After the release of Sannikov and Bondarenko, Lukashenko is waiting for EU’s next steps
As anticipated, Belarus is not intending to comply with the EU requirements immediately and entirely and offers a step by step approach, gradually fulfilling the EU conditions in exchange for some concessions by Belarus. The main reason behind it is the desire of Belarus to revert to the traditional foreign policy of balancing between Russia and the West.
President Lukashenko eased his attitude on negotiations with the West considerably. The main sign is that he has postponed for an indefinite period his annual address to the Parliament and the nation. Lukashenko ordered to revise his address, including the foreign policy section, to make it more moderate.
Thus, the President’s Administration received a carte blanche to resume relations with the EU. Head of Lukashenko Administration, Mr. Makey, speaking on the national television on April 17 confirmed, that Belarus was ready to engage in a dialogue with the EU at all levels. His statement about the unacceptability of putting pressure on Minsk was apparently addressed to the domestic audience and meant to compensate for the President’s “weakness”, i.e. the release of two political prisoners the day before.
On April 20, Minsk city authorities granted a petition of the organizers of Chernobyl Way to stage an annual march and a rally in central Minsk on April 26. The application was granted regardless of being filed by the non-registered “Belarusian Christian Democracy” party, which supports the expansion of EU sanctions and plans to boycott the parliamentary elections.
All these positive signals Minsk addressed to the participants of the EU Foreign Ministers meeting on April 23, where Belarusian issue would be discussed. Statements made by the Belarusian leaders imply that they expect the Ministerial Council decision to refrain from further expansion of sanctions and come up with some kind of conciliatory resolution. This would give a reason for European ambassadors to return in Minsk.
The most likely explanation of the drastic mitigation in the attitude is the Minsk’s desire to secure an alibi in the foreign relations with Russia. The authorities came out as losers in the air carriers’ conflict and now seek for opportunities to resume the old policy of balancing between Russia and the West, which would allow for selective approach to fulfilling the requirements of both sides.
However, after 2011 the space for maneuvering has significantly narrowed. Therefore it should be anticipated that Minsk will not comply entirely with all the requirements put forward by the EU and will restrict to the minimum acceptable status quo. For instance, Belarus will restore relations on the diplomatic level and will resume a symbolic dialogue on “safe” issues (migration, construction of nuclear power plants, and moratorium on the death penalty).
According to Decree No. 221 of June 23rd, 2017, deadlines for the completion of foreign trade operations have been extended from 90 to 180 days for exports and from 60 to 90 days for imports. Delayed payments entailed a fine up to 2% of the transaction cost for each day of the delay, but could not exceed the total cost of the transaction. Most companies, when working with new counterparties, require a deferred payment for a period of three to six months. Due to the new regulation, violations are likely to reduce in number, so as the fines. Trade enterprises are likely to expand the assortment list due to the supply of new products in small lots, and the assortment list of exported Belarusian goods could expand, too. The new terms for completing foreign trade transactions would enable medium and small companies on the foreign trade market, exporters and importers are likely to grow in number and the geography of export-import operations could expand.