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28 Jan

Ihar Tsikhanenka, Voice of America, May 5, 2012 (Belarus)

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John McCain on Putin, Lukashenko and Ukraine's missed opportunities (Excerpt)

Igor Tikhonenko: Senator McCain, a few days ago, you came back from Vilnius, where you took part in the Parliamentary Forum for Democracies. Could you explain what kind of political venue was that?

John McCain: I think that democracy is a new and complex process. That’s why it is very important for such countries like the Baltic states to participate in these activities, which have already achieved some success in this field, as well as countries such like Belarus, where democracy is absent. Therefore it is impossible to overestimate the importance of such forums. Plus, Vilnius is a very beautiful city.

IT: You have covered a lot of bases with your speech in the Lithuanian capital. You talked about Russia, Ukraine, Moldova and Georgia. However, one of the cornerstones of your message was the Belarusian issue. You talked about the effectiveness of the external pressure, which eventually led to the release of two political prisoners - Andrei Sannikov and Dmitry Bondarenko. In your opinion, what kind of sanctions against the Belarusian regime is the most effective today?

JM: I think that today there is a number of effective sanctions, but I would particularly point out the measures that directly punish individuals who are executing repressive orders of Lukashenko. We were surprised to see that these people are really starting to get nervous when they realize that they can no longer fly to Paris and do some shopping on the Champs-Elysées, paying by their ill-gained money. But do not forget that today Lukashenko is under the direct control of Vladimir Putin. This is reality. Two years ago we had some hopes, as observers on election campaigns and human rights activists were sending us more or less positive signals. But now everything is back on track.  Also, unfortunately, Lukashenko is under the influence of the Russian president.

IT: Some analysts argue that the release of Andrei Sannikov and Dmitry Bondarenko actually only helped the Lukashenko regime to avoid new sanctions from the EU, which, as you know, were to be discussed by the Europeans a few weeks later. So, Lukashenko arrests and throws into jail his political opponents, and then when he faces new sanctions, he releases them. How fair is that?

JM: Of course, this can be interpreted as some diabolical plot or as an accident. However, we are happy to see the release of at least some political prisoners. At the same time we are mindful that people in Belarus are constantly thrown in jail, since the form of Lukashenko’s authoritarian rule has not changed recently. That’s why we’re so glad when someone is discharged from his terrible prisons. But it would be foolish to consider that kind of behavior as a sign of major changes in Belarus.

IT: Some media and academic institutions call Alexander Lukashenko one of the worst dictators of nowadays. What personal qualities, in your opinion, have allowed him to create such an effective police state in the center of Europe?

JM: As you know, Belarus is the last absolute dictatorship in Europe. And it is not what Mr. Lukashenko should be proud of. I believe that he managed to create a very effective police state through financial assistance from Russia, as well as through some oil and gas privileges that are helping him to stay in power, despite the terrible state of the national economy. Therefore it would be wrong to underestimate his political survival instincts; and the history is evidence of that. There were some situations when it seemed that he finally would become independent from Russia, would reach out to the West, and would starts reforms and might hold legitimate elections. However, none of those predictions have yet come true. That’s why I think we should continue to resort to sanctions, despite the release of the two political prisoners.

Article originally published (in Russian):


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