Bialiatski case "sentenced" multilateral foreign policy of Belarus
Belarus freezes its Western foreign policy direction. At the same time, the harsh verdict to Bialiatski implies an acute shortage of political strategies at the Presidential Administration.
On 24 November Vice President of International Federation of Human Rights and the Head of non-registered in Belarus Human Rights Center “Viasna” [Spring] A. Bialiatski was sentenced over large-scale tax evasion to 4.5 years of imprisonment in a medium security institution with confiscation of property.
The sentence to Human Rights Defender Bialiatski proves the authorities’ intention to resume a large-scale campaign aimed to clean up the alternative political and social organizations, which started after the presidential elections of December 19, 2010 in Belarus. The acute phase of the financial crisis in Belarus between March and October 2011 was the main argument infavour of the political liberalization and cooperation with foreign financial institutions (with the IMF in particular). Financial assistance from these institutions was preconditioned by the release of all political prisoners, including Bialiatski.
Regardless of a number of signals President Lukashenko sent last summer and in early autumn to the EU and the USA about his willingness to fulfill their political demands, he nevertheless decided to choose the opposite direction. The choice of the President was made for the favorable conditions of economic cooperation with Russia within the framework of the Common Economic Space and the future Eurasian Economic Union, also for the sale of shares of Beltransgaz for USD2.5 billion, as well as for a substantial gas price discount. All these decisions have been made either before or immediately after the human rights defender was sentenced (on 18 and 25 November respectively).
Regardless of a number of signals President Lukashenko sent last summer and in early autumn to the EU and the USA about his willingness to fulfill their political demands, he nevertheless decided to choose the opposite direction.
The aforementioned agreements provide Belarus with the opportunity to postpone the solution of its most pressing economic challenges. Bialiatski’s sentence also implies that the resumption of a political dialogue between Belarus and the West has been postponed indefinitely. We predict that as a consequence, rehabilitation and release of other political prisoners will be delayed too.
A particular emphasis should be added to the fact that this sentence was not a forced decision – it was an exclusive initiative of the authorities. Minsk brought Kremlin a symbolic “sacrifice” in the form of a sentence to Bialiatski, however it became a burden for Russia, while Minsk gained no benefits. During 2011 the Kremlin has repeatedly declared at the highest level that Belarus must respect international standards in human rights and democracy.
Therefore, the sentence pronounced for Bialiatski implies there is an acute shortage of strategic policy planning in the President Lukashenko’s surrounding and that his office is incapable of a multilateral foreign policy. No one benefits from the appearance of another political prisoner, neither Minsk, nor Moscow; moreover, it results in even greater dependence of the domestic and foreign policy of Belarus on the decisions made in the Kremlin.
Last week, Belarusian Foreign Minister Makei participated in the foreign ministers’ meeting of the Eastern Partnership and Visegrad Group initiative hosted by Warsaw. The Belarusian FM emphasized Belarus' interest in cooperation in the transport sector, which could be due to Belarus’ desire to export electricity surplus after Belarus finished construction of the nuclear power plant in Ostrovets. Minsk expressed concerns about Warsaw’s stance on the Belarusian NPP, as it refused to buy electricity from Belarus and supported Vilnius’ protest on this issue. Following accusations by the Belarusian leadership and the state media against western states, including Poland, of training "nationalist militants", Minsk did not agree on the visit of the European Parliament deputies from Lithuania and Germany to Belarus and to the NPP construction site near Ostrovets in particular. In addition, the Belarusian authorities have stepped up efforts to enforce education in Russian in Polish-language schools in Grodno and Vaukavysk. Should a rift in Belarusian-Polish relations persist, the Belarusian authorities are likely to step up the pressure on the Polish-speaking minority in Belarus.