Monday

21st May 2018

EU to end five-year freeze in Belarus relations

  • Brutality and jailings after 2010 elections saw EU blacklist Lukashenka (Photo: EPA)

EU states have decided to dissolve most Belarus sanctions for strategic reasons, despite the still “dismal” human rights situation in the country.

Ambassadors in the political and security committee in Brussels on Friday (12 January) opted to scrap asset freezes and visa bans on president Alexander Luksahenko, 169 other members of the nomenklatura, and three companies.

Thank you for reading EUobserver!

Subscribe now for a 30 day free trial.

  1. €150 per year
  2. or €15 per month
  3. Cancel anytime

EUobserver is an independent, not-for-profit news organization that publishes daily news reports, analysis, and investigations from Brussels and the EU member states. We are an indispensable news source for anyone who wants to know what is going on in the EU.

We are mainly funded by advertising and subscription revenues. As advertising revenues are falling fast, we depend on subscription revenues to support our journalism.

For group, corporate or student subscriptions, please contact us. See also our full Terms of Use.

If you already have an account click here to login.

They maintained sanctions on four people directly implicated in the vanishings of opposition activists. They also kept an arms embargo.

The move is to be endorsed by EU foreign ministers on Monday and to be inscribed into law later in the week.

The ministers will say, according to a draft statement seen by EUobserver, that “there is an opportunity for EU-Belarus relations to develop on a more positive agenda and that progress … can better be achieved through enhanced channels of communication.”

They’re to say the EU “remains concerned with the situation of human rights”.

But the draft text praises the Lukashenko regime for releasing political prisoners, holding violence-free elections last year, and taking part in EU initiatives, such as EU-Belarus human rights talks and visa-facilitation talks.

“The [EU] Council also values Belarus' constructive role in the region,” the text adds, referring to Lukashenko’s refusal to endorse Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and his hosting of two rounds of Ukraine peace talks.

It urges Belarus to hold fair parliament elections this year and to fully rehabilitate former political detainees.

It says if things go well, economic and trade perks may follow, including more project-funding by EU banks, the EIB and EBRD.

Winter 2010

EU-Belarus relations went into deep freeze in the winter of 2010, when Lukashenko’s forces beat protesters and jailed opponents following rigged elections.

The prisoner release, last August, was widely seen as Minsk’s attempt to win back Western friends in the face of Russian revanchism.

But a UN special rapporteur said earlier this week “the dismal state of human rights has remained unchanged in the country”.

He said one cultural activist, Mikhail Zhamchuzhny, is behind bars. Many dissidents still face legal proceedings. Others are in forced exile and civil society faces “systematic harassment”.

EU sources say Germany pushed for the detente for strategic reasons, however.

One source familiar with the German position said: “The Minsk process [Ukraine peace talks] started there, so there’s no doubt a strategic positioning of Belarus between the EU and Russia.”

The source said it’s “too early” to open EU financial aid taps.

“It’s not a good moment to give signs we want them [Belarus] to draw away too far from Russia,” the source said, amid German concern on Russia provocation.

A second EU source said: “We see an opportunity to bring Belarus closer … We’re not naive that it will fully change. But it’s worth a try.”

“It needs alternatives to Russia, in terms of borrowing money and project financing.”

Mixed reaction

For his part, Andrei Dynko, the editor-in-chief of Nasha Niva, an independent newspaper in Belarus said the authorities will “rejoice” at the EU news.

“The authorities will rejoice but human rights defenders and opposition leaders will have reservations,” he told EUobserver from Minsk.

“However weak or symbolic, the sanctions were the only thing preventing a deterioration in the situation,” he said.

But he added that Lukashenko’s position on Ukraine should be “rewarded”.

“Lukashenko’s approach helped to prevent a big war in the region,” he said.

Ukraine, Russia lists

EU states are also preparing, later this month, to extend the life of Ukraine and Russia blacklists.

An EU source said the list of 17 Ukrainians designated for stealing money is to be extended for one year.

But one name is to be dropped because “the funds have been brought back to the Ukraine state budget, so there’s no legal reason to keep them on the list.”

The source said the list of 149 Russians and Ukrainians and 37 entities designated over the invasion of Ukraine is to be extended by six months.

The source noted that if the European Parliament opts to restore normal contacts with the Russian Duma, then EU states might delist some Russian MPs.

But for his part, Elmar Brok, the German centre-right politician who chairs the EU assembly’s foreign affairs committee, told this website Russia must first lift its visa ban on dozens of MEPs.

“No. The conditions are not right for that [restoring inter-parliamentary cooperation] so long as members of the European parliament are on a Russian blacklist,” he said.

