Far from representing a show of strength, the brutal post-election crackdown in Belarus was a sign of the Lukashenka regime’s internal weakness. The EU must seize this opportunity to isolate the President while working with Belarusian society to help the country move beyond authoritarianism. It must also take advantage of Russia’s growing frustration with its ally to begin a direct conversation with Moscow about Minsk – something that Lukashenka fears.
With EU foreign ministers due to meet next Monday (31st January) to decide on imposing sanctions on Belarus, the European Council on Foreign Relations and FRIDE today publish The EU and Belarus after the election. This policy memo argues that while Europe must send a strong message to Belarus and the world that it will not tolerate repression and electoral fraud, blanket punishments should be avoided.
The EU and Belarus after the election was written by Balazs Jarabik, Jana Kobzova and Andrew Wilson. They argue:
- Belarus faces economic crisis, a battle both internally and with Russia over the privatisation of its assets and growing divisions within its leadership. The EU’s position is therefore stronger than it seems.
- The EU should open a dialogue with Russia about Belarus. Moscow has grown increasingly frustrated with Lukashenka’s geopolitical manoeuvring, and the poor value for money it gets from the regime it subsidises. Europe must not fall into the trap of focusing only on Lukashenka and his attempts to play the West and Russia off against each other.
- Europe must act decisively to isolate those responsible for election fraud and the post-election crackdown, while avoiding blanket punishments; it should stop high-level contacts with the regime, impose a visa ban on leading figures including Lukashenka, and freeze the assets of those people.
- The EU should attempt to engage ordinary Belarusians in the idea of reform by reducing the bureaucracy and cost involved in getting Schengen visas. It must also reach out beyond the current, fragmented political opposition to build contacts with those who support greater liberalisation, including bureaucrats and businessmen, and support independent media.
For a podcast with Jana Kobzova and Andrew Wilson, click here. To read a recent opinion piece by them on Belarus, click here. To read their comments in the media, including the NYT, WSJ, the Guardian and Moscow News, please see our In the Press section.