Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya with Belarusians / twitter.com/franakviacorka
Ukraine is now waging a heroic war against the aggressor. In addition, it is making great strides on the diplomatic front, which allows it to receive support from other countries. But Ukraine is a complete failure in building relations with Belarus tactically and strategically. Kyiv communicates neither with the self-proclaimed Belarusian authorities nor with the anti-Lukashenka opposition. As a result, Ukraine is losing support even from opposition opinion leaders.
According to Sergei Sidorenko, editor of the European Pravda, Ukraine now has an opportunity to fundamentally change the situation without changing its previous approaches to Belarus. Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya recently announced the creation of the "United Transition Cabinet." This is a peculiar "shadow government" of Belarus. We briefly recount why he thinks that dialogue with the Belarusian opposition is important for Ukraine.
Like EU countries, Kyiv considers Aliaksandr Lukashenka to be a "self-proclaimed leader of Belarus." But the paths of the European Union and Ukraine on the Belarusian issue diverge further. In 2020-2021, Ukraine joined several sanctions decisions of the European Union, but not all of them. Moreover, the Ukrainian Foreign Ministry immediately decided that it would not impose sanctions against Lukashenka personally.
The motives were as follows: Kyiv set the boundary to which it was acceptable to irritate the crazy dictator so as not to provoke his readiness for closer political cooperation with Russia. For example, not to provoke him into giving the Russians the right to let their subversive and reconnaissance groups into Ukraine.
This logic lost became meaningless after February 24, 2022, when the south of Belarus became a large military base of the occupant state. But Ukraine never joined the sanctions against Lukashenka.
Another point where EU and Ukrainian policies do not coincide is the treatment of Belarusian opposition leader Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya. Tsikhanouskaya's team attempted to negotiate a visit to Kyiv back in 2020 but were rejected. Kyiv's main complaint against her was her unclear position about Russia and Crimea. But back in the spring of 2021, she dotted the I's here. Still, Ukraine refused not only to meet with her but also to recognize her status as the opposition leader. It is nonsense, but because of Kyiv's attitude toward Tsikhanouskaya personally, she ended up in the same basket as the aggressor state.
Even for those Belarusians who are skeptical about Tsikhanouskaya, she remains a symbol of opposition. Because there is no other. She is the only representative of Belarus who has public legitimacy. Moreover, she is recognized internationally.
Thus, the overwhelming majority of Belarusians, who are against Lukashenka, perceive Ukraine's neglect of Tsikhanouskaya painfully and consider this policy directed against the opposition as a whole. They say that Kyiv, despite everything that has happened, seeks to restore relations with Lukashenka.
The consequence of this is a decrease in pro-Ukrainian voices among the Belarusians. And if rapid developments begin to happen in the region, Ukraine may find itself next to a renewed Belarus, where the political leadership will have no confidence in it. And will have a reason for it.
And most importantly, by avoiding communication with the Belarusian opposition, Kyiv has no influence on its agenda. The formation of a "shadow government" gives Ukraine a way out of this deadlock.
Now in Ukraine, you can often hear an argument like: "Are we sure that these are 100% pro-Ukrainian representatives of the opposition? Let them first prove that they support Ukraine". Here, according to the journalist, lies a fundamental logical mistake: the result that Ukraine has to achieve with its actions is put forward as a prerequisite for these actions.
By definition, the Belarusian opposition should be not pro-Ukrainian, but "pro-Belarusian." And the goal of Ukraine is to ensure that its actions and statements take into account and understand Kyiv's interests. For this purpose, Ukraine needs relations with the Belarusian opposition, it needs an opportunity to conduct a dialogue.
What is more important, Ukraine will have an opportunity to recommend pro-Ukrainian Belarusians to the opposition structures, which will be able to influence processes from within.
Some Ukrainians believe that it is possible to recognize Tsikhanouskaya's government only if it is recognized by the Belarusian military who are fighting against Russia. We are talking about the Belarusian regiment named after Kastus Kalinouski.
But it is worth remembering that there is a generally recognized in the civilized world principle of separation of the political and military components. That is, civilians should not interfere with tactical decisions of military leaders, while the military should not have a voice, except for a deliberative one, when making political decisions. The decision to start relations with the Belarusian opposition is a political one, the military should not be linked to it.
There is also an opinion that it is dangerous to recognize the Belarusian opposition while the war is going on. Because Lukashenka may retaliate. Of course, we have to be careful about provoking him. But it is obvious that he is not launching a ground operation against Ukraine solely because of his own unpreparedness for this step. If Belarus becomes an aggressor state, it will be another level of sanctions. And Belarus as a non-nuclear state does not have the de facto immunity that Russia has.
The political decision on how exactly cooperation between Ukraine and the Belarusian opposition will begin should be made by Kyiv. But the fact that this step is overdue and overripe is undeniable. Kyiv gains nothing by continuing de facto relations with Lukashenka. But it definitely loses opportunities and trust of those anti-Lukashenka Belarusians, who could have been natural sympathizers of Ukraine. But they turn into its opponents, because they consider Kyiv's current policy unacceptable.