By Vital Silitski
In the span of just four days, from 16th to 19th August 2008, former presidential candidate Alexander Kazulin and two participants of the entrepreneurs’ protests in January, Andei Kim and Siarhej Parsiukievich, where released from jail. This formally brought the number of remaining political prisoners in Belarus to zero. The fulfillment of the foremost demand of the European Union and the United States opened a rare opportunity for normalization of Belarus’ relations with the West. However, as freeing came upon the background of the intensification of the Kremlin’s pressure on Belarus, it can also be a repeat of the blackmailing pattern, when the Belarusian authorities nudge Russia towards a more lenient deals on energy price issues by threatening with ‘normalization’ of relations with the West. Even so, Russia’s increasingly aggressive foreign policy following the conflict in Georgia may create a deeper set of incentives for the official Minsk to move closer to the West than the mere petty blackmail of Kremlin. In this situation, effective and clearly defined conditionality formulated by both the European Union and the United States may be a key factor promoting positive changes in the country in the near future.