Expert of "Strategy" Analytical center, Minsk
The "Eastern Partnership" European Program approval was caused by several factors. The first factor is Russia-Georgia war in August 2008 and Russia's recognition of South Ossetia and Abkhazia. The EU was seriously frightened by those events. The second one is Russia-Ukraine gas row in January 2009.
As a result, Europe became still more concerned about Russia's policy in the former Soviet Union. That's why Brussels decided to speed up grouping of states that would be friendly towards the EU. Some speak about creation of a "sanitary cordon" between the EU and Russia.
This way, Europe declared its intention to compete with Russia for strengthening its influence upon Caucasus and post-Soviet states of Eastern Europe. Up to now, the EU has given Russia complete control over the post-Soviet space, but from now on the EU is going to compete with Russia. This is the main peculiarity of the "Eastern Partnership" program.
As regards the program's financial component, it is not of great importance. If the total amount of money is divided among the "Eastern Partnership" member states (Azerbaijan, Armenia, Belarus, Georgia, Moldova and Ukraine) and into the financing periods, small quantities of money come out.
The program shows with regard to Belarus that Minsk and Brussels accommodated each other's requests. Minsk did that because Russia had restricted its subsidizing of the Belarusian economy. This process took place as early as 2007 and in the first half of 2008.
There was an obstacle to rapprochement between Minsk and the EU - in 2008 Brussels agreed to unfreeze the political and economic relations on condition that the Belarusian regime starts democratization. President of Belarus Aliaksandr Lukashenka did not do that. And after Russia-Georgia war in August 2008 Europe changed its position: it conceded to Mr Lukashenka and withdrew the issues of democratization and human rights as a condition of unfreezing the EU-Belarus relations.
After that the EU-Belarus relations started improving. The European politicians have decided that Belarus' exclusion from Russia's geopolitical space is of more importance.
Secondly, Europe concluded that its previous tactics (democratization demand, sanctions toward Belarus' authorities, support for the opposition) were inefficient. Poland and Lithuania urged the EU to change its policy towards Minsk. Germany is also interested in development of economic relations with Belarus.
Thirdly, the Belarusian authorities took some steps to please Europe: they released political prisoners, added two independent newspapers to the state-supported distribution chains for newspapers and magazines, registered the opposition movement "For Freedom" led by Aliaksandr Milinkevich, Lukashenka's rival at the presidential election.
Now the European politicians can say that the Belarusian regime is changing. As a result, Minsk's policy towards the EU can be regarded as successful. The visit of Javier Solana, European Union High Representative for the Common Foreign and Security Policy, to Belarus on February 18-19 is Minsk's diplomatic victory.
Belarus has received a credit from the IMF, negotiates with the World Bank and receives credits from Russia too.
This way, the policy of balancing between Europe and Russia turned out successful for Belarus, it is efficient and ended in Minsk's diplomatic victory.