Yauheni Preiherman gave an extensive interview to Nasha Niva, an outlet catering to Belarusian Westernizing nationalists (Nasha Niva, October 16). Unlike the Warsaw-based Charter97 and Belsat, which tend to fervidly criticize President Alyaksandr Lukashenka, Nasha Niva is more levelheaded and produced in Minsk. Preiherman is a founder and director of the Minsk Dialogue international forum and has organized two major conferences on European security under this format, in May 2018 and in October 2019.
During the interview, Preiherman made at least five substantive points. First, he portrayed the Minsk Dialogue forums as unique: at other gatherings devoted to international security (such as those in Russia, Poland and the Baltic states), mainly like-minded experts tend to take part, whereas in Minsk, Russians and other international relations experts from Eurasia participate on equal terms with Americans and Western Europeans. That mixed makeup of participants sparks verbal confrontations that ultimately give way to true dialogue.
Second, Preiherman commended the idea conveyed in President Lukashenka’s speech at the last forum regarding the unique role of Belarus as a platform of productive international dialogue on security (see EDM, October 21). Whereas Belarus is close to Russia, it also has various bilateral security agreements with Ukraine and members of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO).
Third, the Minsk Dialogue founder rejected the conventional approach to Belarus’s geopolitical options—that is, either to parrot Russia’s foreign policy or to distance itself from it. Preiherman argued that Belarus has not selected either of these options. Although he did not expand on Belarus’s foreign policy practice, he apparently meant “strategic hedging,” a concept he has written on extensively in the past (Yauheni Preiherman, “Belarus’s Asymmetric Relations With Russia: The Case of Strategic Hedging?” Uptake, No. 4, 2017; Minskdialogue.by, February 8, 2019; see EDM, June 29, 2017 and July 24, 2017).
Fourth, he ridiculed the “artificial” dichotomy of state-reliant versus independent experts. In his opinion, the true division is between expert judgment and propaganda, and he stressed he is not by any means interested in the latter.
Finally, Preiherman shared his take on the presidents of Ukraine and Russia, whom he perceives exclusively as actors pursuing the interests of their respective countries the way they see fit. “In the West, [Vladimir] Putin is often perceived as an embodiment of evil,” observed Preiherman. “I do not share this perspective. In my judgment, if Putin is no longer […] around, some people will probably realize how mistaken they were labeling him absolutely evil.” While Preiherman did not expand on that subject, it sounded much like a presumption that “one has not seen the true scope of evil yet.” Whether or not this interpretation is valid, Preiherman’s interview was nevertheless a substantive discussion with an insightful international relations expert from a strategically important country situated on NATO’s Baltic flank.