Portada | Europa | Yuri Ambrazevich, Deputy Foreign Minister of Belarus: “Russia never requested Belarusian army should enter the conflict in Ukraine”

Yuri Ambrazevich, Deputy Foreign Minister of Belarus: “Russia never requested Belarusian army should enter the conflict in Ukraine”

Yuri Ambrazevich, Deputy Foreign Minister of the Republic of Belarus
Yuri Ambrazevich, Deputy Foreign Minister of the Republic of Belarus. Source: Fuente: UN Geneva 

On his trip through the Post-Soviet space, Alejandro López had the opportunity to interview Yuri Ambrazevich, Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs of the Republic of Belarus. The meeting takes place in a context marked by opposition calls to “liberate” the country, tensions between Minsk and the West and the intensification of fighting in the Russian-Ukrainian war. Will Belarus participate in the invasion of Ukraine? Will Belarus formally recognize the Ukrainian territories annexed by Russia? Does Belarus fear an armed insurrection in its territory? Will it end up integrating with Russia within the framework of the Union State?

Versión en castellano – English version

– [Question]: First of all, we would like to talk about diplomacy as we have been following war in Ukraine. Belarus offered to mediate in the conflict between Ukraine and Russia, how do you think the Ukrainian war could end?

[Answer]: Thank you very much for the interest in the position of the Republic of Belarus. This is not often interest from the media from the Western Europe. I would like to say that from the very beginning we were promoting only one answer to this question: that all wars end with peaceful talks in fact. From the very beginning of this Special Military Operation (SMO) of Russia in Ukraine we did our best to put both sides around one table of negotiations. We succeeded on this. You remember that three rounds of talks between Ukrainian and Russian delegations took place in Belarus with the special personal engagement of our President [Aleksandr Lukashenko].

He phoned several times to President Zelenski, to President Putin. That was the initial stage of the conflict. Then the negotiation process moved to Istanbul. That was the decision of the negotiating balance. You know that it failed. It was not the Belarusian side who can take the responsibility for this failure. We have very clear interest in having a quick and stable peace to the side of Belarus because we’re immediate neighbour of the problem, of this conflict. We’ve been living in one State together with Ukrainian people for several decenies.

Para ampliar: Yuri Ambrazevich, viceministro de Exteriores de Bielorrusia: “Rusia nunca pidió que el ejército bielorruso entrara en el conflicto en Ucrania”

There are a lot of families from different sides of the borders. It is quite normal to have aspirations to see a peaceful solution to this conflict. This is also important for us to have this conflict end with real new talks for European security architecture as this conflict contributes to destruction of European security architecture and Belarus would not feel himself safe if there is no new system that would take into account interest of all countries, all legitimate concerns as we believe that the major reason of this conflict is disregard by some countries of legitimate concerns and interests of other countries.

–  [Q]: In fact there were some diplomatic channels from 2014 with the Minsk Agreements so there was a format signed by Ukraine, Russia, France, Germany and the then representatives in the so-called Republics of Luhansk and Donetsk so why hasn’t that Minsk Agreements been implemented?

[A]: You might remember that Minsk Agreements were called this way because it happened in Minsk where they were signed first in 2014 and then in February 2015 when leaders of countries who put themselves as guarantees of these agreements came to Belarus including Presidents of Russia, of Ukraine, of course leaders of France and Germany. We believe that the major problem of these Minsk Agreements was the total noncompliance of the officials in Kiev of the possibility for fulfilling the major elements of these agreements. Probably the only one they fulfil was the exchange of prisoners of war.

You might remember also that there were a lot of speculations and declarations of major players engaged at that time to this negotiation talk in Minsk like a format that had Germany and France but in fact they wanted no desire even to fulfil these Minsk Agreements in order to allow Ukraine to be prepared for the next war, to build its military capacities not only defensive ones but offensive ones as well. So if that was the case, if that was the goal, so I believe that there were no chances that these Minsk Agreements could fly but from our side we made everything possible to provide to negotiating sides all necessary conditions to work effectively.

We provided all necessary efforts from our diplomatic stuff. To the highest level our President [Lukashenko] was personally engaged to fulfil this function of a shadow between major actors engaged in this room. There is a strong belief that there would be no security guarantee for Belarus until there is a stable peace in Ukraine and around Ukraine, a stable peace in whole Europe and whole Eurasia.

