The EU is one step away from imposing sanctions
Following the pronounced sentence to A. Sannikov on 14 May the "Belarusian issue" re-entered the international agenda. In the course of the past week the issue of human rights violations in Belarus and the issue of sanctions against its leaders were regularly discussed at the highest international level.
The verdicts against the Belarusian opposition were denounced by Ashton (on 15 May), Clinton (on 17 May), as well as by the Foreign Ministers of Germany, France, Poland, the Czech Republic and Russia (at joint meetings on 20 and 21 May). However, to the merit of Belarus, the views about sanctions are divided.
The lack of international consensus regarding the introduction of economic sanctions gives Belarus grounds to expect that the EU economic sanctions will not be imposed and it continues a tough line in sentencing the post-elections protesters.
Firstly, the re-opened discussions about the sanctions speak about the exhaustion of means to influence the situation in the country by the international community. Joint condemning statements by the USA, the EU and Russia issued in January and February had zero effect: individuals recognized as political prisoners remain behind the bars and courts continue issuing tough sentences to ex-Presidential candidates and demonstrators.
Secondly, such behavior by the Belarusian authorities puts the international community into an awkward position and pushes for a fro-active response. Hillary Clinton and Radoslaw Sikorski talked about it the most openly, calling for targeted economic sanctions against the Belarusian leadership, including a number of state enterprises-exporters. In particular, the media reported the "blacklist" of enterprises included state-owned companies Belneftekhim, "Triple", Beltechexport and Belaruskali.
However, the responsibility for the consequences of the economic sanctions has become a restricting factor. The positions of Russia and the Czech Republic, as well as the previous position of the Ukrainian Foreign Ministry about the futility of sanctions have a softening effect. The Foreign Ministers of these countries condemned the Belarusian government however opposed to the introduction of the economic sanctions, which could affect the population. Besides, Belarus managed to persuade the Lithuanian Minister of Transport and Communications E. Masiulis to defend its interests: on 19 May he talked about the dangers of introduction of such sanctions to the Lithuanian interests. Further, on 19 May it was announced that Belarus will not receive a loan from Russia as expected, which could be regarded as a kind of sanction. Additional economic sanctions are now able to put the EU in the position of the catalyst of the Belarusian crisis.
Thirdly, Belarus prepares a response and the Foreign Minister already warned about a possible travel ban for a number of Belarusian politicians. Also the delay in sentencing of N. Statkevich and D. Uss suggests that the Belarusian government reserves the option of pronouncing more or less severe sentences to the ex-Presidential candidates, depending on the outcome of consideration of the issue of sanctions.
Last week, Belarusian Foreign Minister Makei participated in the foreign ministers’ meeting of the Eastern Partnership and Visegrad Group initiative hosted by Warsaw. The Belarusian FM emphasized Belarus' interest in cooperation in the transport sector, which could be due to Belarus’ desire to export electricity surplus after Belarus finished construction of the nuclear power plant in Ostrovets. Minsk expressed concerns about Warsaw’s stance on the Belarusian NPP, as it refused to buy electricity from Belarus and supported Vilnius’ protest on this issue. Following accusations by the Belarusian leadership and the state media against western states, including Poland, of training "nationalist militants", Minsk did not agree on the visit of the European Parliament deputies from Lithuania and Germany to Belarus and to the NPP construction site near Ostrovets in particular. In addition, the Belarusian authorities have stepped up efforts to enforce education in Russian in Polish-language schools in Grodno and Vaukavysk. Should a rift in Belarusian-Polish relations persist, the Belarusian authorities are likely to step up the pressure on the Polish-speaking minority in Belarus.