August. Month of Independence and Belarus | Vitaliy Portnykov

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August in Ukraine is traditionally a time when we celebrate Independence Day, when we remember what happened during these decades, when they try to understand the prospects of political, social and cultural development of the state. Of course, special attention is paid to how the authorities celebrate this holiday. And this year, President Volodymyr Zelensky's attitude to Independence Day as a corporate party was much more criticized than the previous year’s celebration. It is noteworthy that the supporters of Volodymyr Zelensky and his virtual party "Servant of the People", however, are less than when the former comedian from one of the oligarchic television channels gained a staggering advantage in the presidential election, and his party of random people triumphed in the elections to the Verkhovna Rada (Parliament ‒ ed.). However, this is not only a matter of attitude towards Zelensky, but also of the fact that we are once again celebrating Independence Day in a country that is in a military conflict with neighboring Russia. And, despite the conviction of the president and his supporters that the conflict is about to end, there is no hope of a speedy restoration of our territorial integrity. And no one knows how long the ceasefire on the line of contact between Ukrainian and Russian troops, which lasted almost all of August, will last. Because today it is difficult to understand what the Russian goal of this truce is, what political concessions Vladimir Putin wants from Ukraine, what other traps he is trying to drag Volodymyr Zelensky into. However, maybe not so difficult. Just at the end of the month, it became clear that Russia continued to insist on constitutional changes in Ukraine, that fixating the special status of the occupied territories in the country's main law was the key not to ending the occupation, but to continue the truce and release prisoners. The Kremlin's efforts to prove that local elections in Ukraine are a violation of the Minsk agreements, an attempt to impose on Ukraine the very possibility of holding elections in Donetsk and Luhansk regions while keeping Russian troops and their mercenaries there, are Moscow's immediate tactical goal in talks with Ukraine. And we see the authorities trying to maneuver so as not to carry out this Russian ultimatum and at the same time not to anger Vladimir Putin. Maneuver from attempts to change Ukrainian legislation to proposals to cancel local elections altogether.

But I will return to independence. This year, talking about what we have achieved has suddenly become easier amid the uprising in neighboring Belarus, which we are all witnessing. Against the background of the shameful reprisals of dictator Oleksandr Lukashenko's security forces against participants of peaceful protests. Against the background of attempts to prove to Belarusians that the dictator, who apparently did not win the last presidential election, should rule them for life, and they have the right only to applause when they see this pathetic figure, not to call for resignation.

We have somehow forgotten that Alexander Lukashenko was first elected President of Belarus in 1994, almost simultaneously with Leonid Kuchma. At that time, the situation in Ukraine was comparable to that in Belarus. In both former Soviet republics, the most popular candidates were those who advocated rapprochement with Russia and the restoration of traditional economic ties, as it was then called. The paradox of the situation is that the Kremlin did not support Lukashenko at the time, it supported his closest rival, the then head of the Belarusian government, Vyacheslav Kebich. But Kuchma was supported by the Kremlin, and his rival, Leonid Kravchuk, no longer seemed to the Russian leadership to be a person with whom Ukraine's integration could be negotiated. On the front page of the chauvinist newspaper “Zavtra”, whose reaction did not hide its dream of restoring the Soviet empire, portraits of Lukashenko and Kuchma were then printed side by side ‒ as a symbol of Russia's victory over Ukrainian and Belarusian statesmen, as a promise of a return to the Russian state.

