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Gordon: Good evening. The Gordon show is on air, and today my guest is ex-leader of Belarus Stanislav Shushkevich.
Good evening. Tell me, please, have you been often cursed for your signature under the Belovezhsky agreement?
Shushkevich: I was cursed only by Lukashenko and his satraps. And when I'm in Ukraine, Poland, Belarus, people usually thank me - especially recently.
- Do you consider yourself a historical person?
- No, I do not. I did my job the way a physicist did and as a beginning politician did. But I worked honestly. For me the main achievement of the Belovezhsky Agreement is that Russia recognized the independence of Belarus and Ukraine. We were colonies of Russia. And here - Yeltsin's signature, ratification, and we were recognized as independent states.
- You were the initiator of that meeting, and you had the most difficult mission - after the signing of the Belovezhsky Agreement, to call Gorbachev and tell him, to the leader of the USSR, that the Soviet Union no longer exists. Was it difficult to talk with Gorbachev, and what was your conversation about?
- It was very easy for me to talk with Gorbachev. It was difficult for me when he called me in my two-room and was surprised that I was living in a two-room apartment and that I did not have a special communication in my apartment. I talked to him on a city phone. And there I spoke with him on special communication and knew that no one was listening, and spoke quite calmly. Gorbachev said that earlier we called Bush and then - him. It is not true. I called him, but while he lifted the receiver, pausing, showing how great he was, Yeltsin phoned to Bush. And I explained to Gorbachev what had happened. I told him the essence of the agreement that we signed.
- What is your attitude to Gorbachev today?
- Gorbachev is great. He deserves very much respect. And I think that we can forgive all his mistakes for his greatness. But he, as a great figure, a great politician, is sincerely respected only in Germany, because on all other positions he admitted mistakes and showed that he is more a communist than a human being. And in Belarus, I am especially offended that he, speaking on television in May 1986, after Chernobyl, did not do what the conscientious head of state had to do - he did not warn what should be done and how.
- Which of the former Soviet republics has made the greatest success in these years?
- I have always considered Ukraine as such a republic. I've been in a lot of contact with politicians in Ukraine, for them Ukraine is very important as a state. I have been in both Tajikistan and Kazakhstan. The Baltic republics are, of course, an ideal, but they withdrew before the Belovezhsky Agreement. The Belovezhsky agreement somewhat facilitated their existence. I lived there and know their leaders. Especially Estonia is the triumph of human courage and national cohesion.
- You are a PhD in physical and mathematical sciences, professor, corresponding member of the Academy of Sciences, head of the nuclear physics department of the Minsk University. You were not taught Marxism-Leninism in your youth so that you were different. Were you an idealist?
- No. First, I was taught Marxism-Leninism. I graduated with honors from the university of Marxism-Leninism twice. Moreover, in a very decent manner, completely without objecting. I was a member of the Bureau of the Party Committee of the University, but at responsible meetings I was allowed not to be present, because they thought that I could arrange a scandal there, throwing someone out of the party and such and such. But I did not want to go into politics. Here my friends actually pushed me into this. But when I was already there, I did not get a single penny as a corresponding member of the Academy of Sciences. And I still do not get anything, and I have a fairly modest pension, and ten years ago it was generally less than a dollar. But I know how to do something. At the end of last year, I was an invited lecturer in the US to many universities, to Britain - to Cambridge, to Oxford. This is what I dreamed of. I'm not just a small bastard there, but I can work with them at their level and talk with them, and understand their greatness, compared to my native Belarusian state university today. It gives me priceless pleasure.
- Why did you give the power to Lukashenko?
- I did not give him power. Lukashenko was chosen by Belarusians for the first time in an honest way. I just could not be a populist of this level, because I would lose my friends. I could not promise people what is unrealizable. And Lukashenko was simple - he is a man without a clue. To be honest, he is not educated in politics, in literate, and in history. I have my own field, in which I am a PhD, but in political science I also understand something.
- Could you ever imagine the invasion of Russians into Ukraine and the annexation of Crimea?
- No, I could not. And this is my political illiteracy. I could not imagine that the new leadership of Russia would use weapons. These weapons are the lives of Russian soldiers. They can be pushed, as they were pushed by Zhukov, Stalin, Ivan the Terrible, Peter the Great. They do not appreciate human lives. I respect those politicians who care about a person. Human life is appreciated above all. And in Russia views it is the cheapest weapon.
- In your opinion, will Crimea and Donbas be returned to Ukraine or not?
- I am convinced that these territories will be returned. But this will be much later, because a worthy option, not humiliating for Putin, is missing. There could be a hybrid capitulation when they say that we stop poking our nose into "Little Russia" – DNR and LNR, but the Crimea will be ours. I think this is a contemptible option. Ukraine is a worthy land. I was in Ukraine at the Baltic-Black Sea summit and met with many university workers, rectors of universities. It seems to me that Ukraine has united so patriotically that I just envy the Ukrainians, as they are now monolithic and united. I think that one can’t do something bad against such a country - everything will return to its place.