– [Q]: So do you consider it was Ukraine who failed to fulfil the implementation of the Minsk Agreements?

[A]: This is what I said, yes.

– [Q]: Continuing with the course of the war since 2014, there has been several annexations from Russia of Ukrainian territory but despite President of Belarus has talked about possible recognition of this, it hasn’t been fulfilled yet. Is Belarus going to recognize Russian sovereignty over Crimea and Sevastopol?

[A]: It’s interesting to see how you put questions because you are not from this area. If you see at the reality on the ground, in fact the sovereignty is not the desire of someone to do something with regard to a territory or with regard to citizens. This is in fact a factual side of the situation. We can agree if you would like to send a mail to Crimea for example and if you put Ukraine on the envelope, you’ll have no chance that it will go to Sevastopol or to Simferopol. If you put Russia, it will for sure get to the addresses.

The factual side says to us that are Russian authorities who rule these territories, they pay pensions, they build infrastructures, they run banking systems, social systems, military, State services, everything. You are from Spain. Spain is buying Russian liquid gas. You are number one as a buyer Russian gas [in mid-2023] in the European Union and you raised your commerce with Russian gas if comparing with the same period of 2022 more than 80% according to Bloomberg in fact. You can imagine that money that Russia earns from this commerce with Spain goes for people for the social needs or rebuild an infrastructure in Kherson, in Donetsk, in Simferopol… Does this mean that Spanish authorities recognise de facto the Russian sovereignty?

Para ampliar: Los hidrocarburos rusos siguen fluyendo a Occidente

Russia does not care whether you recognize or not. They just exercise sovereignty over these territories. Belarus perceive from this fact that Russia does not need the specific political recognition of the will of the people from this territory which were given the possibility to decide by themselves to join Russia or not. This is just the factual side of the story. We perceive when we deal with Russian authorities from this factual side, when our companies are working with the companies in these territories they perceive from the very commercial interest, nothing more. When we provide humanitarian support, humanitarian aid to people from these territories. We perceive from the normal desire to help people and I believe this is the way how we deal with this issue.

– [Q]: Well, you said it’s obvious that Crimea and Sevastopol are actually under Russian authorities. So if it’s not that important that recognition, what is the problem for Belarus to recognize it formally?

[A]: Nobody asked us to do so.

– [Q]: Russia is asking everyone to recognise their sovereignty over Crimea.

[A]: Not as I heard. We do our best to support our Russian colleagues in every international forum, in UN. You know our position so this is quite understandable. Russian sovereignty is just a factual side of the story. 

Alejandro López and Yuri Ambrazevich
Alejandro López and Yuri Ambrazevich

– [Q]: So you’ve never been asked for that recognition? Because when it happened in Donetsk, Luhansk, Kherson and Zaporizhia they asked for it.

[A]: I remember a clear message from Russian authorities that they don’t need any international recognition. This is like we do, it’s the same in our elections. We are not having elections to persuade or to convince people in Spain that this is our President or these are our deputies. We are doing it for ourselves to be okay with these people in power and just to be sure that we are governed by the people who we trust. So I believe this is the same principle, the same notion of the fact of the sovereignty of Russia over these territories.

– [Q]: Talking about Russia, Belarus and Russia have been in the Union State framework of integration and Belarus has shown great rapprochement with Russia, especially from 2020 but also from all three decades of independence. How far would you like Belarus to go within the framework of the integration in the Union State with Russia?

[A]: Well, the Union State is not a replication of the former Soviet Union. It’s the name of the integrational process between two states. This is not that we started in 2020, this is not true. We started it immediately as we understood after the Soviet Union collapse that the way out of all our problems in economy, social was just to re-establish ties that were cut off by the collapse of Soviet Union. From the very beginning of the first tenure of the current President in 1994 we understood that it is working when you go to Russia, when you re-establish ties, industrial cooperation, agricultural cooperation…

It help us a lot, not only Belarus, I believe it also helps a lot to Russia as well to maintain the level of life, the new level of production, to bring the economy to the development path. And we went through different stages of development of this Union State, the integrational process, we have no borders, we have freedom of movement, we have freedom of settlement, we have freedom of capitals, when I’m in Russia I have the same rights as Russians have in Belarus, we have freedom of stablishing companies, having commerce… The major goal is that Belarusians feel themselves in Russia as at home, same for Russians in Belarus. We have no goals that we’ll have one government, one President.

