Lukashenko calls for Ukraine war ceasefire, start of peace talks

Lukashenko calls for Ukraine war ceasefire, start of peace talks
Lukashenko calls for Ukraine war ceasefire, start of peace talks / bne IntelliNews
By bne IntelliNews March 31, 2023

President of Belarus Alexander Lukashenko called for a ceasefire in the Ukraine conflict and the beginning of peace talks in his state of the nation speech to the National Assembly on March 31.

The Belarusian strongman followed China’s lead, when Beijing proposed a 12-point peace plan on the anniversary of the start of the war in February. China repeated calls for peace talks this week, hoping to portray itself as an intermediator and challenge the US authority as the self-proclaimed global leader. Lukashenko appears to be trying to catch a ride on Beijing’s coat-tails.

Lukashenko proposed a truce without the right to move groups of troops and transfer weapons and equipment. He also said it necessary to immediately start negotiations between Moscow and Kyiv to bring peace to the region.

Lukashenko spoke in favour of negotiations between Moscow and Kyiv, and also proposed declaring a truce and stopping hostilities in Ukraine. The broadcast was hosted by RBC.

“I’ll try to risk suggesting a halt to the fighting. To declare a truce without the right to move groups of troops and transfer weapons and equipment. If the West again uses this time for deception, then Russia will be obliged to use the full power of the army both depleted uranium and enriched uranium. The military will understand me,” he said.

Lukashenko also said he fears a nuclear war, and that the return of nuclear weapons announced by Russia earlier this week is a “defensive” move.

The president criticised Kyiv's decision to refuse dialogue with Moscow. “Well, this is just ridiculous,” Lukashenko said, saying that Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy had forbidden himself to negotiate peace.

The President of Belarus pointed out that if the Russian military-industrial complex "unfolds at full power, it will be difficult to talk about peace." In October last year, Zelenskiy approved the decision of the National Security and Defence Council (NSDC) to refuse negotiations with Russia while Vladimir Putin is in charge. Zelenskiy later said that he was "not interested" in meeting with the Russian leader and talking to him.

Kyiv insists on a settlement based on the Ukrainian “peace formula”. It provides, among other things, for the cessation of hostilities but insists on Russia’s total withdrawal of its troops from the territory of Ukraine before negotiations can begin.

Presidential spokesman Dmitry Peskov responded to Lukashenko’s proposed peace deal on the same day, saying the Kremlin was listening, but it changed nothing for Russia.

"Of course, we heard Alexander Grigorievich [Lukashenko’s] statement. The two presidents Putin and Lukashenko will undoubtedly continue [communicating] next week, there will be a meeting of the Supreme State Council of the Union State, it will give the presidents another opportunity to talk at length with each other, they will certainly discuss this topic as well," Peskov said.

Peskov went on to say that the two plans – the Chinese one and now the Belarusian one – should not be compared.

"We believe it will be hardly appropriate to compare these two sets of ideas, I mean the plan that was voiced by [Chinese] President Xi [Jinping] and the one that [Belarusian] President Alexander] Lukashenko has just mentioned," the Kremlin spokesman said as cited by Tass.

Lukashenko has also made another faux peace offer, inviting exiled Belarusian opposition leader Svetlana Tikhanovskaya, who led the opposition in the falsified August 2020 presidential elections that sparked mass protests, to return home and serve a 15-year jail sentence. Tikhanovskaya was sentenced to 15 years in jail by a Belarusian court in absentia earlier this year for attempting to organise a coup d'état.

"Svetlana [Tikhanovskaya] should go home. She should grab her children and, if I remember correctly, her mother as well, and go home soon. After all, what’s her sentence for illegal activities? 10, 12 years? She could stay in the same cell with Sergey [convicted spouse Sergey Tikhanovsky  TASS]. It is a spouse, after all. She could sit for a while, making clothes, have children visit her," Lukashenko said.

New Nukes

In the less consolatory parts of his speech, Lukashenko returned to his more familiar tropes and railed against the West, which he claimed was trying to bring both Russia and Belarus down.

"Neither a sovereign Belarus nor a sovereign Russia with a strong economy is needed by anyone [in the West]," the head of state said.

If Russia and Belarus want to be sovereign and independent, "one should not have their head in the clouds," Lukashenko noted. "We should each do our own thing. The second condition of sovereignty and independence is historical memory and our national traditions," the Belarusian leader added.

As part of this show of strength he welcomed Moscow’s decision to station 10 tactical nuclear weapons on Belarusian soil, but contradicted Russian President Vladimir Putin by saying they would be under the control of Belarusian authorities. Putin said explicitly the missiles would remain exclusively under Russian control and Lukashenko would have no access to them at all.

"You have asked a question that is not being discussed publicly," the president said, answering a reporter’s question on use of nuclear weapons. "This is a totally classified topic how we will use it. As for management, control and so on of nuclear weapons… […] There are no unsupervised weapons in Belarus, and there cannot be any. So everything that is present in Belarus will be managed by us here."

Lukashenko went on to say that he was in  “intensifying talks” with Putin about returning the Soviet-era nuclear arsenal to Belarus, rather than just hosting on secure warehouse of weapons.

"Given how things are unfolding and the military-political situation around our country, I began discussions with Russian President [Vladimir] Putin on the return of nuclear weapons to Belarus," he said, referring to the nukes his country transferred to Russia in the 1990s.

Lukashenko said that he has already given the order to restore sites where Russia could deploy Topol ballistic missiles, Russia’s main nuclear enabled ICBM, if necessary.

"I ordered the servicemen a week ago to immediately restore the sites where Topol nuclear warheads were deployed," he said in his state of the nation address.