By Eric Zuesse
An interview of Russian President Vladimir Putin, on Russian television, on August 27th, discusses first the coronavirus, but then mainly international affairs, and especially concerns of the people in Western nations, most especially regarding what is now happening next door to Russia, in Belarus.
The interviewer is VGTRK journalist and anchor of Vesti v Subbotu (News on Saturday) programme Sergei Brilyov. Here is the portion dealing with Belarus:
Sergei Brilyov: We have seen numerous reports on your telephone conversations with European leaders. But these reports are usually just scanty press releases from the Kremlin Press Service. In fact, you have not yet publicly shared your view of the situation in detail. What do you think of the developments in Belarus?
Vladimir Putin: You know, I think that we have shown much more restraint and neutrality with respect to the events in Belarus than many other countries, both European and American ones, such as the United States.
In my opinion, we have indeed been covering the developments in Belarus quite objectively, from every angle, showing both sides. We believe that it is up to the Belarusian society and people themselves to deal with this. Although, certainly, we care about what is happening there [since it’s on their border].
This nation is very close to us and perhaps is the closest, both in terms of ethnic proximity, the language, the culture, the spiritual as well as other aspects. We have dozens or probably hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of direct family ties with Belarus and close industrial cooperation. Suffice it to say that, for example, Belarusian products account for more than 90 percent of the total agricultural imports on the Russian market.
Sergei Brilyov: You mean the Belarusian products imported to our country?
Vladimir Putin: Belarusian exports. If we look at other industries – for example, agricultural equipment manufacturing – the figures are similar. Therefore, of course, we care about what is happening there. But it is still up to the Belarusians to deal with this situation.
We most certainly hope that all the parties will have enough common sense to reach a solution in a peaceful way, without running to extremes. Of course, if the people take to the streets [in a violent way], it cannot be ignored. Everybody must listen to them and respond. By the way, the President of Belarus said that he is willing to consider conducting a constitutional reform, adopting a new Constitution, holding new parliamentary and presidential elections based on the new Constitution. But the effective Constitution must not be breached. Did you note that the Constitutional Court of Belarus issued a ruling, according to which it is absolutely unacceptable to establish supra-constitutional bodies which are not envisaged by the country’s basic law and which are trying to take over power. It is hard to disagree with this ruling.
Sergei Brilyov: I looked at what they are writing about Belarus abroad, and often it is not about ideology but simply about facts. A lot of foreign articles about the events in Belarus are accompanied by an explanation of what Belarus is and where it is located. This is because as distinct from Russian citizens, many people there know little about it. And, of course, in Russia we remember the events not only after the election but also before it, in part, about the 33 guests at the Byelorusochka hotel and the Russian citizens that were detained. [He’s referring to this.]
Mr President, who do you think got into whose trap?
Vladimir Putin: Well, now it is obvious. This was an operation by secret services. The people you mentioned were used without their knowledge in order to move them to Belarus. They received perfectly legal assignments. They were told that they must go to third countries, to Latin America and the Middle East, for absolutely legal work. But in fact they were dragged off to Belarus and presented as a potential attack force in order to destabilise the situation during the election campaign. This had nothing to do with reality.
Let me repeat that these people were going to work in a third country. They were simply lured there, dragged across the border. By the way, our border guards did not let them out and they could not move in anywhere. But de facto they were brought in on fake documents.
Sergei Brilyov: Ukrainian secret services?
Vladimir Putin: This was an operation of Ukrainian secret services in cooperation with their US colleagues. Now this is known for sure. Some participants in this event or observers, well-informed people do not even conceal this now.
Sergei Brilyov: Mr President, I think I have been lucky in my career as a journalist. I had three detailed interviews with Alexander Lukashenko but you know him much better, of course. In this context, I would like to quote what Mr Lukashenko said after one of his telephone conversations with you.
Vladimir Putin: Go ahead.
Sergei Brilyov: He said that when it comes to the military component, we have a treaty with the Russian Federation in the framework of the Union State and the CSTO, that is, a Collective Security Treaty Organisation, and these aspects seem to be covered by that Treaty. Somewhat earlier he said you agreed to provide assistance to Minsk at his first request.What is meant by “these aspects”?
Vladimir Putin: There is no need to hush up anything.Indeed, the Union Treaty, that is, the Treaty on the Union State, and the Collective Security Treaty (CSTO) include articles saying that all member states of these organisations, including the Union State, which consists of two states only – Russia and Belarus, are obliged to help each other protect their sovereignty, external borders and stability. This is exactly what it says.
In this connection, we have certain obligations towards Belarus, and this is how Mr Lukashenko has formulated his question. He said that he would like us to provide assistance to him if this should become necessary. I replied that Russia would honour all its obligations.
Mr Lukashenko has asked me to create a reserve group of law enforcement personnel, and I have done this. But we have also agreed that this group would not be used unless the situation becomes uncontrollable, when extremist elements – I would like to say this once again – when the extremist elements, using political slogans as a cover, overstep the mark and start plundering the country, burning vehicles, houses, banks, trying to seize administration buildings, and so on.
During our conversation with Mr Lukashenko, we came to the conclusion that now it is not necessary, and I hope that it will never be necessary to use this reserve, which is why we are not using it.
I would like to say once again that we proceed from the belief that all the current problems in Belarus will be settled peacefully, and if any violations are permitted by either side – the state authorities and the law enforcement personnel, or the protesters – if they exceed the framework of the law, the law will respond to this accordingly. The law must be equal for everyone.
But speaking objectively, I believe that the Belarusian law enforcement agencies are exercising commendable self-control despite everything. Just take a look at what is happening in some other countries.
Sergei Brilyov: Yes, but the first two days were awful for many people.
Vladimir Putin: You know what I think about this. Was it not awful when people died in some European countries nearly every day?
Sergei Brilyov: This is why Lukashenko rejected Macron’s mediation, offering instead to help him deal with the yellow vest protests.
Vladimir Putin: Is it not awful when a defenceless person is shot in the back and there are his three children in his car?
Sergei Brilyov: Yes, it is awful.
Vladimir Putin: Have those who are putting the blame on Belarus and the Belarusian authorities, President Lukashenko, have these people condemned these acts? I have not heard anything about this. Why such discrimination?
This makes me think that the issue is not the current events in Belarus, but that some forces would like to see something different happening there.
They would like to influence these processes and to bring about the solutions that would suit their political interests.