We are working now through tactical goals, we have 28 joint programmes to advance the integration, harmonization of legislations on commercial practices in every field of social life and economy. You have to understand that we came out from one State, we are laughing from same jokes, we are normally watching same movies, we are living in an information space, we are talking mostly same language. So it’s quite natural that we caught the possibility of this freedom of interaction with Russia, we do not perceive them as enemies, they are our friends, they are our best allies, they are almost like we are in fact, we would like to use this friendship, to use this closeness for having the potential of our people developing at our best. So I believe the same from the Russian side.

Para ampliar: La guerra se agrava para Ucrania: escasez de munición, fatiga de los aliados y ofensiva rusa

If you look at the economic side of the story, you can see that this is not only about great words and having fun, but this is about a very stable economic relationship and trade between our two countries. You see Belarus is always in top 5 for last thirty years of Russian commerce, trading partners. Last year [2022] we have reached 45 billions of dollars in our bilateral turnover, it grew up by 14%. And this year we have already added it comparatively to the same period of 2022 a 20% of bilateral turnover growing up. So this is just a reflexion of how we are close in economics, in populations, in tourism, cultural activities, cultural exchanges…

I have to say that even now if we compare what we have already built and achieved with Russia in terms of the Union State, there’s always a room for improvement. For example in European Union you have the common currency, the euro. We are still not ready to introduce the joint rouble or whatever we can call it between Russia and Belarus. There are a lot of efforts to be done in the future between Russian government and Belarussian government. And if you look at the architecture that we use, this programme of integration between Belarus and Russia, it’s quite different from what you have in Brussels. You have thousands of bureaucrats working as a hub of decision-making process, you have on a daily basis around 20 working groups on different types of common responsibilities between states and the Union.

We are not having such a big bureaucratic apparatus, we perceive the possibility that we can meet together, we can act as one country, one voice, we have programmes, we have documents so even in this regard we are still far away from the level of factual integration that the European Union achieved. When it comes to the rights and needs of the ordinary people I believe this is where we are performing as a union working for us. When you go to St. Petersburg, to Moscow, to Novgorod or to Vladivostok you feel yourself –I mean Belarusian feel themselves- as home.

– [Q]: That’s the reason why I was asking this. Because I know the Union State comes from 90’s but since 2020-2021 there have been more steps into integration with Russia so they solved the tax issue of importation of oil, energetic market. But President Lukashenko talked about a will to create a common currency, the possibility of creating a common parliament. So my question is about if there’s a will to create a federation or something in the integration process.

[A]: Well, I believe this is a misperception of the process. I described where we are in our relationship with Russia. So if one day we feel that we are in need of a federation we’ll decide by ourselves, so don’t worry about this. Now we have two Presidents, two States, two capitals. This is the name for the integration process between Belarus and Russia. This is our feeling of how we promote our integration. This is something which help us to stood to the foreign pressure as well, this is the way how we protect ourselves because we have access to Russian market.

For Belarussian market this is the way how we help ourselves and our partners to deal with problems for imports, exports as well. This is a quite obvious issue that they keep their statehood, we keep our statehood, we continue to promote the idea that we have to set rules, practises which unite our companies, ordinary people, remove all barriers in commerce, in movement, in every area. In this endeavour we put first regular needs of people, not politics. This is how we see this.

– [Q]: Now you have a common group of military units with Russia in Belarus. Has Russia asked Belarus for entering the campaign in Ukraine?

[A]: We’ve been for years in a military union with Russia. We have joint anti-aerial missiles system of protection. We have also agreements for the regional grouping of militaries. What we deployed in Belarus recently is been made by request of the Belarusian authorities in order to be sure that Belarus is not dragged into the war. So there were never a request from the Russian authorities that Belarusian army should enter the conflict in Ukraine.

From Minsk we see no value in military terms to work with Russia on this particular issue. And I believe that the same understanding is in Moscow as our presidents met dozens of times since the conflict in Ukraine started and they discussed all details about the situation around Ukraine and Russian military operation in Ukraine.

