Lithuania expects warming relations with Belarus

Petras Vaida, BC, Vilnius

Lithuanian diplomats and experts in politics assess the possible changes in the relations of the European Union (EU) and Belarus with cautious optimism and note that so far the "policy of sanctions" was inefficient. It was started to speak about the warming relations after Russia"s military aggression against Georgia.

Undersecretary of the Foreign Ministry Laimonas Talat-Kelpsa told in an interview to ELTA that Lithuania was consistency striving that both Belarus and the EU would make steps to normalize mutual relations. One of these efforts is the informal meeting between Foreign Minister Petras Vaitiekunas and Sergei Martynov, his counterpart in Belarus, earlier this month.

The possible positive change in the relation between the EU and Belarus was started to be considered last month, when Alexander Lukashenko, authoritarian president of Belarus, decided to release political prisoners. Minsk also allowed the representatives of the Organization for the Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) to observe the parliamentary elections on September 28. Moreover, Belarus has not recognized the independence of the separatist regions of Georgia yet. The foreign ministers of the EU reacted to these changes and announced that, if a progress was observed in the parliamentary elections of Belarus, then Europe would revise the sanctions imposed on Belarus.

"It is important for us that Belarus made the necessary steps for the revival of the dialogue between Belarus and international community. Both the EU and the U.S. noticed that and responded accordingly (...). I am convinced that, after the foreign ministers of the EU confirm the mentioned conclusions, Belarus will be allowed to enter closer cooperation with the EU. However, further steps require the will of not only the EU, but, first of all, the will of Belarus," stated Talat-Kelpsa.

The undersecretary of the foreign ministry indicated that the wider dialogue between the EU and Belarus would depend upon the evaluation of the parliamentary elections provided by OSCE.

In his comment on the "policy of sanctions" applied by the EU for a quite long period of time, Talat-Kelpsa admitted that the existing instruments and formats of politics frequently used to leave Belarus aside.

"In cases without real instruments of practical cooperation, some technical solutions, in our opinion, did not help to pursue the essential goals of the EU neighborhood policy. For example, the EU decision to increase the price for visa by 60 euros to the citizens of Belarus restricted opportunities of the ordinary people of Belarus," stated the undersecretary of the Foreign Ministry.

Political scientist Laurynas Kasciunas, head of the Centre for Eastern Geopolitical Studies, said that, despite the first signs of "warming", it was still difficult to forecast whether it would turn into something more significant.

According to Kasciunas, the isolation policy applied till now pushed Belarus into the arms of Russia.

"Russia successfully implemented the Finlandization programme for Belarus by overtaking its strategic economic sectors and "chaining up" Belarus in such a way, meanwhile the EU could achieve nothing due to its isolation policy," Kasciunas told ELTA.

According to the political scientist, the changes in the relations between the EU and Belarus were significantly determined by the Russian-Georgian war, after which both Europe and Minsk started to think about changes.

Meanwhile, slightly changed stand of the EU would grant Minsk new opportunities of balancing, the political scientist thinks.

"Belarus used to carry out politics of several vectors. Without a doubt, the Russian vector is stronger, but now there is an opportunity to balance these influences. And it is important, especially when the programmed crisis in this country is borne in mind," stated the director of the centre for Eastern Geopolitical studies.

According to Kasciunas, Lithuania understands very well that isolation allows Russia to pursue its goals in Belarus easier; however, this attitude is not common in the entire EU, which focuses on the requirements of democracy. Therefore, it would be beneficial to search for cooperation channels in as least politicized areas as possible.

When asked what to expect from the parliamentary elections in Belarus, Kasciunas stated having no doubts that they would not meet democratic standards.



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