Congressman Chris Smith: Russia may undertake expansion into Belarus

Belarus: Russian Prime Minister meets with Lukashenko in Minsk- BBC News

Congressman Chris Smith: Russia may undertake expansion into Belarus

Author of the Law on Democracy in Belarus in an interview; Voice of America – on future sanctions against official Minsk and the threat emanating from Moscow

The House of Representatives of the US Congress approved the amended and expanded Law on Democracy in Belarus. This document gives the US President additional powers in the issue of imposing sanctions against the official Minsk due to election fraud in August this year and human rights violations. The author of the bill, Republican Congressman from New Jersey Chris Smith, in an interview with the Russian Service «Voices of America» spoke about the need to adopt a new version of the act in force in the United States since 2004.

Danila Galperovich: Was there a practical need to change the Law on Democracy in Belarus, which you initiated in 2004, and which is still in force?

Christopher Smith: Yes, this will be the fourth edition of the law, which, as you rightly said, I developed in 2004. We need to reaffirm and strengthen this law, expanding its scope, and impose both economic sanctions and a visa ban against those who carry out this horrendous practice of beatings and arrests, especially against Lukashenka personally. We know that the presidential elections in early August in Belarus were rigged. A hundred days after these elections, the people of Belarus are still protesting in the streets. 30 thousand people were arrested, several were killed. Freedom-loving peoples around the world, especially in the United States, must speak out loudly on this topic as never before. I think that the implementation of the provisions of the Law on Democracy in Belarus will be of great importance. The sanctions are working. Earlier, many political prisoners were released after we introduced sanctions against about two hundred Lukashenka’s associates. Therefore, now it is necessary to expand and in this expanded form once again approve the law that we have.

D.G .: To what extent is Russia involved in what is happening in Belarus? We saw reports that employees of propaganda channels, in particular RT, were sent to Belarusian television to replace Belarusian journalists..

C.S .: There is no doubt that many so-called «Russian journalists» infiltrated Belarus, and are now conducting an information operation in support of Lukashenka. And again the question arises whether we are witnessing a repetition of the same thing that happened in Crimea, when Russia invades and actually takes control of a sovereign country that is already bowing to Moscow. It is no coincidence that we called our Law the Law on Human Rights, Democracy and Sovereignty of Belarus. The idea is that we do not want to allow the territory and people of Belarus to be swallowed up by Russia. This is the key question. We make it clear that this is out of the question. We know that Russia has done this not only in Ukraine, but also in the Georgian republics of South Ossetia and Abkhazia. They are expanding – initially they feel that they can penetrate somewhere, and they first prepare it using the so-called «journalists», to promote people. The next step might be to capture.

D.G .: Recently, the EU High Representative for Foreign and Security Policy Josep Borrell said that the EU could move from personal sanctions against Belarusian officials to sectoral ones. Will the USA follow in the same direction, is it possible to impose American sectoral sanctions against Belarus??

K. S..: First, we still need to impose personal tough sanctions against a fairly large number of people in order to be sure that all those who beat people – down to the level of those who did it, «boldly» getting rid of patches and names on the uniform so as not to be identified – will be held responsible. They must answer in full, especially those who humiliated and mocked people who were imprisoned, beat them with truncheons, wringing their arms, in police wagons and pre-trial detention centers. These people, in addition to our sanctions, must be held accountable for their actions in accordance with the criminal code. Will we go further in the sanctions? Yes, I think we should do this and move on to sectoral sanctions, paying attention to those industries that generate income for Lukashenka personally. We could «cover» their sanctions in the sense that they can do business with US banks and with anyone in the United States in principle.

D.G .: You have extensive experience of working in the OSCE, you once led the US Helsinki Commission. How important is cooperation within the framework of this organization, like transatlantic cooperation, in stopping the violence in Belarus?

C.S .: It is very important – cooperate and work in unison with Europe. When I was developing the first edition of the Law on Democracy in Belarus in 2004, we compiled a single list of those who fall under our sanctions. – the administration of George W. Bush did it. And Europe made an almost identical list, which was very productive: those people who could not do business with the United States or travel here, could not do business with Europe and visit Europe. I am confident that such cooperation with our friends and allies in the EU should be continued..

D.G .: I noticed that both in the previous and in this version of your law, the special role of American foreign broadcasting is noted. – «Voices of America», Radio Liberty – to deliver reliable information to the citizens of Belarus.

L.S.: Yes, the role of reliable information is now critically important there, it is important to supply people with real information and to resist attempts to deceive or intimidate them with the help of false propaganda. We support hope in people by such actions. I was born in 1953 and was growing up in the midst of «cold war», and since then I remember one good saying: «The iron curtain is not soundproof». Then «Voice of America» and Radio Liberty did what you are doing now – you overcome obstacles to reach people’s hearts and minds, to reach their intellectual abilities, telling them: «See what’s happening in your country». And so they turn to you for the truth, «Voice of America», because they cannot get it from RT and other similar media that inspire lies. Thank you for doing this. I remember how Vaclav Havel said that this broadcast helped him to continue to hope, like other people. Even in the camps for political prisoners, your information penetrated, helping people to fight.

D.G .: I would like to draw your attention to one point in the law, which will certainly be noted and criticized both by the Kremlin and its loyal media in Russia and Belarus. Your document says that the United States «will never recognize the inclusion of Belarus in the so-called “union state” with Russia». But this union of Russia and Belarus has existed, albeit mostly on paper, for 20 years, and has even been registered by UN bodies. You are not afraid that you will be accused of interfering in the internal affairs of these two countries?

C.S .: Yes, we remember that Serbia also wanted to enter there, under Slobodan Milosevic. It seems to me that under certain conditions Putin can make the same move, a very serious move towards exactly the same thing that he did in Ukraine, in Crimea. I arrived in Georgia a week after Russia entered South Ossetia – some of my voters had relatives on the other side of the front line, and I helped to get them out of there with the help of the OSCE and the Red Cross. And we were almost sure that Russian tanks would reach Tbilisi, they were going in that direction. And the world was not particularly outraged about this. We sat and talked with our ambassador to Georgia, and part of the embassy staff had already been evacuated. I would not want Putin to be given the opportunity to repeat something like that. We must be alert and very active. If you remember, the United States never recognized the capture of the Baltic states by the Soviet Union. I believe our concern is well founded – Russia may try to take control of Belarus, which is why we now mention this in the law.

  • Danila Galperovich

    Reporter for the Russian Voice of America Service in Moscow. Collaborates with Voice of America since 2012. For a long time he worked as a correspondent and host of programs for the BBC Russian Service and Radio Liberty. Specialization – international relations, politics and legislation, human rights.

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