Lukashenko Attempts to Depoliticize the Conflict with the EU
Minsk is signalling Brussels its willingness to reduce political tension. However, after several European ambassadors have returned to Belarus, Minsk is not ready to make further mutual concessions and has transferred the dialogue into the area of migration policy.
EU foreign ministers did not introduce any new sanctions against Belarus at a meeting on April 23, and Minsk has interpreted this as an indication to continue trade with the West. Belarus does not seem willing to meet the EU requirements. President Lukashenko said that he may authorize a large-scale amnesty of prisoners in early July, and made it clear that some of them may be citizens recognized as political prisoners.
At the same time, the Belarusian authorities continue a policy of selective liberalization and repression against political opponents. Two full scale opposition rallies were authorized in Minsk, however, the rally on April 26 ended with the brutal detention of youth activists. Detentions and trials of the protesters coincided with the return of the European ambassadors to Minsk.
Thus, the Belarusian side demonstrates the West their understanding of the sovereignty, and at the same time compensates for their \"weakness\" after the release of Sannikov and Bondarenko in mid-April. In the case of negotiations being resumed with the EU, the Belarusian side will revert to the traditional liberal-repression policy of balancing. Minsk city authorities have already rejected a petition from the opposition to stage a rally on May 1.
Lukashenko expressed his willingness to resume a dialogue with the EU. He publically stated that the EU sanctions could have been much more severe if the EU had intended to harm Belarus. His statement only proves earlier theories that Lukashenko had agreed to resume relations with the EU.
Lukashenko’s readiness to relax control over the Belarusian-Ukrainian border (in the time of the World Football Championship) can be viewed as a typical Minsk negotiation technique. It is an attempt to create a problem or threat and then \"trade\" this problem or a threat in exchange for particular concessions. If this stake does not work, the authority will continue their attempts to acquire another bargaining chip.
President Lukashenka has met with the head of Chechnya Ramzan Kadyrov, who visited Minsk and the Minsk Automobile Plant. Minsk has always sought to have independent links with Russian regional elites, partially, to compensate for the Kremlin's diminishing interest in Belarus. In recent years, Belarus’ contacts with the Russian regions have been extremely intense. However, with some leaders of Russian regions, primarily heads of large republics, communication was more difficult to build. As many analysts in Minsk suggested, Minsk could regard contacts between President Lukashenka and the head of Chechnya as an additional communication channel for relieving tension in relations with the Kremlin. However, most likely, a trusting relationship with Kadyrov is a value for Minsk as such, provided Kadyrov’s broad business and political interests, and a high degree of autonomy for the Chechen leader from the Kremlin.