2020: Belarusian officialdom and the West are enemies again
By Dzianis Melyantsou
In 2020, Belarus' relations with the West divided into 'before' and 'after' the presidential election. 'Before' there some normalisation of relations with both the European Union and the United States of America. 'After' the allegations of rigged elections supported by evidence and the unprecedented scale of state repression against the people, abruptly ended this process, putting Belarus back to square one in relations with the West.
2020 started with a breakthrough in relations with the West - US Secretary of State Michael Pompeo's visit to Minsk and agreements on the supply of American oil to the Belarusian market. The parties had come close to restoring ambassadorial level diplomatic relations.
Belarus' relations with the EU also had a positive dynamic. The lengthy and painful process of preparing agreements on visa facilitation and readmission had come to an end. On July 1, the agreements entered into force, and the cost of a Schengen visa for Belarusians dropped to 35 euros. The intensity of high-level contacts between Belarus and the EU member states continued to grow. Several highest level visits to the EU were planned but never materialised due to the coronavirus outbreak, which also affected the intensity of Belarus' other international contacts. Simultaneously, issues on the Belarus-West agenda changed dramatically, primarily focusing on discussions of short and medium-term responses to the pandemic challenges.
The presidential election and the harsh crackdown on peaceful rallies by the Belarusian authorities abruptly curtailed the trend towards normalising relations and returned Belarus to a state of isolation; the EU and the US imposed sanctions against Belarusian officials several legal entities and business people. For the first time in modern Belarusian history, with the support of Russia, Minsk introduced reciprocal sanctions against the European Union and reduced its level of participation in several bilateral and multilateral forums. By the end of 2020, Belarusian officialdom and Western countries found themselves in a state of deep political crisis, which is likely to continue to deteriorate in 2021 as the EU and the United States introduce new sanctions.
Forecast for 2021
- Belarus’ relations with the EU and the US will [continue to] deteriorate
- The independence of Belarus’ foreign policy will be curtailed