Back from the cold?

Sample ImageBy Margarita M. Balmaceda, Sabine Fischer, Grzegorz Gromadzki, Andrei Liakhovich, Astrid Sahm, Vitali Silitski and Leonid Zlotnikov

Edited by Sabine Fischer

The EU and Belarus have arrived at an important but difficult crossroads. After a long freeze, relations between Brussels and Minsk have been thawing over the past year. In September 2008, the Council of the European Union announced its readiness to ‘begin to review the restrictive measures against Belarusian leaders and to take positive and concrete measures that may lead to a gradual engagement, including via a meeting between the European Union troika and the Belarusian Minister for Foreign Affairs’.1 A month later, on 13 October, the Council decided to restore political dialogue with the Belarusian authorities and to suspend travel restrictions against leading Belarusian officials for a period of six months. The package of restrictive measures imposed on Belarus in 2006 was extended for one year. Since October 2008, three Troika meetings between the EU and Belarus have taken place. They were complemented by a visit to Minsk by EU High Representative Javier Solana in February, and a visit by EU Commissioner for External Relations and European Neighbourhood Policy Benita Ferrero-Waldner in June. Meanwhile, the European Commission and the Belarusian government held consultations and began technical cooperation in the fields of energy, transport, phytosanitary regulations and agriculture at the beginning of 2009. In May 2009, Belarus was included in the multilateral dimension of the Eastern Partnership.

The EU and Belarus launched a dialogue on human rights issues in June 2009.

March 2009 saw the extension of the above-mentioned restrictive measures for another year, while the suspension of the travel ban was prolonged for a period of nine months, i.e., until December 2009. ‘By the end of the nine months period, the Council will conduct an in-depth review of the restrictive measures taking into account the situation in Belarus, and provided that there are further positive developments, it will be ready to consider the possibility of lifting the restrictive measures.’2

The end of this nine-month period is quickly approaching. At the time of writing, the EU faces the decision of whether to go back to a policy of sanctions and isolation or to abandon this approach and continue on the course of engagement with Belarus.

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Institute for Security Studies, Paris 118, November 2009