And now we see in Belarus what the Kremlin was preparing for Ukraine ‒ but could not do. We see an authoritarian state whose citizens, for almost 30 years in a row, have been unable to resolve the elementary issue of change of power, are participating not in elections but in a plebiscite, which only confirms the continuation of the populist dictator's rule. We see a country without a civilized economy that is completely dependent on Russian handouts, which has kept Russian-owned enterprises of former Soviet Belarus doomed to degradation and closure immediately after the collapse of the Lukashenko regime. We see a country in which even 29 years after the declaration of independence, national symbols remain under a de facto ban, and a replica of the BSSR soviet flag is used as the state flag. And how quickly all Lukashenko's red and green flags disappeared from the Belarusian streets in the first days of the protest, how quickly they gave way to the white-red-white flag of real Belarus! It was the same in Ukraine, but not now, but in the 1990s. Ukraine managed to move away from this Soviet darkness at least for some distance. And Belarus failed. We see a country where, under the slogans of so-called "bilingualism", the possibility of returning to one's native language has been destroyed, in which not only the Mankurt dictator himself speaks a different language, but also most of his compatriots, but also leading politicians who oppose Lukashenko. Even the Nobel laureate, the famous writer Svitlana Aleksievich, speaks to journalists who came for her interrogation in the Investigative Committee of the Republic of Belarus in Russian ‒ what a national decline, what a failure of a real catastrophe of civilization! And the Kremlin was preparing this catastrophe of civilization not only for the unfortunate Belarus, it was also preparing it for Ukraine. It's just that in Ukraine it didn't work out completely. And not at all thanks to the personal qualities of Leonid Kuchma, this patriarch of oligarchic Ukraine. Thanks to the strength of Ukrainian society, which even in the 1990s was not ready to accept the abuse of national symbols ‒ even if such attempts were made. Which even then defended the Ukrainian language and repulsed the attacks of supporters of bilingualism. Which also economically did not want to make Ukraine the prey of the Kremlin – there the interests of Ukrainian oligarchs and Ukrainian society coincided. Nowhere is it true, there is nothing good in an oligarchic economy. However, private business creates much greater obstacles for the potential occupier than the preservation of the Soviet economy. In Moscow, this is well known and that is why the model, which until recently was exploited by Alexander Lukashenko, has always been so welcomed in Moscow. They treated that way precisely because they hoped that the time would come and Belarus could be taken with bare hands, with or without Lukashenko. To join the individual regions to Russia, as once advised the Belarusian dictator Vladimir Putin. Protests under white-red-white flags in Moscow were clearly not expected.

But how are they going to react to these protests now? No big surprises. Vladimir Putin has already said that at the request of Alexander Lukashenko, he has created a special reserve detachment of Russian security forces who will help the Belarusian dictator if his own security forces are unable to cope with their own people. And then the Russian security forces, and possibly the Russian army stationed on the territory of Belarus, will start operating. What naivety to assume that Russian soldiers are in Belarus to counter the mythical threat of NATO. No, the Russian soldier is in Belarus solely to shoot the Belarusian if the Belarusian refuses to obey the Kremlin clique and his puppet regime. And that is why Russian troops were introduced into Ukraine in 2014 ‒ to preserve the puppet regime of Viktor Yanukovych and keep the Ukrainian people in submission to the Kremlin. Now the situation is repeated. Just Russia had no legal agreements with Ukraine that would allow Russian troops to be used to help the puppet regime. The only thing that Vladimir Putin could do then to use the unfortunate Black Sea Fleet as an occupation contingent was a group of traitors on rusty vessels.

In Belarus, Putin has such opportunities. To this day, this notorious union state has been a simulacrum allowing Lukashenko to extort money from Russians in exchange for a primitive chatter about friendship and brotherhood. And now this union state is becoming what it was created for ‒ an instrument of occupation of Belarus. As in 2014, the base of the Black Sea Fleet in Sevastopol became what it was created for ‒ an instrument of the occupation of Crimea.

So, the main achievement of our independence is that we have not become Belarus, although attempts to turn us into Belarus have been made since the first day after independence and continue to this day. That we have a society that protects our state ideals. That among civil servants we also have a lot of people who are not ready to betray Ukraine. That we have an army ready to defend the country ‒ in 2014 Russia very much hoped that it did not exist and it would not exist. That we have people ready for an uprising and a state mechanism incapable of resisting these people, that we had Maidans ‒ these Maidans are also an important part of our independence, our ability to resist Russian expansion.

This is what we must not forget, this is what we wish for Belarusians with their efforts to get rid of Alexander Lukashenko and his anti-national regime. Belarus must move away not only from the dictatorship, but also from the shameful alliance with Russia. Then it will be easier for us in Ukraine to defend our independence.

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