Belarus elections: invisible, but not trivial

The surprise elevation of two opposition candidates to parliament is designed to win friends in the West, but if the EU and US reciprocate, they'll be playing into Lukashenko's hands.

EU reacts to Russia PM's 'Cold War' speech

The EU’s top diplomat says there’s no new Cold War with Russia. France and Germany agree. But Lithuania and Poland are less sure. "It’s a hot war," Lithuania says.

Opinion

Belarus: A nation with no politics

Lukashenko will never become Gorbachov. If Belarusian people do not stop acquiescing on fake elections and other abuses, change won't come.

MEPs call for reset in relations with Belarus

A group of 72 euro-deputies have written to EU leaders, asking them to stop funding Europe's last dictatorship and increase their support for democracy activists instead.

Analysis

EU has no 'magic bullet' against US Iran sanctions

EU leaders in Sofia will discuss how they can protect the bloc's economic interests against US threats to sanction companies doing business in Iran. But their options are limited.

Opinion

Ratifying CETA after 'Achmea scandal' is anti-European

While few people in Europe have heard of the 'Achmea' ruling, the case will have far-reaching consequences. Member states must understand the implications of the case quickly - especially those considering ratifying the EU-Canada trade agreement.

News in Brief

  1. Trump warns Nato allies' low budgets will be 'dealt with'
  2. Only Estonia, Greece and UK hit Nato spending target
  3. EU to start process to counter US Iran sanctions
  4. Macedonia PM sees 'possible solutions' in Greek name row
  5. EU takes six countries to court over air pollution
  6. New Catalan leader sworn in without reference to Spain
  7. Merkel and Putin revive dialogue in troubled times
  8. European companies putting Iran business on hold

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. Nordic Council of MinistersOECD Report: Gender Equality Boosts GDP Growth in Nordic Region
  2. Centre Maurits Coppieters“Peace and reconciliation is a process that takes decades” Dr. Anthony Soares on #Brexit and Northern Ireland
  3. Mission of China to the EUMEPs Positive on China’s New Measures of Opening Up
  4. Macedonian Human Rights MovementOld White Men are Destroying Macedonia by Romanticizing Greece
  5. Counter BalanceControversial EIB-Backed Project Under Fire at European Parliament
  6. Nordic Council of MinistersIncome Inequality Increasing in Nordic Countries
  7. European Jewish CongressEU Leaders to Cease Contact with Mahmoud Abbas Until He Apologizes for Antisemitic Comments
  8. International Partnership for Human RightsAnnual Report celebrates organization’s tenth anniversary
  9. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic Cooperation Needed on Green Exports and Funding
  10. Mission of China to the EUPremier Li Confirms China Will Continue to Open Up
  11. European Jewish CongressCalls on Brussels University to Revoke Decision to Honour Ken Loach
  12. Sustainable Energy Week 2018"Lead the Clean Energy Transition"- Register and Join Us in Brussels from 5 to 7 May

Latest News

  1. Zuckerberg and Trump top the EU's agenda This WEEK
  2. Integration of Syrian refugees in Europe needs scrutiny
  3. Bulgarian PM: No asylum reform without stronger border
  4. Eight countries to miss EU data protection deadline
  5. Italian populists to defy EU debt rules
  6. Commission 'playing tricks' with EU budget figures
  7. How France escaped EU legal action over chemical ban
  8. 'Connectivity' trumps enlargement at Balkans summit

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. EU Green Week 2018Green Cities for a Greener Future. Join the Debate in Brussels from 22 to 24 May
  2. Nordic Council of Ministers12 Recommendations for Nordic Leadership on Climate and Environment
  3. Macedonian Human Rights MovementOxford Professor Calls for an End to the Anti-Macedonian Name Negotiations
  4. ACCAPeople Who Speak-Up Should Feel Safe to Do So
  5. Mission of China to the EUProgress on China-EU Cooperation
  6. Nordic Council of MinistersWorld's Energy Ministers to Meet in Oresund in May to Discuss Green Energy
  7. ILGA EuropeParabéns! Portugal Votes to Respect the Rights of Trans and Intersex People
  8. Mission of China to the EUJobs, Energy, Steel: Government Work Report Sets China's Targets
  9. European Jewish CongressKantor Center Annual Report on Antisemitism Worldwide - The Year the Mask Came Off
  10. UNICEFCalls for the Protection of Children in the Gaza Strip
  11. Mission of China to the EUForeign Minister Wang Yi Highlights Importance of China-EU Relations
  12. Nordic Council of MinistersImmigration and Integration in the Nordic Region - Getting the Facts Straight