Tuesday

25th Apr 2017

Pariah state Belarus sends top diplomat to Brussels

Belarus sent its foreign minister, Vladimir Makey, to Brussels on Monday (22 July) after his EU visa ban was suspended last month.

The Belarus envoy, a former military intelligence officer, was the first regime official to visit Brussels since Minsk's violent crackdown on the opposition following rigged presidential elections in December 2010.

Dear EUobserver reader

Subscribe now for unrestricted access to EUobserver.

Sign up for 30 days' free trial, no obligation. Full subscription only 15 € / month or 150 € / year.

  1. Unlimited access on desktop and mobile
  2. All premium articles, analysis, commentary and investigations
  3. EUobserver archives

EUobserver is the only independent news media covering EU affairs in Brussels and all 28 member states.

♡ We value your support.

If you already have an account click here to login.

His visit is an effort to ease ties in the run-up to the "Eastern Partnership" summit in Lithuania.

But rights groups, including Human Rights Watch and the International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH), opposed Makey's presence in the EU capital.

“If the EU wants to engage with Belarusian officials, it should be about releasing political prisoners and ending the harassment of civil society,” Human Rights Watch said in a statement.

FIDH also organised a protest in Brussels, calling attention to the ongoing detention of political prisoners such as human rights defender and Nobel peace prize nominee Alex Bialiatski.

The 2010 crackdown saw hundreds beaten by black-booted KGB agents and baton-wielding riot police.

Protesters and presidential candidates were jailed.

Many were later released, but at least four of them, including Bialiatski, continue to toil away in work camps some two and half years later.

For his part, Bialiastki, in a letter he wrote to a supporter in early July, said: “You keep asking about my health, whether my spine aches or not. It is not that important: If my homeland is gone than I am no more."

Meanwhile, Makey in Brussels discussed improving economic and business ties with the EU in the context of the EU's summit with six post-Soviet countries in Vilnius in November.

The EU is hoping the event will build closer ties with Armenia, Azerbaijan, Belarus, Georgia, Moldova, and Ukraine.

The Lithuanian EU presidency, which is organising the summit, says it expects the Union to sign an association agreement with Ukraine and to initial similar agreements with Moldova, Georgia and Armenia.

EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton, who chaired Monday’s ministerial meeting in Brussels, said the “Vilnius summit would be a summit of delivery, both in terms of political association and economic integration.”

Belarus boycotted last year’s Eastern Partnership event after it took offence when the EU invited its deputy foreign minister instead of its foreign minister.

Makey’s visit to Brussels was spurred on by a European Parliament draft report.

The June paper describes the Vilnius summit as a “unique opportunity to improve relations with Belarus,” which could lead to a “resumption of negotiations on a new comprehensive agreement." It also recommends that the EU suspends its visa ban on key officials.

Belarus' authoritarian President, Alexander Lukashenko, has for several years used the threat of closer EU ties to force economic concessions from Russia.

The usual pattern of events is a crackdown, followed by EU sanctions, then a partial release of prisoners, followed by a partial relaxing of the sanctions regime.

Over the weekend, he lifted the house arrest on journalist Irina Khalip, wife to a presidential candidate who lives in exile in Warsaw.

An opposition source told this website he expects Belarus to release one or two more prisoners after Makey’s vist.

“After that Lithuania will say that it is working on its idea of gradual contacts with the Belarusian authorities,” he noted.

Opinion

The abduction of Europe

Europe needs to shift is focus back towards promoting democracy and human rights in post-Soviet states instead of engaging in geo-politicking over Russia's influence in the region.

Russia suspected of Macron hack

Likely Russian spies tried to steal email passwords from Macron's people the same way they hacked US elections, new study says.

Russia threat triggers European military spending hike

Russia's annexation of Crimea in Ukraine has intensified military and defence spending throughout much of Central Europe, according to a new report by the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute.

Investigation

Sex and lies: Russia's EU news

France and Germany have been targeted for years with fake news and lies designed to incite sexual revulsion toward migrants and the politicians who gave them shelter.

News in Brief

  1. Hungary's Orban will participate in EU parliament debate
  2. Malta floats cash-for-refugees plan
  3. Ivanka Trump to meet Merkel at Berlin women's conference
  4. Arctic Ocean could be ice-free in 20 years
  5. Nord Stream 2 to get €4.8bn from European energy firms
  6. Defeated Fillon retires from French politics
  7. Hollande: Vote Macron to avoid 'risk' for France
  8. Italy misses deadline on air quality warning

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. UNICEFRace Against Time to Save Millions of Lives in Yemen
  2. Nordic Council of MinistersDeveloping Independent Russian-Language Media in the Baltic Countries
  3. Swedish EnterprisesReform of the European Electricity Market: Lessons from the Nordics, Brussels 2 May
  4. Malta EU 2017Green Light Given for New EU Regulation to Bolster External Border Checks
  5. Counter BalanceCall for EU Commission to Withdraw Support of Trans-Adriatic Pipeline
  6. ACCAEconomic Confidence at Highest Since 2015
  7. European Federation of Allergy and Airways60%-90% of Your Life Is Spent Indoors. How Does Poor Indoor Air Quality Affect You?
  8. European Gaming and Betting AssociationCJEU Confirms Obligation for a Transparent Licensing Process
  9. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic Region and the US: A Time of Warlike Rhetoric and Militarisation?
  10. European Free AllianceEFA MEPs Vote in Favor of European Parliament's Brexit Mandate
  11. Mission of China to the EUXinhua Insight: China to Open up Like Never Before
  12. World VisionViolence Becomes New Normal for Syrian Children