- The upcoming military exercises of Russia and Belarus can be directed against Ukraine?
- We can expect everything from Russia. Question: Why the hell, in general, Russia is going to conduct exercises in small Belarus, when the Russian lands are so great? Why they drive to this small edge such a myriad of troops? This is a demonstration of strength, muscles. But I think that this demonstration will not go on any further, because the West has shown that it will also pull up some forces. So provocations are impossible here. It is now difficult to provoke another against Ukraine, because it seems to me that the Ukrainian army is no longer the one that was at the time of Crimean annexation.
- Can Putin seize Belarus?
- Talking about seizing - it's quite difficult. He needs to choose some form that will not look like seizing and about which Lukashenko will explain that this is our great happiness. Now our historians, our politicians have shown that most of the misfortunes, in general, we had because of our eastern neighbor. Therefore it is now difficult to demonstrate that we should be together. There may be such an approach, but Belarus will not agree on it.
- Do you think Lukashenko skillfully maneuvers between Russia and the West?
- Yes, masterfully. Especially it is easy for him to maneuver before the West, because in the West one can always find a gap, a point where there is a poor understanding of what is happening here. And you can develop this position as a giant bubble, although soapy - it can be inflated until it bursts. I met with many Western politicians. As for the top - they are very literate people and everyone understands well our situation. As for the level of even the European deputies, they have such a deep misunderstanding of what is happening in Ukraine. They have an even deeper misunderstanding of what is happening in Belarus. And it is very difficult to work in the parliament, which should determine foreign policy and decide how to act ... Alas, international politicians are not of the kind of qualification that we would like them to be. Therefore, the West can be fooled with Lukashenko's cunning and with the work of our diplomatic department, because we have a highly-educated foreign minister who is faithfully serving him and trying to flirt with the opposition, Belarussians of the world. He is helped by highly qualified analysts, very qualified people. His performances are quickly "polished", only what is needed is left, although he says many unreasonable things, but he is corrected. A dangerous situation - if he loses power, he will need to go to Russia. Here, in Belarus, it's hard for him to stay.
- Tell me, will Putin again become president of Russia in March?
- Yes, of course, he will. There can be no other. Russian society is now thinking in this way: "There would be a native country, and there are no other worries." And Putin cares about the country most of all - he restores its greatness. And these "mean" Americans "and "silly" Ukrainians are hindering this, and the date is set for March 18 ...
- ... the day of the annexation of Crimea.
- Yes, and the preparation has already begun. In Russia, I was giving lectures in many universities and I can say - this work is underway. And to my deep regret the imperial essence of many Russian intellectuals is also seen. They need a great Russia. And they say as Stolypin said: "And you need great upheavals." Preparation has begun, and there are no obstacles on this path. American sanctions only help this choice. They say: "We are suffering difficulties - and we are living, and Putin will lead us, as Stalin brought us to victory."
- We have many fresh graves in every town. There are already more than 10 thousand people victims. Does Putin understand what he's done?
- Putin sees himself as Stalin. A small victory forgives all sins, greatly raises popularity. Forgive me, but he absolutely does not care about the lives of your Ukrainian young people. It's your politicians are worried and your mothers are sad for the loss of their sons. It does not cost anything for him. The understanding that the cheapest Russian weapons are Russian lives is the characteristic of Russia. After all, there are your victims and there are those who died on the other side. And Russian mothers are no worse than Ukrainian mothers. And when their sons die, they will understand what they were tied up in peacetime. But for Russia this is a smaller loss in the state sense than the desire of the emperors to be a great Russia, pointing to the whole world and forgetting about the well-being of its citizens.
- Earlier the prospects in Kyiv were renamed in honor of Bandera and Shukhevych. What do you think about it? And how do you generally feel about Bandera and Shukhevych?
- I know that they were patriots of Ukraine, but I also know some information from documents, not by hearsay, because I worked a lot in Wroclaw, and professor Yuzvenko showed me the documents. As for Shukhevych - he was involved in anti-human actions. Therefore, when I arrived in Lviv and saw the renamed Bandera street, I felt a little worried. This is a very complicated historical issue. It is necessary to have the courage to solve this issue, without blaming either Ukrainians or Poles. It is necessary to know the truth of history, and then to solve this question. Let's call the street in memory of the victims of that time - from one side and the other - it will be much better.
- I read your book - you have seen so much. Are you a happy person?
- I am a very happy person. I have now updated my book; it is called "My life, the collapse and resurrection of the USSR, 25 years later." I sent the manuscript to London - it will be published in English. Now I'm looking for a way to publish it in Russian.
- I am grateful to you for the excellent interview. And I want to thank you on behalf of millions of Ukrainians for the fact that your signature is under the historical document for Ukraine - the Belovezhsky Agreement. You are already in history - at least, Ukrainian history for sure.
- Thank you. I really like how you work.