Daniel Kawczynski, MP for Shrewsbury and Atcham said leaving the European Union will free the UK from the constraints of an EU-wide foreign policy. Speaking to Express.co.uk Mr Kawczynski said Vladamir Putin’s threatened intervention to prop up the regime of Belarus’s President Alexander Lukashenko clearly underlines why Britain cannot stay silent on the suppression of pro-democracy campaigners, with further widescale protests scheduled for today (Sunday).
He said leaving the EU will give Britain a chance to stand up to Russia on their dangerous intervention once and for all.
Mr Lukashenko was re-elected to a sixth term of office on August 9, with the official tally giving him 80 percent of the vote against ten percent for challenger, Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya.
However, Ms Tsikhanouskaya alleged widespread vote-rigging and protesters clashed with riot police on the streets of the capital, Minsk, with widespread accusations of torture.
Mr Putin, speaking to Russian television on Thursday, indicated he was ready to provide support to the regime with the situation still volatile.
Vladimir Putin has hinted that he could intervene in Belarus
Belarus’s President Alexander Lukashenko
This is not a country which is all that far away – this is actually on our doorstep
He said: “Lukashenko asked me to form a certain reserve of law enforcement employees, and I have done so.
“But we also agreed that they would not be used unless the situation gets out of control.”
Mr Kawczynski, who was born in Poland, which shares a border with Belarus, said the UK could not afford to ignore Mr Putin’s remarks in respect of the eastern European country.
He told Express.co.uk: “This is not a country which is all that far away – this is actually on our doorstep.
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Riot police on the streets of Minsk on August 10
Police fire water cannons at protesters in Belarus
“History has taught us one thing – it is not only strategically in our interests, but it is also morally and ethically right that we don’t turn a blind eye to this.
“We are leaving the EU but not Europe. This is Europe and we have to take a lead here.”
He added: “President Putin will always use that sort of propaganda to try to prop up somebody like Lukashenko because he will say look in reality this is another attempt at NATO expansion, they want to have a friendly, pro-NATO, pro-EU country on our doorstep, encroaching in what they perceive, bizarrely, to be their sphere of influence.
“This is a concept that we have challenged because in actual fact their sphere of influence is anachronistic.
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A mass protest in Belarus
A protester is restrained by police in Belarus
“They cannot turn whole countries into buffer states and suppress democratic movements.
“We have no intentions of forcing NATO on to Belarus. That is for the people of Belarus.”
He added: “I have had constituents writing to me about Belarus.
“I normally get very few letters about foreign policy.
An injured protester in Belarus
“But they have seen on their television screens the extraordinary abuse that is taking place, the beatings the impression, torture.”
Speaking of his own experience, Mr Kawczynski explained: “I was part of a British Commons delegation to Minsk with various cross-party MPs.
“And of course, when we went to the Parliament and various institutions nobody decided to talk to us in any meaningful way about the President.
“We came away with the experience that this is a very much a totalitarian regime which is maintained through a form of intimidation and coercion.”
Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya, who challenged Mr Lukashenko
As for what Britain’s role was, Mr Kawczynski said: “I am very pleased that the British Government investigated and that Dominic Raab has stated that we do not recognise the elections and are calling for some new ones.
“But in the post-Brexit context, where we actually have for the first time our own foreign policy, rather than having to be weaved into an EU mesh, I think this is an opportunity for the United Kingdom very much to take the lead in making sure that we work with key NATO partners like Poland and Lithuania and others than border Belarus, to make sure we give every possible assistance to democratic groups seeking to challenge the authoritarian regime of Lukashenko.
Vladimir Putin and Alexander Lukashenko, pictured in 2017
“We in this country need to play our part and ensure the pressure is kept up so free and fair elections can take place.”
Belarus has revoked the accreditations of some journalists working for foreign media outlets, it was confirmed yesterday.
The US Embassy in Minsk issued a statement on Saturday which while not specifically referring to the revocation of accreditations, said: “We are concerned by the continued targeting of journalists, the blocking of independent media and opposition websites.”