US Ambassador: Lukashenko is not a peacemaker. No sanctions-for-grain esxchange

US Ambassador Julie Fisher in Euroradio's studio

Euroradio: We are now in our studio in Warsaw and my first question is: how do you think, when can we have a talk in Minsk in our radio's newsroom?

Julie Fisher: It's a great question. And look, if it were up to me, we'd be sitting in Minsk today having this conversation. I would be in Minsk. You would be in Minsk. And everyone who wanted to have a conversation about Belarus's future and how the people of Belarus have a voice in determining that future, we'd all be able to express those views. Unfortunately today, you know even better than I that there these are incredibly difficult times for expressing independent views. So the opportunity to have this conversation in Warsaw is as good alternative.

Euroradio: How do you think, what's the place of Belarus and the events of last two years, from protests to repressions, for the United States? And mostly I would ask this question because we have a ground of war in Ukraine. And I think Belarusian events are in the shadows now.

Julie Fisher: You know, the question of how Belarus looks after two years of an incredible, enduring political crisis and now in the context of the war, is really an important one. I think from Washington's perspective, we absolutely have kept Belarus in our sights and have kept a focus. You will have seen consistent messages out of Washington, both before the war and since the war, speaking to both the abuses, the corruption of the regime, calling on the regime to release those 1200 political prisoners, holding the regime to account for those abuses, but also since the beginning of the war, seeking directly to hold the regime accountable for its role in enabling Russia's war against Ukraine. You know, Lukashenka has allowed Russia to use Belarus territory to launch missiles to supply their offensive, to treat their wounded, to provide rest and recuperation for those responsible for massacres in Ukraine. And we messaged very clearly before the war, when the war started and since then, that we will hold the regime to account for that.

At the same time, in all of this time, what we have seen is incredible commitment from the people of Belarus, both to trying to have their voices heard as it relates to the election of 2020, the violence and the repression that ensued afterwards, their rejection of these tools of transnational repression that that Lukashenko has put to use, like the migrant crisis, like Ryanair. And we have seen their voices. We have seen their views, their will, their intent as expressed since the beginning of this war. There's no mistaking with the people of Belarus are deeply opposed to this war. And I think it is really important that the United States, that we see the difference between the people of Belarus and the regime that maintains a grip on power.

Euroradio: Great. Thanks for that and thanks for support for civil society of Belarus. I would ask also how officials in Washington see the resolving of this problem, or maybe particularly do people there see that the problem of connections between Russia and Ukraine could be resolved without changes in Belarus?

Julie Fisher: I think for the United States part, the question of ending Russia's war in Ukraine, that is its own distinct issue, said right, ending Russia's war, helping Ukraine to prevail in its fight to defend its territory, to defend its identity, to defend its people. I hope that you and your viewers understand just how deeply committed the United States is to this. More than 40 billion U.S. dollars at work in support of Ukraine at this point, providing them weapons to help them defend themselves. Fundamentally, it is our view and one that I think we share with our European partners and colleagues, that that commitment is absolutely essential as the Kremlin works to rewrite the end of the Cold War.

I see the struggle in Belarus as related. It is related, but it is so distinctly different from what is happening in Ukraine and in Belarus. What we see is a leader who is disconnected from the people, who doesn't represent the people who they didn't choose. And he has been willing to trade Belarus's sovereignty and independence over all of these years of his of his grip on power in order to maintain that grip. So, you know, when he faces that choice to choose Belarus as independence, to choose the people of Belarus and their future, to choose Belarus as prosperity, he has always turned the other way and chosen himself. And fundamentally, the question of a future prosperous, free Belarus. I think it is going to be directly connected to Ukraine's ability to win this war.

Euroradio: Who Lukashenko is for you? In this situation, he is rather an aggressor who supports Russian aggression in Ukraine or he's more of a peacemaker?

Julie Fisher: There's no question for the United States in the role that Lukashenko has played. He is a coaggressor. He has provided Russia, whether or not he was asked. I don't know. I don't know whether he was able to make decisions in this respect. But he has provided the Russian military. An all access pass to Belarus for use of its territory. And that is part of this incredible dependency that he has now. Right as he has turned away from his own people, he has isolated Belarus from its neighbors and from the West. He is completely, wholly dependent on Moscow. So he is unable to ensure Belarus's independence and sovereignty going forward. And his role in this war is crystal clear.

Euroradio: Okay, maybe the last question. It is about sanctions. How do you assess the possibility of lifting sanctions from Belarus in exchange for a some kind of "transport corridor" for Ukrainian grain?

Julie Fisher: You know, it's a really important question, because the issue of the world's food security is critical in this moment. And for the United States, we have absolutely made addressing the food security crisis that the world faces. We have made it a priority. The United States hosted a food security ministerial in New York last month. We hosted a special session of the U.N. Security Council that there is an obvious and very clear way to address the world's food security problem, and that is for Russia to end its war. Short of that decision, the question of how we can help bring Ukrainian grain to market is one that we, again, together with our partners in Europe, are thinking about every possible avenue to help get that Ukrainian grain to market, both because it we need it to feed the world and also because Ukraine has more grain that will come online and because it's important to Ukraine's ability to continue their fight. So we've been clear that we will consider every possible option.

But fundamentally, the tools of sanctions and the tools of economic pressure that we have brought to bear as they relate to Belarus, have a very specific purpose that has not yet been addressed. And our sanctions are deeply tied to the question of political prisoners in Belarus. So anybody in Minsk who is looking for a path out of that sanctions pressure, anyone who is looking for a way to find some economic relief, the answer is the release of political prisoners.

Euroradio: A clear message. And thank you for that. And thank you for this interview.

Julie Fisher: It's a pleasure to be here. Thank you very much.

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