Minsk interested in restoring limited cooperation with EU on her own terms

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April 22, 2016 18:45

Official Minsk is not interested in full cooperation with the EU. The Belarusian government aspires to restore cooperation with the EU only where it excludes structural reforms and political conditionality. Cooperation with the EU will depend entirely on how Russo-Belarusian relations develop.

On February 19th, head of the European External Action Service’s division responsible for the European Union’s relations with the Eastern Partnership countries, Dirk Schubel, said in an exclusive interview with naviny.by that the EU and Belarus were preparing new frameworks for dialogue.

After the Eastern Partnership Summit, held in November 2013 in Vilnius, contacts between official Minsk and Brussels have become more frequent. EU officials have concluded that official Minsk had interest in deepening relations with the EU. However, the Belarusian Foreign Ministry refuted these allegations and expressed “amusement by comments regarding planned consultations between the Republic of Belarus and the European Union on modernisation matters”.

It is noteworthy that despite derailed economic modernisation plans, the Belarusian leadership is not ready to accept the EU’s assistance in this regard. Modernisation offered by the EU wildly differs from how president Lukashenko sees this process. He sees no need to reform the existing economic model, in particular, ahead of the 2015 presidential elections. To him, ‘modernisation’ is an industrial equipment upgrade, without any changes in ownership, management or staff.

While attempting to engage Belarus in a dialogue, the EU proposes to start with the most attractive points for cooperation, “trade and investment, which at this stage are of particular importance for both Belarus and the European Union”. However, the EU conditions cooperation with the need to include civil society representatives in this process, which is unacceptable for the Belarusian leadership.

The authorities would like to exclude civil society and the opposition from influencing the Belarus-EU relations’ agenda, especially ahead of the presidential elections in 2015. Lukashenko will not tolerate another wave of “rampant democracy” in Minsk’s centre, one that may be similar to the harshly suppressed gathering on December 19th, 2010. Recent events in Ukraine have only bolstered Lukashenko’s conviction of the need to nip any threat to his power in the bud.

Belarus’ authorities are convinced they have chosen the right strategy for negotiating with the EU. Despite the lack of any progress on the political prisoners issue or other conditions put forward by the EU, Belarus’ Prime Minister Myasnikovich was invited to the celebrations of the Eastern Partnership Summit’s fifth Anniversary, as reported by Ukrainian media.

In addition, Belarus’ low motivation to accelerate Belarusian-European relations is due to the anticipation of subsidies from Russia in the near future. The Belarusian leaders count on the Kremlin to cover all the costs associated with integration processes – soon after the Eurasian Economic Union founding documents are signed in May 2014.

The Belarusian leadership is not ready for extensive cooperation with the EU, envisaging various reforms in the coming years. The relations might develop only in some spheres, which would not affect the existing socio-economic model. Belarus aspires to increase the volume of financial assistance from the EU without going into deep reforms.

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President Lukashenka continues to rotate staff and rejuvenate heads of departments and universities following new appointments in regional administrations. Apparently, new Information Minister Karliukevich could somewhat relax the state policy towards the independent media and introduce technological solutions for retaining control over Belarus’ information space. New rectors could strengthen the trend for soft Belarusization in the regions and tighten the disciplinary and ideological control over the student movement in the capital.

President Lukashenka has appointed new ministers of culture and information, the new rector of the Belarusian State University and heads of three universities, assistants in the Minsk and Vitebsk regions.

The new Information Minister Karliukevich is likely to avoid controversial initiatives similar to those former Minister Ananich was famous for, however, certainly within his capacities. Nevertheless, the appointment of Belarusian-speaking writer Karliukevich could be regarded as the state’s cautious attempt to relax environment in the media field and ensure the sovereignty of national media.

The Belarusian leadership has consolidated the trend for mild Belarusization by appointing a young historian and a ‘reasonable nationalist’, Duk as the rector at the Kuleshov State University in Mogilev. Meanwhile, while choosing the head of the Belarusian State University, the president apparently had in mind the strengthening of the ideological loyalty among the teaching staff and students at the main university in order to keep the youth movement at bay. Previously, Korol was the rector of the Kupala State University in Grodno, where he held purges among the disloyal teaching staff.

The trend for the renewal of mid-ranking executives and their rejuvenation has confirmed. The age of the Culture Minister and three new rectors varies from 39 to 44 years old.