Excerpt from Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov’s interview with the Rossiya TV channel, Moscow, August 19, 2020
Question: In addition to Ukraine, there is now one more point of disagreement – namely, Belarus. In your opinion, how actively will the United States and the EU try to influence, interfere in and put pressure on the political situation in Minsk? Perhaps today you even discussed this issue in your conversation with Federal Minister of Foreign Affairs of Germany Heiko Maas?
Sergey Lavrov: Yes, we spoke about this today as well because we are rather concerned about the events going on in Belarus. We are concerned about the attempts to take advantage of the internal difficulties that Belarus, the Belarusian people and leadership are facing right now in order to interfere in these events and processes from the outside. Not only interfere but impose certain procedures on the Belarusians that external actors find beneficial for themselves. No one is making a secret that it is all about geopolitics, about the struggle for the post-Soviet space. We witnessed the same struggle at the previous stages of the development of the situation after the Soviet Union ceased to exist. Obviously, Ukraine is the most recent example.
What we are now hearing from European capitals – mainly from the Baltic states (Lithuania and Estonia), as well as Poland and the European Parliament – has little to do with Lukashenko, human rights or democracy. It is about geopolitics and the rules that our Western partners want to inculcate into everyday life on our continent and in other parts of the world.
There are international legal frameworks that must serve as guidance when it comes to determining one’s attitude towards events in a specific country. In this case, if the neighbours of Belarus see flaws in the elections and how they were organised, firstly, Belarus is a sovereign state, with its own constitution, laws and procedures. To dispute or question the election results at a specific polling station or in general must be done so based on said laws. Secondly, if we follow our own obligations, the Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) has an Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights (ODIHR). One of its responsibilities is to monitor national elections in the OSCE member states. This responsibility is part of the obligations signed by all members of this highly respected organisation, without exception. We are being told that the violations during the election campaign were obvious and documented by voluntary observers, on social media, on camera, etc. The ODIHR itself, which was supposed to monitor the elections, claims that its representatives did not go to Belarus because the invitation was sent too late. This is not true, to put it mildly, because, like any other OSCE member state, Belarus’s only commitment is “to invite international observers to national elections.”
The ODIHR applies different approaches to observing elections to the east of Vienna, in the post-Soviet space, on the one hand, and to the west of Vienna, especially in the United States, on the other hand. It may send 800 observers to one place, 12 to another and none to some other places. For example, the ODIHR did not send any observers to several elections in the Baltic states, despite the fact that hundreds of thousands of people in Estonia and Latvia are deprived of voting rights because they are non-citizens, a status that is shameful for the European Union. For many years, Russia and its CIS partners have been proposing to introduce, once and for all, an election monitoring regulation that would be clear to everybody and include such rules as when an invitation must be sent, what number of observers must be sent as an advance team and how many observers per capita must be sent to observe a vote directly. Our proposals have been rejected. The countries that are now loudly claiming that the ODIHR could not come to the elections because it was not invited were among those who rejected our proposals with particular fervency. Opposing the development of such criteria, they told us that the ambiguity and flexibility given to the ODIHR is a gold standard that must be cherished by all means. There is no need to explain that this ambiguity of the ODIHR’s functions has only one purpose, which is manipulation by its core staff. Its core staff consists of members of NATO and the European Union. Therefore, if the ODIHR actually followed the regulation approved by the member states, it would not have struck an attitude and claimed that it was invited too late. They were supposed to go there and observe the elections. That would have given them more grounds to report on the violations that they are inflating right now in every way.
I am not trying to say that the elections were perfect. Of course, not. There are quite a few indications to the contrary. The same was admitted by the Belarusian leadership, which is trying to start a dialogue with the citizens who are protesting against what they consider an abuse of their rights. I would simply advise everybody to not try and take advantage of the current situation in Belarus (which is complicated) in order to undermine a proper and mutually respectful dialogue between the authorities and the public or to make it provocative. We have seen clearly provocative calls in video footage and on social media. We have seen security officers being provoked, including by brutal force used against them. I really hope that the Belarusians and the many friends of Belarus abroad will be able to sort out their issues themselves and will not pander to those who need this country only to claim the geopolitical space and promote the familiar destructive logic of “you are either with Russia or with Europe.”
As you remember, during the Maidan events in Ukraine in 2004 and in 2014, it was the “either/or” logic that many officials of the EU member states promoted. Now that they are talking about mediation (we have heard proposals from Lithuania and Poland; somebody said that the OSCE must act as a mediator), I urge everybody who is promoting such ideas, to do it not though microphones but to address directly the Belarusians and primarily the Belarusian leadership. Everybody who says that this mediation is the only solution to the current situation should not forget how our Western colleagues “mediated” in 2014 during the Maidan events in Kiev. The distinguished representatives of the European Union acted as “mediators,” reached agreements – and we all remember what came out of that. I believe the Belarusian people can rely on their own wisdom to resolve this situation. I do not see any lack of readiness for a dialogue on behalf of the country’s leadership. I hope that those who, for whatever reason, are not satisfied with the election results will show the same readiness.