EU ministers to take a risk on Belarus


EU foreign ministers on Monday (15 September) are to make a formal offer to relax sanctions against Belarus in return for good conduct in upcoming parliamentary elections, as Europe takes a risk on President Alexander Lukashenko's regime.

The EU "will re-evaluate the situation in Belarus in the light of the legislative elections" and is "ready to re-examine the restrictive measures in place against Belarus officials" if OSCE monitors give a positive verdict on the 28 September vote, the foreign ministers' draft conclusions say, AFP reports.

Lukashenko - how serious is he about better ties with the West? (Photo:

The EU may also take "positive and concrete measures" in terms of future trade and cultural projects and will dangle the prospect of including Belarus in its "neighbourhood policy," which could see a large increase in financial aid to the cash-strapped government.

The EU in 1997 imposed a freeze on meetings with Belarus officials above deputy-minister level and in 2006 put 41 leading figures - including President Lukashenko himself and the head of the current electoral commission, Lidziya Yarmoshyna - on a visa ban list.

The EU in 2007 also threw Belarus off its register of low-tariff trade partners following complaints about restrictions on trade union activity by the Geneva-based International Labour Organisation (ILO).

The new thaw in relations comes after Belarus in August released three political prisoners, including opposition leader Alexander Kazulin - a former Lukashenko ally turned critic, fiercely disliked by the president. Belarus has also declined to recognise the independence of Georgia rebel regions South Ossetia and Abkhazia despite Russian pressure.

The EU sanctions offer was carefully prepared via two separate meetings between Lithuanian foreign minister Petras Vaitiekunas and Polish foreign minister Radoslaw Sikorski with Belarusian foreign minister, Sergei Martynov, last week.

But the EU remains wary of lending legitimacy to the Lukashenko regime prematurely, declining a European Commission proposal to invite Mr Martynov to Brussels on Monday, while inviting Mr Kazulin to meet with EU officials on the margins of the foreign ministers' gathering instead.

"Relations with countries which are not Athenian democracies always carry political risk," Poland's Mr Sikorski told the Dziennik newspaper over the weekend, pointing out that EU states do business with other non-democratic regimes such as Saudi Arabia. "In politics you can rarely succeed without taking a risk."

The minister didn't disguise his pleasure at the prospect of pulling a one-time Russia ally closer to the West, after last week's meeting with Mr Martynov in a government building in Wiskulach, Belarus, where the former leaders of Belarus, Russia and Ukraine in 1991 agreed to end Soviet rule.

"It was rather satisfying, to sit in the same room where President Szuszkiewicz with Boris Yeltsin and Leonid Kravchuk signed the act dissolving the Soviet Union," Mr Sikorski said.



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