…’ continues Protasevich, making bold, ‘you could ask to meet with the opposition’s representatives… and begin talks for a transition to democracy.’

Lukashenko pauses, reflecting, then leans forward with a hint of interest. ‘I’ve thought about it.’

Protasevich pushes on, ‘You worried about what Putin might say… or do?’

‘I suppose…’ answers Lukashenko.

‘What if… we guaranteed your safety.’

Lukashenko laughs as he sits back. ‘You can’t do that. Putin has long tentacles.’

The men stare at each other for a moment.

‘No… there is another way…’ restarts Lukashenko. ‘What I’d like to do is send word to the resistance… that I will begin to be more lenient… little by little… and maybe… in two years… we can have another election… but this next time… whatever happens, happens… I will not interfere… and if I lose, I’ll step down… but I’d like to have assurances that I won’t be sent to prison.’

Protasevich sits back.

‘What will Putin say?’

‘I’ll have to deal with him. There are risks, of course. But let that be my contribution to the process.’

Protasevich clasps his hands in front of him, conscious that he is witnessing a special moment.

‘I would like to speak only to you… only you will be my contact with the opposition,’ says Lukashenko.

Protasevich nods, intrigued by why he’s been chosen.

Lukashenko reads him accurately and says, ‘Why you? Because you have shown uncommon courage… and you love Belarus.’

Protasevich looks down at the ground, then, ‘Why now?’

Lukashenko stares at his strong hands as he pauses. ‘I don’t want to go down in history as Putin’s puppet.’

Then he extends his hand to Protasevich. ‘Do you accept?’

‘I do.’

The two men shake hands.

‘A security force will drive you and your girlfriend to the border with Lithuania tomorrow morning. We’ll be in touch. This conversation is to be kept secret, to be shared only with your top people. Or I will deny it.’

‘I understand,’ replies Protasevich.

Lukashenko rises and exits.

It could happen, couldn’t? Maybe it has. Maybe it will. We can only hope.

Oscar valdes

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Are We Letting Putin Get Away With It, Again?

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Earlier today, Sunday, a jet fighter from Belarus forced a Ryanair commercial plane flying over the country to redirect to Minsk, the Belarus capital. The commercial flight had departed from Athens, Greece and was en route to Vilnius in Lithuania. 

The Belarus regime, surely with the consent of Vladimir Putin, set up the ruse that a bomb was aboard the commercial flight and so needed to land immediately at the closest airport. 

But the whole thing was nothing more than a plot to capture 26 y/o Roman Protasevich, a Belarusian activist who had helped set up a Telegram channel with 1.5 million subscribers in his country, so that people could continue protesting the fraudulent reelection of Alexander Lukashenko in 2020.

It is a profound failure of European Union intelligence to not have protected Mr Protasevich, to not have warned him of the possibilities of flying over Belarus.

Officials in the EU have raised their voices in protest and so has Antony Blinken, America’s Secretary of State, who demanded the immediate release of Mr Protasevich, but watch how Putin, emboldened by the manner in which he has handled Alexei Navalny’s poisoning and imprisonment, will dance around the issue claiming no knowledge of the affair and state that Lukashenko acted independently in an effort to protect the passengers from the alleged bomb.

And the strong likelihood is that he will get away with it.

Immediate and strong punitive measures are in order, both against Lukashenko and Putin.

The European Union has to step up and see this blatant attack on civil liberties as what it is and not find ways to delay action.

Something about the efficacy of the West’s response against Putin’s transgressions has been fractured since Mr Trump’s election in America.

The cracks continue to widen. 

I can hear Putin in his palace saying, ‘here’s to you, Donald. If you could launch an attack on the US Capitol, surely I can snatch a dissident from the skies. Good luck in the midterms. And count on me for the next election.’

Will the European Union muster the courage to stand up to Putin?

Oscar Valdes.