Belarusian people have to decide about their future for themselves, but Belarus and the EU would both gain if they have normal, deeper and better relations, said Karin Karlsbro, Swedish MEP, Vice-Chair of the European Parliament Delegation for relations with Belarus, member of Renew Europe Group. In an exclusive interview with Promote Ukraine, Mrs. Karlsbro stressed that it is important to have a relevant and updated sanctions list that includes all responsible for violence in Belarus. The European deputy from Sweden pointed out that the EU expects Russia to respect the integrity of Belarus.
Josep Borell, High Representative of the Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy, said that Belarus should not be a second Ukraine. According to him, the Belarusian people are not discussing whether they want to be closer to Russia or the EU. How do you understand his words?
I think that the European Union should be very clear that the future of Belarus should be in the hands of Belarusians. It is not up to someone in Brussels or someone in Moscow to decide the future of Belarus. It is up to the people. That’s why it is important that all votes are counted, and there should be a new election as soon as possible.
But do you think that Mr. Borrell sent a signal to Russia because the EU doesn’t want the second Maidan to happen and to see Russia’s involvement or even Russian troops?
I think the European Union should be very clear that Belarus has a right to its sovereignty and its integrity as do all other countries. Belarus is not an exception. My country and all countries in the European Union are sovereign, and we decide on our own way, choose our leaders. It is democracy. Yes, it can be a message to Russia. But the most important thing now is that we support democratic development in Belarus and do what we can. In the end Belarusians should determine their future. And it is time for them to have a chance to do that now.
Does your Delegation for relations with Belarus have some proposals to strengthen ties with this country?
The regime has been stealing power from people of Belarus for 26 years. So, it is time for people to decide themselves. What could be done to support the democratic development is, first of all, to stop all kinds of financial support arising in the pockets of the regime. It is not time for any supporter or any thing that can encourage the current regime. But I think it is more important that we switch and support civil society and the free media. That is something the European Union can do without interfering, but can support in the way we can. And I think it is time and it is urgent to reintroduce tougher sanctions to all responsible for what is going on in Belarus because political activities are not a crime. Journalism is not a crime. It is a crime going on against the people from the regime. And it is time to be very tough and to introduce harder and broader sanctions again, and that must be done very quickly.
What is the stage of the sanctions list? Is it ready?
I do not have the exact timetable and stages for that. But from the Parliament’s side, we have been asking for this for a long time now, even before the summer. We follow up every week, and now we actually want to see it in the coming days because it is very urgent. The situation is very very dangerous, and we have to act now. And I want to say to all freedom fighters in Belarus who are afraid of losing their jobs, who are afraid for their own safety and maybe have someone whom they love and have been arrested, that we know, we see, we follow, and we try to act now. And we try to do as much as we can from our side to be active and to support democratic development. Belarusian people should know that we want from the European Parliament side to be good neighbours, to be open to any kind of cooperation and exchange which is normal between good neighbours. That is what it is all about.
Do you think that Lukashenka will be included in this sanctions list? It is not so obvious whether heads of states might be included in such lists…
He is a dictator. Lukashenka must take responsibility for all the crimes for which he is responsible. So, sanctions are just one thing, but there must be many more things when it comes to Lukashenka. It is also, I hope, a thing for Belarusian people to decide how they will go forward when it comes to Lukashenka. Of course, he is guilty, but without the support of many other people — and help and involvement — this could not happen. So, it is important to have a relevant and updated sanctions list.
You already spoke about the new elections – under the OSCE monitoring. Do you think that Lukashenka cannot participate in these new elections?
It is people in Belarus who should decide about the conditions for their new elections, but that would be quite absurd, I would say. I think that will not happen because this person has been stealing the power from people for 26 years, and if he would be a candidate, I think we should be at the same position that we are now, at the same situation. But I am very clear about that: it is up to the people in Belarus to decide for themselves, but for the person (participating in the elections – ed.) who has based his power on lies, on oppression, on crimes against people, human rights violations, it would be a totally absurd situation.
Mrs. Karlsbro, you said already several times that it is up to Belarusian people to decide what they want. But from the European Parliament side do you see a European perspective for Belarus?
Yes, of course. As I said, I hope and dream of good and normal relations with a fantastic neighbour country. It is so sad that we cannot have normal relations. I was in Belarus in February, and I was so reminded about how close we are, how much we have in common, how much we would gain from the common exchange when it comes to trade or cultural exchange, students exchange, environmental exchange. So, both politically and for the environment, for the economy, we would both gain if we had normal, deeper and better relations. But if we have deeper cooperation, it must also be based on shared values of democracy, respect for human rights, the rule of law. These values are so important for the foundation of the European Union. We see, and we follow, and we do what can be done to support the Belarusian people, to improve their future and develop their country to a democracy. But what we try to do we do it from the outside. I am so impressed with all the freedom fighters. They are so brave. They do so many wonderful activities every day, and we can only do our best to support them.
Are you afraid that Russia can intervene in all these events like it was in Ukraine?
For all of us living in this part of Europe, we know that Russia is a country with interest and a country that does not hesitate to act when Moscow wants to act in this interest. So, we should be very clear from the European Union side that we expect the Kremlin to respect the integrity of Belarus. It is a sovereign country, and it is totally unacceptable to interfere in another country politically or with any kind of violence. So, therefore, I repeat how important it is to let the Belarusian people choose their future. It is not something for the agenda in Moscow or somewhere else. Because Russia must accept that countries are free. Their neighbours are free. Like Sweden, like Finland, like the Baltic states, like Ukraine, like any other country, Belarus is a free and a sovereign country.