Belarusian authorities welcomed suspension of sanctions, opposition split over it
On October 29th, the EU and the US suspended sanctions against 171 Belarusian citizens and removed 10 companies from the blacklist. The Belarusian authorities have welcomed the move and expressed hope for a prompt lifting of sanctions and normalisation of relations. The opposition has divided in their assessments. The issue of sanctions as well as other issues on the political agenda do not help to consolidate the opposition parties, even among like-minded people.
Last week, Belarusian Foreign Ministry Spokesman Mironchik said, "We hope that this decision will result in the immediate cancellation of all sanctions and normalisation of relations between Belarus and the EU. It is in the interest of all parties”. When speaking to the media, individuals, who have been removed from the EU visa blacklist, expressed indifference, and reluctance in using the new opportunities, except Central Election Commission Head Yarmoshina.
In the opposition, the opinions have divided. Mikola Statkevich condemned the freezing of sanctions, and said it was an incoherent and immoral step, which, however, due to time constraints would create the possibility for him to continue “the expansion of freedom space” in the form of short-term actions in the centre of Minsk in the coming four months. Karatkevich and Lyabedzka regarded the suspension of sanctions as a chance, which they could use, for instance, during the parliamentary elections and emphasised the need for the EU and the US to preserve the policy of conditionality in relations with Belarus. Milinkevich and For Freedom Movement have not made any specific statements about the lifting of sanctions. However, Milinkevich’s speech in Madrid at the European People’s Party Congress, as well as his previous statements suggest that he finds step-by-step rapprochement tactics with Belarus justified and appropriate. Overall, politicians in their assessments have expressed a general fear that closer relations with Lukashenka, either preconditioned or not, would disregard the Belarusian opposition.
Belarusian analysts largely agree that freezing of sanctions would create additional opportunities for the Belarusian regime and civil society, yet they are sceptical that either of them would be able to use them. The Russian media had a restrained reaction to the freeze of sanctions against Belarus.
The Belarusian authorities regard the Catholic conference as yet another international event to promote Minsk as a global negotiating platform. Minsk’s proposal to organise a meeting between the Roman-Catholic Church and the Russian Orthodox Church is rather an image-making undertaking than a serious intention. However, the authorities could somewhat extend the opportunities for the Roman-Catholic Church in Belarus due to developing contacts with the Catholic world.
Minsk is attempting to lay out a mosaic from various international religious, political and sportive events to shape a positive image of Belarus for promoting the Helsinki 2.0 idea.
Belarus’ invitation to the head of the Holy See for a meeting with the Patriarch of the Russian Orthodox Church should be regarded as a continuation of her foreign policy efforts in shaping Minsk’s peacekeeping image and enhancing Belarus’ international weight. The Belarusian authorities are aware that their initiative is unlikely to find supporters among the leadership of the Russian Orthodox Church in Moscow. In Russia, isolationist sentiments prevail.
In addition, for domestic audiences, the authorities make up for the lack of tangible economic growth with demonstrations of growth in Minsk’s authority at international level through providing a platform for religious, sportive and other dialogues.