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.
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.