Belsat TV host Syarhei Pelyasa has interviewed US Lieutenant General (Ret.) Ben Hodges, who previously commanded US forces in Iraq and Europe. Currently, he holds a key position in the Washington-based Center for European Policy Analysis (CEPA).
Belarusian President Alyaksandr Lukashenka is expected to meet with US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo in Minsk. The visit scheduled for January 4 was put off due to the recent US-Iran crisis. What issues may be discussed by the politicians? What is Washington’s view of the so-called integration of Belarus and Russia? What do the three passenger jets shot down by missiles over the past 20 years have in common?
S.P.: What do you think about the risk of Belarus’ being incorporated by Russia into the Union State? Is such risk lower now, after Putin’s speech and with the perspective of system changes in Russia? Can we relax now?
B.H.: I would never relax when we are talking about Putin’s Kremlin. To my mind, they want to maintain as much control over Belarus as possible. After President Putin’s speech and the changes they are making in government, it is clear they are looking for a long-term arrangement so he could remain in power almost indefinitely. I would not think that this is a time for Belarus to relax.
Russia’s pressure on Belarus is huge, but it looks like legal. It is sort of hybrid aggression, it is very hard to react to it. Do you believe that the USA and other Western states may react to that kind of policy?
I certainly hope so. The effort by the government of Belarus to maintain and protect its sovereignty and independence is important and I think that the West, including the United States, should do what they can to offer assistance in terms of, perhaps, alternative energy sources, trade; obviously, diplomatic relationships’ being fully restored. Otherways that you would expect from normalized relationships, the West is not trying to get between Belarus and the Russian Federation, not at all, but I think the West has responsibility to reach out to Belarus in terms of doing the things that you would expect from a normal relationship so Belarus has some other options.
US State Secretary Mike Pompeo is planning to visit Belarus soon. His visit has been delayed because of a crisis between Iran and the US. What problems do you think he may discuss with Lukashenka in Minsk?
I would imagine that number one that he would talk about is reestablishing, normalizing relationships, getting the ambassador back into the embassy in Minsk as well as the ambassador of Belarus back into Washington DC and reestablishing all the other normal diplomatic channels that two friends should have. I would imagine he would also talk about possibilities for trade, economic opportunities, maybe, alternative sources of energy. I imagine also he would express some concern – I don’t know this, but I hope there is some concern about the nuclear power plant in Astravets. We want to be sure that this NPP is as safe as it can possibly be.
We have already mentioned the crisis between Iran and the US; I’d like to ask you, a US three-star general: how is it possible to shoot down by mistake, misidentification or miscalculation such a plane as the Ukrainian Boeing in Iran?
Obviously, it should not happen. It is a terrible tragedy, terrible for the families of the people who were killed. There is always possibility, although it is unlikely, of a mechanical malfunction, but if you have high quality equipment, such things should not happen. Of course, there is a possibility of a human error. It can be a a result of bad judgment, or, perhaps, inadequate training <…> I would be interested to see the investigation and hopefully, the government of Iran will do it in full transparency so that everybody has confidence in the results of it.
During the last 20 years, all over the world three big passenger planes were shot down – one in Iran, the second is the Malaysian Boeing over Donbas (2014) and the Russian Tu-154 over the Black Sea (2001). Is it a coincidence that all of them were destroyed by Soviet or Russian missile systems?
I think it is more to the point of training and professionalism and having the appropriate controls in place to determine when someone fired. I would have to see the investigation to determine if there is any sort of linkage in terms of technical malfunctions, but you know, the training and professionalism of the whole system is just as important as the quality of the equipment.
The interview was part of Belsat TV news show World and Us (ПраСвет) aired on 17 January 2020