Policy briefs

Mon, 2013-04-29 17:59

By Paula Barowska

On 26 April 2013 Belarusian authorities and the opposition marked the anniversary of the Chernobyl disaster: each in its own way. Alexander Lukashenka went on a trip to the polluted areas as did opposition leaders Anatol Liabedzka and Vital Rymasheuski. The Belarusian opposition also gathered around one thousand of its supporters in Minsk under antinuclear energy slogans, protesting against the new nuclear station erected close to the border with Lithuania. Since 1989 it is a tradition for many Belarusians to commemorate the event in the form of street manifestation on the 26 of April called the Chernobyl Way (Čarnobylski šliach in Belarusian). Lukashenka's visit resulted in an extensive coverage in all state media while the opposition event was covered by independent media, including detentions by plain clothed individuals which followed the opposition event.

Fri, 2013-04-26 13:52

Despite European protests against human rights violations, the European Union continues to render technical assistance to Belarus. In 2012-2013, Belarus can get more than € 55 mln in the framework of the European Neighbourhood and Partnership Instrument and the Eastern Partnership. For Belarus, the EU is the biggest development cooperation donor. Overall, since 1991 the EU has provided to Belarus over €510 mln worth of aid. Belarus if far from being North Korea of Europe: the European Union has means of influence primarily through its technical assistance.

Thu, 2013-04-25 15:38

The economic situation in Belarus in the near future will probably force the regime to sell plenty of its most profitable enterprises to Russia. As a consequence, Belarus will become more dependent on its eastern neighbour – not only politically but also economically. In a few years this process may be irreversible due to the current ties between the two countries (the State Union, close military co-operation, a Common Economic Space, and the increasing debt that Belarus has to pay Russia). Representatives of the Belarusian regime will want to avoid such a scenario because for them Russian hegemony could mean the end of their power. Paradoxically, if Russia tightens the screws it may contribute to Belarus’ dialogue with the European Union.

Thu, 2013-04-25 11:38

In recent times there has been an intensification of political and economic relations between Lithuania and Belarus. Because they are neighbours and have numerous political and economic links, Lithuania can be expected to want to use its presidency of the EU Council to resume a dialogue with the Belarusian authorities. This would be a great success for Lithuanian diplomacy, especially in the context of the Eastern Partnership summit planned for November this year. Poland should closely monitor the activities of the Lithuanian side and raise the issue of releasing political prisoners in Belarus as a condition for the resumption of talks with representatives of the regime.

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Wed, 2013-04-24 13:33

By Darya Firsava

On 17 April 2013 Standard and Poor's upgraded its outlook on Belarus sovereign rating from stable to positive.  According to the agency, strengthening economic stability was brought  on by tightened monetary and fiscal policies. The beneficial change means more than a pleasant evaluation of the country’s performance, but also a signal to foreign investors, which Belarus needs now more than ever. While the Middle East countries continue to speak highly of the country’s investment attractiveness, the less friendly West invests in Belarus much more. The facts suggest that Belarus' politics plays a less significant role for foreign investments’ inflow than one could imagine. Even more, statistics shows increase of European investments into Belarus against the background of deterioration of Belarus-EU political relations.

Wed, 2013-04-17 10:55

By Ryhor Astapenya

On 12 April, Filip Kaczmarek, the chairman of the European Parliament Delegation for relations with Belarus, stated that the EU can make Schengen visas more available for ordinary Belarusians even now. MEPs often say good things but unfortunately they have little real power to implement them. Unlike talks on the dialogue or the sanctions, visa relations of Belarus and the EU concern most Belarusians. The price and the procedure of getting a visa remains an important factor affecting how people perceive the EU. Although Belarus remains the world's Shengen visa champion with regard to the number of visas per citizen, these visas come at a great cost to them. The Belarusian civil society is trying to convince the EU of the necessity for the unilateral visa liberalisation. However, as the liberalisation prospects remain bleak, Belarusians should also press Belarus authorities to start talks on visa simplification.

Wed, 2013-04-10 11:36

By Siarhei Bohdan

Last Friday, Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu visited Belarus. According to Belarusian officials and media the minister came just to sign visa abolition and readmission agreements. The Turkish Foreign Ministry added that ministers had, "exchanged views on regional issues mainly Syria, Iraq, and Afghanistan.” This addition appears to be especially intriguing since never before has such a high-level Turkish official visited independent Belarus. Davutoğlu is seen as the architect of new Turkish foreign policy who is pursuing a neo-Ottoman style, and the man backing the Syrian rebels, flew to Belarus for something more than signing two pieces of paper. They could have been signed by a lower-level official. He came to Belarus because Minsk is rumoured to be cooperating with the Syrian authorities while Turkey supports the Syrian rebels.

Mon, 2013-04-08 13:00

By: Grigory Ioffe

On March 25, Alena Kupchina, the Belarusian deputy minister of foreign affairs, met with Maira Moira, the European Union’s envoy to Belarus (http://www.mfa.gov.by/press/news_mfa/e9045fcd71ff4ac8.html). The increased frequency of such meetings is caused by the necessity to improve relations in advance of the September 2013 Eastern Partnership (EaP) summit in Vilnius, Lithuania (http://nmnby.eu/news/express/5133.html). Given the current EU travel sanctions against Belarusian officials, the job of determining who to invite to that summit to represent Belarus is like a self-inflicted pain for Brussels. Nobody wants to lose face. The EU is reluctant to suspend the sanctions without the release of the remaining political prisoners. But in the face of tangible economic benefits from Moscow, Minsk is banking on the EU—as the initiator of the upcoming EaP summit—to cave in first in order to salvage the summit.

Wed, 2013-04-03 12:02

Ondrej Ditrych 80x108

The EU’s sanction regime against Belarus and the government of President Aliaksandr Lukashenka has been in place for more that 16 years. Ondrej Ditrych writes that while the sanctions illustrate the EU’s objections to the regime in Belarus, all the available evidence has shown that they have been largely ineffective in their objective of changing the political climate in the country. He argues that the best way to make sanctions effective may be to terminate them, and instead establish a roadmap for engagement with the country that makes EU assistance and cooperation conditional on positive reform. Since 1996, the EU has imposed, suspended, lifted and re-imposed a variety of sanctions on Belarus. All evidence seems to suggest that these sanctions are not working. It is true they may well show the Union’s ‘actorness’ in international relations and, notably, in its own neighbourhood. They also signal legitimate moral indignation and ostensibly punish the regime, which can be seen as an end in itself, and possibly also act as an indirect means of promoting norms of good governance worldwide. Last but not least, they may represent political tools to prevent the regime from taking steps that it would otherwise have contemplated. But, in terms of primary objectives, the sanctions appear to be ineffective: political prisoners remain behind bars (unless they bend to pressure and, like Andrei Sannikov, ask for a presidential pardon), and the regime has not created a more permissive political environment.

Tue, 2013-04-02 10:23

The unexpected death of Boris Berezovsky has moved his relations with the Belarusian authorities into the spotlight. Over the past 15 years Boris Berezovsky regularly appeared in Belarusian politics. Analysts are even discussing a possible friendship between Boris Berezovsky and Aliaksandr Lukashenka. In the 1990s, Berezovsky persuaded Lukashenka to release Russian journalists from Belarusian prison. In the 2000s, he recommended that Lukashenka hire British PR guru Lord Timothy Bell and persuaded him to imprison an American lawyer representing the interests of a relative of deceased Georgian billionaire Badri Patarkatsishvili.