The Repression of Belarus’s Democratic Movement

by John Czop
PAC Director of Policy and Planning

Over the past week, the brutal repression of Belarus’s democratic movement by the Lukashenko regime recalls the theme of Professor Zbigniew Brzezinski’s keynote speech, at the November 2005 symposium: “Poland’s Foreign Policy, from the “Piasts to the Present,” at Columbia University. Professor Brzezinski began by stating that military and political alliances are fine, but every sovereign country is responsible for its own defense. In his speech delivered approximately one month after PiS won both presidential and parliamentary elections, Brzezinski forcefully observed that: The road to Warsaw is open to invasion from the east fifteen years after the establishment of the Third Polish Republic. Why do open borders among former Warsaw Pact countries and the revanchist Russian Federation persist after the partial collapse of the Soviet Union?

The answer to this question has two components. From the establishment of the Third Polish Republic to Poland’s accession to NATO in 1999, the transformed communists who ruled Poland saw no reason to fortify the borders with Kaliningrad Oblast and Belarus. These former communist upper level civil servants were still on good terms with their former bosses in the Kremlin. After 1999, the dominant view among Polish officials was that reliance on NATO will safeguard Poland.

Professor Brzezinski masterfully registered his opposition to this view that relieved Polish officials of responsibility for the defense of their country. Well before Putin ordered his troops to don Georgian army uniforms to perpetrate the masked invasion of Georgia in August 2008, Professor Brzezinski put forward the following scenario of high contemporary relevance.

Following the repression by Lukashenko, with the Kremlin’s consent, of Belarus’s democratic opposition, among whom there are numerous ethnic Poles, a dangerous refugee situation develops along Poland’s border with Belarus. To avoid capture by Lukashenko’s forces, these Belarus democrats cross into Poland. Among the legitimate refugees in fear of their lives are Lukashenko and Putin troops masquerading as Belarusian democrats. At this point it is unclear in this confused situation if Poland has, or has not, been invaded. We recall the ambiguity and doubt following the Putin orchestrated invasion of Crimea in 2014 by “little green men.” This tactic allowed Putin to deny responsibility and confuse international opinion long enough to allow the conquest of Crimea BEFORE the United Nations Organization could decide if Russia did in fact invade and amputate Crimea from Ukraine.

This is why, in his 2005 speech at Columbia University, Professor Brzezinski strongly encouraged Poland to set up a state-of-the-art military force, outside NATO command, to defend the Fatherland for two-to-three weeks against such a masked attack. He pointed out that Article V of the Washington Treaty of 1949 only obliges the NATO countries to declare an attack against one of their members an attack against all. Article V does NOT provide for immediate military aid to the country that asserts it was attacked. According to Professor Brzezinski, it might take NATO several weeks to conclude that Poland was the victim of a masked attack. Poland needs a rapid self-defense force to allow NATO time to come to her aid. The presence of a battalion, 1,000 American infantry, on continuous permanent rotation deployed in the Suwałki Gap in northeast Poland, does NOT make moot Professor Brzezinski’s scenario.

Condemning and deploring Lukashenko’s war against the people of Belarus is but the first step in stopping this most recent Kremlin orchestrated project of revanchism. The next step must be to persuade the United States Government to repeal the 1997 NATO – Russia Founding Act, which prevents the establishment of permanent NATO bases in Poland, the Baltic States, and Romania. The Polish American Congress as a member organization of the Central and East European Coalition is working to repeal the NATO – Russia Founding Act. This will show the Kremlin that NATO will defend the sovereignty of these countries over the long term and will deter the Kremlin from continuing its revanchist project which involves support for Lukashenko’s war against the people of Belarus.

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