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Geopolitics

Diplomacy 101 In Belarus: Talking To Bad People Is Part Of The Job

A German politician lashed out after Angela Merkel spoke on the phone with Belarus strongman Alexander Lukashenko. But like in other hot spots, avoiding the worst along the Belarus-Poland border means casting aside moral superiority and naiveté.

Diplomacy 101 In Belarus: Talking To Bad People Is Part Of The Job

Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko during an interview with the BBC

Nikolaus Doll

BERLIN — It may well be that in just a few weeks there will be a Green Party politician at the helm of the German diplomacy. It may be co-party leader Annalena Baerbock, or someone else. Either way, what would it mean if the foreign minister was from the Green Party?

Well, we may get a hint of what could happen by looking at Green politician Omid Nouripour's reaction to outgoing Chancellor Angela Merkel's actions regarding the refugee crisis at the Polish-Belarusian border. It does not bode well.


When he heard that she'd spoken with Belarus strongman Alexander Lukashenko to try to find a solution to the crisis, Nouripour called Merkel's phone call a "devastating signal." One should never speak with dictators, the Green Party politician said.

A "very bad dictator"

Nouripour is no backbencher; the foreign policy expert's words carry real weight in his party. His assessment of Merkel's initiative in the Belarus standoff shows how the Greens would conduct foreign policy in the future: with little diplomacy, but with plenty of moral superiority and naiveté.

Talking is the only way to save lives

Socialist party candidate for Chancellor Olaf Scholz calls Lukashenko a "very bad dictator," and that is certainly true. Lukashenko has committed electoral fraud, suppressed the opposition and made dissidents disappear. And he is undoubtedly behind the crisis on the border with Poland. He wants to blackmail the West by flooding it with refugees.

Lukashenko is a problem, he must go. But Lukashenko is also the man ruling Belarus. If things need to be fixed rapidly, he is the one to talk to. And a solution must come quickly because there are thousands of people currently stranded on the European Union border. They are freezing, they are starving, they are being driven back and forth. People are dying, the situation is escalating.

Migrants on the Belarus-Poland border

Leonid Shcheglov/TASS/ZUMA

Lukashenko is the only way out now

And in this situation, the head of foreign policy of the Green Party complains that a phone call to the man who could most likely stop this is a "de facto recognition." Yes, it is. For this moment. But there is no way around it.

What would be the alternative to an attempt at talks with the man in power in Minsk? To wait until the opposition finds its way and ousts the dictator? That could take weeks or months, or longer. It could lead to a civil war. While people continue to freeze, starve and die on the border.

In the face of this, it is not the moment to act defiantly and give moral lessons about democracy. This is the time for diplomacy. And that means recognizing the facts, which means talking to an undoubtedly bad dictator in order to put an end to the misery of refugees on the Polish border. Talking, indeed, is the only way to save lives.

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FOCUS: Russia-Ukraine War

Meet The Mufti Of Ukraine, From Friday Prayers To The Front Line

Russia has a complicated history with Islam, often built on Moscow's repression of the religious minority. Now, Muslims in Ukraine are ever more committed to a project for a multi-religious society that Kyiv espouses. Ukrainian Mufti Said Ismagilov has taken up arms for that cause, and to defend his nation.

Meet The Mufti Of Ukraine, From Friday Prayers To The Front Line

Ismagilov's photographed on the street by Yevhen Titov

Yevhen Rudenko

BAKHMUT — Before Feb. 24, Said Ismagilov dedicated his service to the Muslims of Ukraine. Since Feb. 24, his service has shifted to the front line.

A native of Donetsk, Ismagilov was the Mufti of the Spiritual Administration of Muslims of Ukraine (UMMA). His decision to volunteer at the front, currently fighting in one of the paramedic brigades in Bakhmut in eastern Ukraine, is connected to his roots.

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"Russians have been coming to my family for a century, destroying and taking away everything we own, everything we value," says the 44-year-old.

Recently, a video appeared on social networks of Said reading out Sura 48 of Al-Fath, one of the chapters of the Quran dedicated to victory. The clip showed the ruins of Bakhmut, against the background of the unfinished mosque, delayed due to the full-scale invasion.

Among the many motives for Ismagilov to take up arms is a personal one that embodies the history of Ukraine.

"In 2014, the same Muscovites came to Donbas and persecuted me," Ismagilov recalled. "I had to go to Kyiv to settle in Bucha. But the Muscovites came there in 2022 and robbed my apartment. Honestly, I'm getting sick of them. We have to destroy this empire."

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