– [Q]: But why was Russia able to launch part of the invasion from Belarusian territory?

[A]: This is a question that I have to start with a long explanation because when you use words like “invasion” or “aggression” this is just a cliche normally used unfortunately about my country, about Russia, about the perception of the conflict in the West, in Big West as it called in politology. Normally you see in all documents used by the West disregard to the conflict three definitions: unlawful or illegal, unprovoked and unjustified. We in Belarus don’t think that this was not “unprovoked” as it was for sure provoked by enlargement of NATO, by creation in Ukraine of the power of a State totally Russophobe, totally anti-Russia. So for sure it was a provocation and a desire to drag Russia into the conflict and Russia responded in the military way. When it comes to “illegal”, we do not think in Minsk that it was more illegal than when US started a war in Iraq or Afghanistan or France being involved in a war in Libya. And when it comes to “unjustified”, I also believe that this is a very relative notion and we can justify whatever we want or we need.

Para ampliar: El grito de Bielorrusia

Once again if we look at the history, we do believe that this was no more unjustified than Allies intervention in Yemen, Afghanistan, Libya or Yugoslavia. So this is about how we see in principle the situation on the map. Then let’s back to the Belarusian situation. From the very beginning of 2000s or even a little bit earlier we’ve been living under sanctions, well, restrictions and bans. Sanctions is something positive in legal terms. So why am I against using word “sanctions”? Because it gives some legal position to those who impose sanctions. Restrictions and bans, specifically economic restrictions and bans on Belarus after 2020, we’ve seen the speedy arise of the volume of restrictions and bans against Belarus with the only goal of changing the geopolitical orientation of the country, changing the political power, political persons and decouple Belarus from Russia.

So if you look at actors behind all problems that we had in Belarus in 2020s unfortunately it’s not a surprise that those speaking loudly in favour of Belarusian independence, stable development like Washington, Brussels and London made everything possible in order to make Minsk think that they are our –let’s put in a diplomatic way- not-friends. So by the beginning of the special military operation of Russia in Ukraine we perceived from this notion that they do not recognize the results of the presidential elections in 2020, they deployed all their means and efforts to launch against Belarus economic restrictions and bans, to finance our opposition, to finance all NGOs in Belarus that they’ll be ready to help if necessary with raids and protesters.

Then it comes to the pure situation around Ukraine. From 2014 and 2015, after Minsk Agreements, we understood that all what happened after –the failure of Ukrainian side in fulfilling their obligations on the Minsk Agreements-, their active pumping in Ukraine with western weapons specifically in late 2010s -2018, 2019, 2020, 2021- it was very clear for us that all these actions were aimed against Russia, against Belarusian best political partner, ally. In the context of the bilateral relationship, those who were pumping Ukraine with weapons, with anti-Russian politics it was very clear for us. If this actions were against our ally, this is also against us. Russia decided to enter into the preventive action basing ourselves on this considerations. We acted accordingly to keep our sky blue and with no aircrafts. This is my response.

Parade on the occasion of Independence Day of Belarus with the participation of Russian soldiers.
Parade on the occasion of Independence Day of Belarus with the participation of Russian soldiers. Source: Mil.ru

– [Q]: Well, as an ally and as you said it’s not an unprovoked operation, would Belarus let Russia enter again from the north of Ukraine if it’s necessary or if they ask you to do so?

[A]: This is not a problem that we have now in our hands. Nobody asked us before to do so and there have been no launches from Belarusian territory for many many months. So I don’t think that our leaders just perceive from the possibility of this development of the conflict.

– [Q]: Talking about Western countries, do you have some information of the intention of those Western countries to overthrow the Belarusian government?

[A]: This is an issue of foreign interference into our national internal political situation. Lots of experiences in this area for Belarus over last decades. There are different types of ways for doing this overthrow or helping local people to change the power. In fact, there’s one goal as I said, to decouple Belarus from Russia, to change the geopolitical orientation of my country. We have made our choice in the mid of 90s that Russia is our strategic ally. That doesn’t mean that we don’t want to have Poland, Lithuania, European Union or the whole West as our friends and normal neighbours. This is totally wrong. This is what we were trying to promote over years and years of foreign policy.

