Minsk relies on normalising relations with European Union in near future
The Belarusian government seeks to use the opportunities, which events in Ukraine have opened, in order to soften the EU countries’ stands. Authorities in Minsk believe the relations with the European Union could be improved on their terms, i.e. without any changes in domestic policy and without releasing political prisoners. Meanwhile, if the Belarusian authorities do not get sufficient resources to buy the population’s loyalty ahead of the presidential elections, they might tighten the environment for opposition activity.
Lithuanian Foreign Minister Linas Linkyavichus disagreed with some Lithuanian media that Russia might use Belarus to put pressure on Lithuania, including using territorial claims.
The Belarus’ Foreign Ministry has become more active in the EU countries, which has already yielded some positive results. Statements by Belarus’ officials in Poland, Lithuania, Hungary and some other EU countries, imply that the governments of these countries have started revising their attitudes towards the Belarusian leadership.
The Belarusian authorities pin hopes on the new EU member-states to soften their stands, because their reactions to the Russian aggression in Ukraine have been rather acute. Primarily, these countries include the Baltic countries, Poland and other countries of the ‘Warsaw Pact’, which have had a negative experience of the Soviet invasion in the second half of the twentieth century.
It should be noted that the Belarus’ Foreign Ministry’s main lines have not changed, rather gained a new dimension amid events in Ukraine: the current leadership preserves the county’s independence; President Lukashenko ensures political stability and secure borders, including migration policy. Belarus’ Foreign Minister Makei emphasised, that “We must pay a tribute, and Europe also has to acknowledge this, that it is due to the incumbent President, that Belarus has her own, independent foreign policy, no matter how difficult it is. Thanks to the current president, we preserved the independence, sovereignty and territorial integrity of our country”.
As evidenced by the World Ice Hockey Championships’ organisation, Belarus has ignored calls from Western capitals to ensure citizens’ political freedoms. When it concerned public safety, the Belarusian authorities traditionally used force. Before and during the World Ice Hockey Championships several dozen youth and opposition activists, including representatives of the independent media, were detained and arrested in Minsk and in the regions.
Belarus’ authorities will seek to normalise relations with European capitals in the near future. However, the Belarusian government will not improve the domestic political climate and will not release 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.