Authorities Wait for Cause to Start Dialogue
On February 12th, Belarusian delegation headed by Minister of Foreign Affairs Vladimir Makey took part in the second round of the informal ministerial meeting within the Eastern Partnership held in Tbilisi.
Minsk has publicly demonstrated its willingness to resume political dialogue with the EU. However, the results of the meeting in Tbilisi say that Belarus has not yet received sufficient guarantees for the resolution of the current political conflict from its Western partners and waits for favorable conditions to resume the dialogue.
Belarusian delegation’s participation in Tbilisi meeting aimed at creating frameworks for potential negotiations with the EU in 2013. The framework will be the Eastern Partnership Summit, scheduled for November in Vilnius. Multilateral negotiations within the Eastern Partnership is a preferred format for Belarus, because it allows retouching bilateral claims of the EU and the U.S. regarding political prisoners, and securing the support by other Eastern Partnership participants, for instance, regarding participation in the EURONEST, EaP Parliamentary Assembly.
The authorities seriously consider their participation in the Vilnius summit and even more – resuming negotiations with the EU using the EaP platform. The scheduled for February 20th-23rd visit of the Belarusian parliamentary delegation to Vienna to participate in the OSCE PA session also confirms this assumption, as well as participation of the President’s Intelligence and Analytical Centre Deputy Director in the OSCE conference “Internet 2013 – Shaping policies to advance media freedom” on February 12th.
Finally, on February 14th Deputy Foreign Minister Mr. Kupchina met with Eastern Policy Director of the Polish Foreign Ministry Ms Figel and Polish Ambassador to Belarus Mr. Sherepka in Minsk. Meeting details were not disclosed, official reports said, that the parties discussed Belarusian-Polish relations and other issues of mutual interest.
Failure of the authorities to release and rehabilitate political prisoners implies that President Lukashenko, on the one hand, thinks the moment is not right to resume a political dialogue with the West. (In 2008 the Georgian-Ossetian military conflict was the triggering moment). On the other hand, it is likely that the Belarusian authorities do not consider the proposed potential financial bonuses and guarantees sufficient and therefore not entailing the release of political prisoners.
Following crackdown and arrests of participants in the spring protests, the authorities resumed arrests as punishment for participating in street protests in addition to fines, which for some time were the only punishment for political activity. On September 22nd, 2017, the riot police detained the Belarusian National Congress leader Nikolai Statkevich, the opposition politician was placed in detention centre on Akrestin street. On the same day, after serving seven days of arrest, another BNC leader, Vladimir Neklyaev, was released. He was sentenced for organising a street protest on September 8th against the West-2017 exercises. Other participants in the protest have been fined too. The authorities are likely to continue to use fines and arrests against political activists to punish for their protest activity.