But when you have NGOs funded by European money, by US money with the only aim finally to get people ready to go to the streets, if you have in fact these countries ready to cut all economic ties with my country, to stop all exportations from my country in order to put pressure on our government, to put pressure on ordinary people. I believe there’s only one goal they pursue: that these people go to the streets to overthrow the government. This is absolutely an unfriendly relationship. This is already openly happening in Poland for example. “We have a goal to change power in Belarus, to have Belarus back in Europe, we have a goal to push Russia beyond Ural mountains, to have Europe until Volga”. It could be ridiculous. It’s very deplorable. It could provoke a lot of drama in fact, not only for you and me but for everybody in this area, from Gibraltar to Vladivostok.

I do believe that this desire to pursue political goals before the real needs of ordinary people, this is a civilizational mistake of some governments in the Western world. Yes, we believe that there is a desire for this change of power and there are a lot of resources invested in this change of power. We have to take into account this work made by several governments to the West of our border with Poland and we have to take it into account to prepare ourselves if necessary to not have to deal with this.

– [Q]: Finally, regarding those attempts to overthrow the government of Belarus from Western countries we have seen several opponents abroad like Sviatlana Tsijanóuskaya or Pavel Latushka talking about the necessity to “free” Belarus or to consider it as a “State under occupation”. And some groups in Ukraine talked about their intention to “liberate” Belarus by armed means. Is it possible or do you consider a threat that the war could start in Belarus through these groups?

[A]: Well, the danger of these wordings is a little bit different from the direct threat to the stability and peace in my country. The problem is that those regiments that have been created and called in a way they are Belarusian arise as extremists groups fighting for Ukraine. We don’t know how are their numbers, we understand they are small. Lots of people who fight in these regiments died, we even saw it in declarations on different medias.

We also understand that there are some regiments trained in Poland in order to get these people ready if necessary to be engaged in raids in Belarus and this is the major threat. We are now living in a very sensitive situation, a very tense relationship with our neighbours. We’ve been living during last decade through Polish side, Lithuanian side, NATO pressures growing up along Belarusian borders. This brought us to the necessity to respond in an adequate way, internally to be ready if necessary to react. In the current situation we think and we feel that there’s a lot of possibilities to provocations. A provocation could be align of any sort of conflict and then when you have extremists which are trained for terroristic activities, for being leaders in promoting raids, promoting resistance, bringing people to the streets, this is the major threat to these regiments.

Para ampliar: Pavel Latushka: “Es muy importante para nosotros que se otorgue a Bielorrusia el estatus de territorio ocupado”

In terms of military power of course they are useless. Belarusian army is strong, well equipped, well trained. We have joint regional grouping of militaries deployed at the Belarusian territory according to our agreements that we signed with Russia. In fact we feel ourselves confident in terms of our independence and our ability to protect ourselves. But we did additional steps to provide us with all necessary means and tools to be sure that there will be no war against Belarus.

I believe that this also put us in a situation where Belarus is a country of regional importance for security issues in Europe. It brought us also into the situation that keep us as a responsible player at the map of Europe, keep us out of any efforts of neighbouring countries that would wish to see Belarus dragged into the Ukrainian conflict. I’m not speaking about Russia, they have no interest to see Belarus dragged into the problem, I’m speaking about our neighbouring countries from the North and from the West.

The problem will be solved one day with the notion we started the interview that we are totally in favour of a negotiated process. You might remember that Belarus was promoting over years a Helsinki II process and then we changed it also in favour of a global process that we call the spirit of San Francisco. We somehow forecasted the problem in Europe because we felt it on our own skin. Probably this is a genetic issue for Belarusians. We’ve been always on this line of divide between the big West and Russia for the opposite side. And this is very unfortunate that we are somehow in between.

I would like to see my country allowed to live with our choices we made: to be in strategic alliance with Russia with the very clear goals and interests in this area, to be also normal neighbours with good trade, cultural and humanitarian exchange with all the European countries, the big West. It’s not possible from your current perspective in Madrid so this is your choice. We are open. We have never done any steps by purpose to damage interests of our neighbours. We have always been forced to react to defend our interests. So please come again.

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