Belarus envoy to India Andrei Rzheussky in conversation with diplomatic correspondent Sidhant Sibal. Photograph:( WION )
Belarus envoy to India Andrei Rzheussky dismissed allegations that his country pushed migrants towards Poland and Lithuania saying, "we did not provoke this crisis". The development has further worsened the already troubled ties between Minsk and its western neighbours
Belarus envoy to India Andrei Rzheussky has dismissed allegations that his country pushed migrants towards Poland and Lithuania saying "we did not provoke this crisis".
The migrant crisis at the border between Belarus on one side and Poland and three Baltic countries Lithuania, Latvia, Estonia on the other side has seen influx of thousands of migrants, most from countries like Iraq. The development has further worsened the already troubled ties between Minsk and its western neighbours.
Speaking to our diplomatic correspondent Sidhant Sibal, Envoy Andrei Rzheussky, said, "Belarus as a transit country was on the way to western world...We did not provoke this crisis because people were trying to get better life in western countries".
Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights has called on to end ‘appalling’ Belarus-Poland border crisis.
The envoy also said "a lot of misunderstanding happened especially with neighbouring countries" due to the "presidential elections..which were not recognised" but "it's a decision of our country and we are trying to convince them that sanctions and coercive measures taken towards Belarus is not right approach".
Sanctions have been imposed by the EU on Belarus due to "continued repression of civil society, democratic opposition, independent media outlets and journalists," EU said in a statement earlier this month. The December announcement of sanctions by the EU is the fifth package of sanctions against the country.
Sidhant Sibal: What has happened at the border between your country and countries like Poland and Lithuania.
Andrei Rzheussky: There has been a lot of speculation from Poland, Lithuania and other countries. First of all, we did not provoke this crisis, we also suffered from what happened on our border. Lot of people were trying to flee war, economic crisis in their own countries. They were headed to the western countries in the search for a better life. Belarus was just a transit country on the way to western world. Numerous people gathered on the border between Belarus and its neighbouring countries, such as Poland, Lithuania and Latvia. We did our best to help the people when Poland, Lithuania and Latvia pushed them away. We provided temporary shelter to migrants along with food. Truely speaking, the problem is with western countries, primary Poland and Lithuania did not fulfil obligations under refugee convention of 1951 as they did not allow migrants to cross over to their country. So, the crisis happened. We could not convince western countries to full obligations. A lot of things happened on the border. Poland used force in the form of water cannons against the people. Several people, including reporters suffered a lot at the border.
Sidhant Sibal: Has this situation occurred in past? Are you in conversation with neighbours to solve this issue?
Andrei Rzheussky: From the beginning, we tried to apprise Poland and Lithuania about the situation. We said that it is necessary to sit on the table and find a solution. But unfortunately, we did not get any reply from these countries. It is not the right kind of approach taken by these countries. Before the middle of this year, there was huge cooperation on borders, a lot of projects were going on with western countries like Poland and Lithuania. There were joint programmes on how to prevent illegal immigration. But unfortunately, this programme was shut down and Belarus alone cannot stop the flow.
Sidhant Sibal: How did these migrants end up in Belarus. West has been saying migrants are being pushed by your country because of the sanctions that have been imposed on your government.
Andrei Rzheussky: At this moment, we are trying to convince people to return to home countries, some of them agreed for that. As I know some aircrafts have left for countries like Iraq and Syria. As I know, 600-700 people are in temporary camps on the border raised by our government. They are still thinking whether to stay in Belarus or return to home country. All requests for asylum in Belarus will also be considered in a proper way. But majority of the people would like to go to western countries or stay in Belarus.
Sidhant Sibal: So, you dismiss the allegations of weaponisation of migrants?
Andrei Rzheussky: This is an absolute lie. Migrants always want to go to the western countries. The flow through to Belarus is quite less compared to through Italy or any other country. The migrant flow has been constant but we managed to control it by making joint efforts along with western countries who participated in this programme. At the moment, programme has stopped and we cannot do anything to stop people. So, the crisis happened.
Sidhant Sibal: In London, one of your diplomats has been attacked.
Andrei Rzheussky: As I know from official information, on December 19, the wall of our embassy building was damaged when two diplomats had arrived. In the incident, a diplomat was seriously injured. The person suffered broken nose. Police have arrested the person, who injured our diplomat. The accused was a member of an immigrants' group. As far as I know, CdA of British Embassy in Minsk was called to foreign ministry and a note of protest was given to him with a request to find out what happened and take proper action against the culprits. A criminal case has been registered and investigation is underway.
Sidhant Sibal: But it seems Belarus and its neighbours are heading towards a difficult situation. How can this be solved?
Andrei Rzheussky: Look, Belarus is a peaceful country and we always conducted ourselves in this way. We have always suggested diplomatic solution for every dispute. It is not our fault as a lot of misunderstanding happened from neighbouring countries. The main reason of this is that results of the presidential elections were not recognised by our neighbouring countries as well as many western nations. But this decision was important for our nation. A result is a result and 80% votes were won by our president and its official. We have been trying to convince them that sanctions and coercive measures taken towards Belarus is not the right approach. Sanctions are a deadlock and will never give any positive result. Western countries have imposed sanctions against Belarus government due to which our people are suffering. It's a reality of life. We are trying to act wisely and not react to sanctions but we cannot ignore everything.
Sidhant Sibal: What is the situation in your country over talks of referendum on the constitution, political prisoners, opposition leaving the country, etc. Is your country moving towards authoritarian rule?
Andrei Rzheussky: If you are talking about constitutional reforms, in February, Belorussian assembly decided that it is necessary to come up with constitutional reforms. Our president has announced it. A special constitutional commission was created. Around 77 articles have been changed along with preamble. Lot of challenges have happened. Two days ago, it was announced. Towards the beginning of this year, project will be published for decision. At the end of February, it will be put up for referendum.
Sidhant Sibal: The West is saying that you are moving towards authoritarianism.
Andrei Rzheussky: Look, my advice is to come to Belarus and you will see it with your own eyes if there is freedom or not. We are free, absolute free. We have our own foreign policy, which is independent. Maybe it's against the plans of western countries. Due to our policy by our president, people are moving in direction where we want to go.
Sidhant Sibal: Have you briefed India about the border situation?
Andrei Rzheussky: We have sent three press releases to all mediapersons, who were in contact with, think tank including Ministry of external affairs. We briefed in November and December.
Sidhant Sibal: How do you see India-Belarus ties?
Andrei Rzheussky: We consider India as a strategic partner in this region. Our government took decision to open additional representation here, CG in Mumbai. The decision was taken in summer. We have almost open our consul general in Mumbai. We are in process of consultations and will open in new year and enhance our activity in India. We have two honorary consular generals, one in Mumbai and other in Kolkata. We have strong relations with India and have a long history since 1947. We have always supported you. We established embassy in 1992 and have good ties at every level. Our president visited India three times--1997, 2007 and 2017 and your President Mukherjee visited Belarus in 2015. Our PM visited India three times. We are working to organise visit of PM Modi to Belarus, something we are trying to do for a couple of years and I hope next year, we will manage to do this. We have projects in mining. In last 3 years, we supplied mining trucks to India. There are huge projects in oil industry. We have helped you to extract more oil from old oil drills. The project was successful. Last project had finished this year. There is cooperation in the field of culture as we gave our premises to shoot an Indian movie Squad that featured on Netflix. We have a huge facility.