Lukashenko is Incapable of Coherent Western Policy
On January 28th – 29th, US State Department delegation visited Minsk.
The main reason behind more frequent contacts between Belarus and the United States representatives is to seek for guarantees of the implementation of conditions put forward by the parties in the conflict. However, even if Minsk receives solid guarantees, high dependence of Belarus on Russia will not allow the ruling group to abandon its conventional pendulum geopolitics. This, in turn, sooner or later will result in a new conflict with the West.
A number of developments in the Belarus’ foreign policy during the last two weeks allow for assumptions, that Alexander Lukashenko is prepared to resolve the political conflict with the EU and the U.S. In particular, the January 21st meeting of the President with a group of American political scientists and the subsequent visit to Minsk of the State Department officials could be interpreted by analogy with the developments in August 2008, when Minsk entered talks with the U.S., released three political prisoners, and eventually received the IMF loan.
However, the level of bilateral relations is not yet indicative of sufficiently trustful relations between the Belarusian authorities and the West to resolve the current political crisis. Firstly, the disclosed information about the delegation’s composition proves this. The President’s meeting with four American political scientists did not match his status. The head of the State Department’s delegation visiting on January 28th – 29th, was Programme Coordinator of U.S. Humanitarian Assistance to Europe and Eurasia Mr. Rosenblum (in August 2008 Deputy Assistant Secretary of State J. Merkel visited Minsk).
It is very likely that the Belarusian authorities do not consider this level of negotiations as acceptable. Political prisoners are still in prison, implying that the Lukashenko regime has not yet received sufficient guarantees to compensate for such a step. We have repeatedly noted that Minsk considers the release of political prisoners a step forward in dealing with the West, and not a condition for starting negotiations and expects certain bonuses, such as the IMF loan, which is currently the most important item on the agenda.
It should be borne in mind that the level of integration in the Eurasian Economic projects has increased since 2008, which further limits the possibility of the Belarusian authorities to carry out a coherent Western policy. Belarus’ increased dependence on Russia forces the authorities to consider the Western policy only as an auxiliary tool to put pressure on the Kremlin within its “geopolitical pendulum” concept. Therefore, even if Belarus manages to mitigate or resolve the current political crisis in relations with the EU and the U.S., the next crisis is already pre-determined by the nature of the Belarusian-Russian relations.
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.