US envoy Julie Fisher: ‘West must respond in terms that Lukashenka is able to understand’ (interview)

Why did the forced landing of the Ryanair plane cause Western countries’ immediate and coordinated reaction? What else can the West do to respond to the situation? Why are the United States and Russia discussing the Belarusian issue without Belarus? US Ambassador to Belarus Julie Fisher granted an exclusive interview to Belsat TV anchorman Syarhei Padsasonny. The conversation was aired as part of Sunday’s news show Week on May, 30.

US Ambassador Julie Fisher in Belsat studio. Warsaw, 27 April 2021. Photo: Belsat

Madam Ambassador, I am happy to see you again on our program, hello.

Hi, good evening.

Thank you. Has anything changed in the approach of the US to the relations with Belarus following the arrest of Raman Pratasevich that president Biden described as “outrageous incident and a direct affront to international norms”?

Thank you very much. It’s a pleasure to be on Belsat again to discuss this incident. I would really like to tell you that I think from our point of view what has not changed is the US support for the people of Belarus. That has been consistent. What has changed is how desperate Lukashenka has become and how far he is willing to go to suppress voices of dissent. We will continue our support for the people of Belarus and we will continue to respond to these adjustments, these changes, these tactics that Lukashenka is bringing to bear.

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What further steps can be taken by the US government in reaction to such assaults on both political dissent and the freedom of the press?

President Biden was clear in his statement earlier this week. He charged us, his government, his administration, to work in unison with our European partners in order to come up with appropriate responses to these events. It is clear that the West must respond in terms that Lukashenka is able to understand: that we will not tolerate this kind of action, we will not tolerate his tools of repression being deployed in Europe and beyond Belarus’ borders. And we reject the use of these tool inside Belarus’ borders. So we are reviewing all the tools that we have. And we are going to do this with our European partners together.

Meeting of Svyatlana Tsikhanouskaya and Julie Fisher. Vilnius, 19 April 2021. Photot: Tsikhanouskaya’s press service

Why did the forced landing of the plane cause such a quick and coordinated reaction from western countries, while it took months for the previous sanctions to be put on?

It is important to remember that this event on Sunday is not an isolated event of course. Your viewrs understand well the steps that have been taken over the weeks and months and years by Lukashenka. The West was able to respond so quickly, and if I might say our European partners acted with incredible speed to respond. This event took place on the territory of two EU member states. A flight that included citizens from many countries, not just from the EU but from the West as well. In an effort to hunt down a journalist and his companion, to be able to get their hands on Pratasevich and Sapega was an absolute affront to the ideals of the West. I believe that is why you have seen such an immediate reaction from the EU and from around the world. It’s not just Europe that is responding, it is truly a global response.

And now the president Putin and Biden are going to talk about Belarus. Some experts are skeptical of these talks happening without Belarusian representatives. What can you say about it?

When it comes to the meeting between president Biden and president Putin that will take place next month in Geneva, president Biden and the White House have been clear: that this discussion is an important opportunity to see whether we can find some amount of stability in US-Russia relations. The agenda for this meeting is broad. And it is intentionally broad. I will let the White House speak further to those questions and in the meantime we will remain focused, absolutely focused on the questions of political prisoners in Belarus, the need to see an end to the violence that has been perpetrated against the people of Belarus and the importance of a dialog, of meaningful dialog that can lead to the new election in Belarus. Those are the steps required to resolve the political crisis, and we will continue to work toward those ends.

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Does the US support the proposal of French president to invite Svyatlana Tsikhanouskaya to the G7 summit?

A: The G7 is such an important forum, because it really represents the voice of the leading democracies in the world, at least some of them. It is really important that the G7 has spoken so clearly this week in support of the people of Belarus and in rejection of what Lukashenka did on Sunday and in calling for the release of Pratasevich and Sapega and political prisoners. So I’d like to start from that point. The question of the Summit planning…The UK is hosting this Summit. So the ball is in their court, if I might say so. But we will continue to look for every opportunity to engage with Madam Tsikhanouskaya, the Coordination Council, other leaders representing the voices of the people of Belarus who are seeking democracy and the rule of law for their country.

julie Fisher and Svyatlana Tsikhanouskaya. Photo: Telegram @tsikhanouskaya

Maybe once more about the meeting between Biden and Putin in Geneva. Could you tell us any details about this meeting?

I don’t know if I have anything further to share with regards to the meeting. But I would point yet again to president Biden’s clear voice on the questions of what happened recently in Belarus. He was quite clear in his statement on Monday in his rejection of Lukashenka’s actions and the US commitment to international norms and to working with our partners in Europe to address this crisis.

In the previous interview, in the studio, you said that it is possible to talk about Belarus without Moscow. We see that it is not possible.

I believe that we are capable of having a conversation about Belarus without Moscow being the dominant factor in that conversation. But in the current environment, in particular following what happened last weekend, it is possible for Russia to respond, it is possible for Russia to play a constructive role. And we hope that they can.

Амбасадар ЗША ў Беларусі Джулі Фішэр ў аддзеле інфармацыі «Белсату». Варшава, Польшча. 27 красавіка 2021 года. Фота: ЮШ / Белсат

In that interview you said that that it was not too late yet for Belarusian authorities. Is it already too late for dialog now?

It’s an excellent question. What it is not too late, it is never too late, for a leader to decide to care about the welfare of his people. It is not too late to decide that the commitments that have been made with regards to human rights in the country can be respected. It is not too late to release Raman Pratasevich and Sofiya Sapega. It is not too late to release the 400 political prisoners. There is much that could be done to address the West’s concerns and the concerns of the people of Belarus. The question of what it is possible with Lukashenka at this point is a very difficult one and one that we are thinking about.

What kind of political destiny do you see for Lukashenka?

I’m not sure that I have a crystal ball on that one.

How long is it possible for him to remain in his position?

I think one of the things we discussed in our last conversations was the sustainability of a government that is not acknowledging or engaged in a conversation with it s people or is not working to the benefit of the citizens of their country. I continue to have those concerns about how sustainable the government is that so blatantly disregards both the will of its own people and the norms of the international community.

Madam Ambassador, thank you for the interview.

Thank you very much.

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