Bruce Jackson: Belarus's problems cannot be solved under Lukashenka's rule
14:32, — Interview
The U.S. can do more for freedom in Belarus, says an influential American politician.
Bruce Jackson - head of the Project on Transitional Democracies, the founder of the U.S. Committee on NATO, head of non-governmental organization «Committee for the Liberation of Iraq». Served in military intelligence, was Vice President for strategy and Planning at Locheed Martin Corporation, a Republican.
At the summit of Eastern Partnership, which recently took place in Vilnius, Bruce Jackson talked about the change of the strategy of this program of the European Union.
After the summit, Bruce Jackson met with editor-in-chief of charter97.org Natallia Radzina.
- Mr.Jackson, what's your opinion on Eastern Partnership initiative? How successful is it?
- I think it is a coin with two sides: there is decent success with Georgia and Moldova. On the other side it was a complete disaster for Ukraine. The EU leaders and president Yanukovich did not agree on anything.
You can not talk about the complete failure of the Eastern Partnership. In fact, it looks like the opposite. Belarus after three years of rejection has accepted the EU’s proposal to start discussions on visa facilitation. I think that is the case that the Eastern Partnership is moving by smaller steps than we thought. And obviously suspending discussions, involving 46 million people in Ukraine, for me is a great disappointment.
- What reason do you see behind Yanukovich’s refusal to sign the Association Agreement?
- In my view Ukrainian economy has gotten so bad, deep into austerity and recession again that it is impossible for Yanukovich to do the reforms required for Europe. And that situation was made worse by the Russian trade pressures over the summer, which made the economic situation far worse.
It is not just the breakdown of the discussions with the European Union – last week the discussions with the IMF broke down, so they are unable to do any reforms since two most important institutions have left.
- You considered the start of negotiations on visa facilitation with the EU as a positive step. The Belarusian opposition has been speaking about it for many years, and only now, when "the soil is prepared", the Belarusian Foreign Ministry starts to speak about it. Nevertheless dictatorial regime of Lukashenka does not go on any serious concessions on human rights and political reforms. Don't you think that the EU strategy to try to build relationships with dictators was initially a mistake?
- I do not think the equation of Lukashenka, who is clearly a dictator, with Yanukovich, who is clearly elected, is correct. There is a huge difference between Belarus with Lukashenka, who is not invited and cannot physically be in Europe. Ukraine made a big mistake this weekend. Belarus is a tragedy. There is a big difference between a mistake and a tragedy. There is also a difference in the Eastern Partnership itself: Lukashenka does not want a relationship with Europe, Yanukovich really wanted this deal and he could not get it.
- Yes, dictatorship is a tragedy and it is obvious that the West does not have a strategy towards Belarus today.
- I am not sure I agree with you. Belarus is a very difficult case, because the instruments of the Eastern Partnership are built for governments.
I think that is an excellent idea that they chose visa liberalization which is an instrument for people and went forward with that. Obviously it would be a mistake to go forward with anything involving the government. This is what we discussed at the conference: we need more instruments in the Eastern Partnership that involve people-to-people contact.
- I understand that you are critical of the EU’s strategy of having a dialogue with Lukashenka?
- The position of the United States remains the same: no talks with human rights abusers. My personal opinion is that it is a correct policy. I cannot imagine any position on which the United States or me personally would agree with Lukashenka.
West has had this discussion with Lukashenka before: protection of human rights, justice, involuntary disappearances, free and fair elections – any of these things we couldn't agree on. But he is not prepared to discuss any of the basic political values that involve interaction with EU and its system or the international system.
I think what we offer in the Eastern Partnership - travel, trade, loans – are all based upon credibility and legitimacy and these are based on basic political values, and if those are not there, there is no point talking about increased trade or increased visas – there is no foundation for it.
- How do you think - measures that the U.S. authorities are taking today against Lukashenka's regime are enough?
- Just like Belarus, the policy is frozen in time. I mean, we do not have any contact, there is no change. I am pretty sure there has been no major change to the policy on Belarus under Obama, so it is exactly the same as it was under Bush. Unless Belarus changes, it will be exactly the same under the next president. The policy is predicated on fact that Belarusian president is a repeated violator of human rights, basic political rights and routinely violates the rights of Belarusian citizens. If that does not change, there is no reason for changing the policy of the United States or Europe.
The sanctions have showed the US has enough tools to influence the situation in Belarus. Why are these tools not used in full?
- If what you are trying to suggest is that perhaps president Obama is not working hard enough to free people in Belarus or support democracy I guess I would agree with you.
For instance, I think we should have done more to support the Eastern Partnership, to support our European allies and their work more directly and NATO could do more. I guess the objective of the American policy is the Belarusian people it is not currently the Belarusian government.
If we could support the European efforts to get visas, scholarships, other benefits, I think that would be good. I think what we do not want to do is contribute to policies that try to bribe Lukashenka, to violate the rights of his own people.
- There are enough lobbyists of Lukashenka's regime in Europe now, in America. For example, Vlad Socor from The Jamestown Foundation.
- I don't see any western officials who have received bribes for lobbying Lukashenko. But there are some people, groups and organizations that protect the regime in Euro-Atlantic region.
There are billion people and almost 40 states in the Euro-Atlantic system, there are a lot of different opinions, there is always going to be somebody who has a minority opinion. If you look at the decisions within the EaP, they were tough but very fair. Countries that delivered moved up and got documents initialed, countries that delivered more got visa liberalization, countries that did not deliver did not get anything, countries that did not meet human rights standards were not invited and that is correct.
I regret that Ukraine failed in Vilnius. Nobody regrets president Lukashenka was not invited.
- About lobbists in governments. We can see that such countries which have borders with Belarus, refuse to support targeted economic sanctions against the Lukashenka regime due to their business interests. Trade with the Lukashenko regime is extremely profitable to them, and for this they refuse principles.
- That is very characteristic of sanctions. It is easy for the US to impose sanctions, because it costs us nothing. It is a very expensive proposition for a small state to close 50% of its border. I am very sympathetic to Lithuania and Latvia’s point – they pay 100% of the costs for policies of other countries, and other countries pay nothing.
In my view, we need to save sanctions for the most important cases and not every case. Nuclear weapon in Iran is a good example, the use of poison gas in Syria. I mean there are appropriate sanctions in the case of Belarus which are the prohibitions on individual people, who are responsible. More dangerous are economic embargoes and stopping all kinds of trade, as Russia did with Ukraine.
If businessmen are funding or contributing to the activities, violating human rights or they are a part of the regime, then they are legitimate targets for sanctions.
- Today, even the sale of petroleum products to the West became a personal family business of Lukashenka and his hand oligarchs. By the way, the U.S. imposed sanctions against the «Belneftekhim».
- Very good. We did something right...
- And the last question. Do you read Charter’97 and what do you think about it?
- Yes! It's my favorite! I get the information from your site about Belarus every morning by my wife Irina Krasovskaja. I am sad there are some many people driven out of the country.
It is important to create such a site which continues to maintain interest to Belarus. It's a pity that good web-sites and NGOs, and artists were forced out of Belarus but it's important that you continue to inform people on the situation in your country.
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