The U.S. should consider finding Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko a route out of power to prevent Russia from trying to reclaim the former Soviet republic, according to John Bolton, former national security advisor to Donald Trump.
One option that should be reviewed, Bolton said, would be for President Joe Biden’s administration to find the authoritarian leader “a nice villa on the Riviera.”
His comments come as the European Union ramps up efforts to impose sanctions against Belarus in response to an escalating migrant crisis on the border with EU member Poland.
Thousands of migrants, many from Syria, Yemen and Iraq, have been gathered at the border with Poland in freezing temperatures for several weeks.
“I think we’ve all been making a mistake by focusing on Lukashenko’s repression of the opposition’s demonstrations [and] their desire for a free representative government in Belarus, not to say that there is anything that justifies what Lukashenko has done,” Bolton told CNBC’s Julianna Tatelbaum on Wednesday.
“The danger is that as the opposition continues to mount its protest, for Lukashenko, if he can’t have an authoritarian government on his own in Belarus, Plan B is to call in the Russians to help. And once that happens, the Belarus people themselves may never have an opportunity to get a free government again.”
“So, our strategy, I think, should be how to get Lukashenko out of power and finding him a nice villa on the Riviera or something like that. [It is] something we ought to consider because if he invites Russia in, I don’t think they are leaving,” Bolton added.
The U.S. State Department has said it does not want to escalate bilateral tensions with Belarus and calls on Lukashenko’s regime to end the crackdown on members of civil society, the media and other citizens.
The White House has also called on Belarus authorities to hold free and fair elections under international observation.
The Belarusian Foreign Ministry and Russian Embassy in London were not immediately available to comment when contacted by CNBC.
Bolton, who served in the Trump White House for 17 months between 2018 and 2019 and left on fractious terms, said he believes Russian President Vladimir Putin wants to reclaim Belarusian territory as part of Russia.
The EU accuses Belarus’ Lukashenko of orchestrating a crisis on the Belarusian border in retaliation to sanctions imposed after the disputed leader’s widely discredited election victory last year and the subsequent crackdown on mass protests.
Belarus’ Foreign Ministry on Monday dismissed suggestions that it had engineered the migrant crisis as “absurd,” according to Russian news agency RIA.
Belarus is an Eastern European country of roughly 9.5 million people that borders Latvia, Lithuania, Poland, Russia and Ukraine.
U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet has said the primary aim of Belarusian authorities “was suppressing criticism and dissent of Governmental policies.”
The U.S. and the NATO military alliance, meanwhile, have accused Belarus of coordinating migrants at the border to undermine security and distract from Russia’s troop build-up, a charge it denies.
Poland’s prime minister, Mateusz Morawiecki, has accused Putin of masterminding the migrant crisis on the border of Poland and Belarus. Russia’s Putin has denied having anything to do with the crisis.
— CNBC’s Elliot Smith contributed to this report.