Facing the threat of serious economic sanctions and a financial crisis, the Belarusian regime last week changed its approach to political prisoners.
The state’s prosecution has started to weaken its accusations and, therefore, possible punishments, for several political prisoners. On Wednesday the authorities released, under recognizance not to leave Belarus, the politician Anatol Liabedzka, arrested on 20th December. At the same time, however, placed the journalist Andrzej Poczobut in jail. On Friday evening they released another political prisoner, Aliaksandr Fiaduta.
The regime acts quite logically given the critical situation in the financial system of Belarus. The devaluation of the Belarusian rouble seems almost inevitable now. The population of Belarus will see its living standards fall. The population’s loyalty to the government will also fall, respectively.
The few foreign investors who already had the bad luck of investing in Belarus are now withdrawing their money. The current financial problems have made hopes for an influx of new foreign investors, doubtful before, completely illusory. Without a significant positive signal from Belarus nobody will ever come back there again. And the best signal investors could get would only be democratisation and improved relations with other countries. Authorities need currency from whatever external sources possible. All this gives an unambiguous answer as to the feasibility of imposing economic sanctions by the West.
December of 2010 must once again have taught everyone that Lukashenka’s regime only responds to harsh economic dictates in a situation where it has no space to maneuver. The fact that Lukashenko has reduced the possible sentences for several political prisoners should not create an illusion of progress in the democratization of the Belarusian regime.
To the contrary, it should be a signal that economic sanctions against Belarus should be introduced immediately and in the most rigid of possible forms. The regime is indeed afraid of them. It appears that only a concrete threat of sanctions can indeed motivate it to positive action. It is now high time to demonstrate this threat.
The introduction of economic sanctions should not be the subject of negotiations between the West and Lukashenka. The subject should be the lifting of them.
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