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Anne Applebaum: 'Positive Future For Region' Depends On Russian Defeat In Ukraine


Anne Applebaum is the author of several books on Russia and the Soviet Union, including Red Famine: Stalin's War On Ukraine. (file photo)

A decisive Ukrainian military victory over invading Russian forces would likely reverberate throughout the region, potentially ushering in a "positive future," Anne Applebaum, the U.S. Pulitzer-Prize winning author, has predicted.

"A positive future for the region depends on Russia being defeated, and on Russians realizing they've been defeated," Applebaum said in a recent interview with RFE/RL's Belarus Service.

Echoing calls from Ukrainian officials, including President Volodymyr Zelenskiy, Applebaum says it is crucial, and possibly decisive, to get more weapons to Ukraine's armed forces faster. "I am arguing in favor of an acceleration of Western aid for Ukraine because I feel that it's not just winning the war. Winning the war quickly will make a big difference," said Applebaum, author of several books on Russia and the Soviet Union, including Red Famine: Stalin's War On Ukraine.

Ukraine is calling for an increase in Western heavy weapons after Russia committed the bulk of its firepower to the eastern Donbas region. The topic was expected to feature prominently at a meeting of NATO defense ministers in Brussels on June 15.

Live Briefing: Russia's Invasion Of Ukraine

RFE/RL's Live Briefing gives you all of the latest developments on Russia's ongoing invasion, how Kyiv is fighting back, the plight of civilians and refugees, and Western aid and reaction. For all of RFE/RL's coverage of the war, click here.

Ukraine needs 1,000 howitzers, 500 tanks, and 1,000 drones, among other heavy weapons, Mykhaylo Podolyak, a top adviser to Zelenskiy, said on June 13.

Western countries have promised NATO-standard weapons, including advanced U.S. rockets. But deploying them is taking time, and experts say Ukraine will require consistent Western support to transition to new supplies and systems as stocks dwindle of their Soviet-era weapons and munitions.

Kyiv has said 100-200 of its soldiers are killed each day, with hundreds more wounded in some of the bloodiest fighting since Russia's unprovoked February 24 invasion.

Russia gives no regular figures of its own losses but Western countries say they have been massive as President Vladimir Putin seeks to force Kyiv to cede full control of the Donbas and a swathe of southern Ukraine.

Putin likely still wants to capture much if not all of Ukraine but has had to narrow his tactical objectives in war, U.S. Undersecretary of Defense for Policy Colin Kahl said on June 14.

A Putin defeat in Ukraine would not only be "good" for Ukraine, but neighboring Belarus, and, ultimately, Russia as well, Applebaum argues. "A victory for Ukraine, withdrawal from Russian troops from Ukraine would be very good for the Belarusian people, because...it would demonstrate not just the military weakness of Russia, but also the emptiness of Russian ideas and ideology, this kind of weird post-Soviet imperialism," Applebaum said.

Elsewhere, Applebaum has described Putin, a former KGB officer, as an "imperial nostalgist," bent on "recreating a smaller Russian-speaking empire within the old Soviet Union's borders."

Recently, Putin equated the war against Ukraine to Peter the Great's expansionist wars some three centuries ago, saying the Russian tsar had "seized nothing; he reclaimed it!"

A Russian defeat in Ukraine would allow average Russians to look ahead at "building their future," and not back to "past glory that wasn't even very glorious," Applebaum said.

Amid a steady drumbeat of disinformation, state-run polling agency results have pointed to a surge of support for Putin, although many question whether Russians are reluctant or even fearful of speaking frankly and honestly to pollsters.

For Belarus, Putin's invasion has dealt possibly a final blow to whatever independence the country enjoyed under authoritarian leader Alyaksandr Lukashenka, suggests Applebaum, whose husband is Radek Sikorski, a former Polish foreign minister and current member of the European Parliament. "I think Belarus is something now like a Russian colony, or a nation that has lost its ability to make its own foreign policy," she told RFE/RL.

The Crisis In Belarus

Read our ongoing coverage as Belarusian strongman Alyaksandr Lukashenka continues his brutal crackdown on NGOs, activists, and independent media following the August 2020 presidential election, widely seen as fraudulent.

A close ally of Russia, Belarus said in March that its armed forces were not taking part in what Moscow calls its "special operation" in Ukraine, but it did serve as a launchpad for Russia to send thousands of troops across the border on February 24.

Lukashenka faces isolation and sanctions because of his government's brutal, and sometimes deadly, crackdown on pro-democracy opponents after an election in August 2020 that was widely believed to be fraudulent extended his rule for another five years.

"Lukashenka has clearly done some kind of deal, in exchange for Putin helping him stay in power. He's agreed to help Putin invade Ukraine. So, yes, I think it is a kind of occupation or a kind of colonial power now that Russia has in Belarus," Applebaum added.

Applebaum acknowledges average Belarusians -- many opposed to Putin's invasion of Ukraine -- were suffering under punishing sanctions, but says they are necessary. "Of course, it's not fair that the majority of Belarusians who are against the war are forced to pay the price for it. But that's a separate question from whether or not there should be sanctions," she said.

"It's also not fair in Russia to the -- whatever percentage it is, 20 percent, 30 percent [of] Russians who oppose the war. Sanctions are a blunt instrument," Applebaum opined, adding the measures were aimed at punishing Lukashenka and his regime's apparatus.

"The idea is to deter the Belarusian leader, to hamper his ability to produce things, to earn money in order to fund his own military and his own security services. The point is to make him pay a high price for his actions. Unfortunately, it means that other people will also pay a price for it," she said.

Applebaum also praises those in Belarus actively opposing Russia's invasion, including activists who have tried to sabotage parts of the railway network to make it harder for Russia to deploy forces into Ukraine.

"Very impressive actions have already taken place. I mean the Belarusian 'rail guerrillas' who sabotaged the railway on which Russian troops transported their equipment to Ukraine. It was a very big contribution to the war that many people noticed," Applebaum said, adding that "hundreds of Belarusians" were also fighting in Ukraine against the Russian invaders.

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    Dzmitry Hurnyevich

    Dzmitry Hurnyevich is a correspondent in Prague for RFE/RL's Belarus Service. He graduated from the Institute of Media Education and Journalism of the Cardinal Stefan Wyszynski University in Warsaw. He worked for Polish Radio (2006-2016) and Belsat TV (2007-2016). He has been with RFE/RL since 2016. 

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