Sunday

23rd Apr 2017

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.

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.

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.

Investigation

Illicit Russian money poses threat to EU democracy

It cost €11 million to help Le Pen campaign in elections, but it cost the Russian mafia less than €100,000 to hire a former UK attorney general to lobby against EU sanctions.

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.

Stakeholders' Highlights

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

Latest News

  1. France holds nail-biting 'anti-system' vote
  2. Le Pen-Putin friendship goes back a long way
  3. Mogherini should tell Russians their rights matter
  4. Le Pens Freunde aus dem Trump Tower
  5. Sexe et mensonges: l'information russe sur l'UE
  6. Report: Post-Brexit payments, ECJ jurisdiction could last years
  7. Oxford study raises alarm on 'junk' news in France
  8. Thousands to march in defence of science

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. European Free AllianceAutonomia to Normalnosc - Poland Urged to Re-Grant Autonomy to Silesia
  2. UNICEFHitting Rock Bottom - How 2016 Became the Worst Year for #ChildrenofSyria
  3. Malta EU 2017Green Light Given for New EU Regulation to Bolster External Border Checks
  4. ACCAG20 Citizens Want 'Big Picture' Tax Policymaking, According to Global Survey
  5. Belgrade Security ForumCall for Papers: European Union as a Global Crisis Manager - Deadline 30 April
  6. European Gaming & Betting Association60 Years Rome Treaty – 60 Years Building an Internal Market
  7. Malta EU 2017New EU Rules to Prevent Terrorism and Give More Rights to Victims Approved
  8. European Jewish Congress"Extremists Still Have Ability and Motivation to Murder in Europe" Says EJC President
  9. European Gaming & Betting AssociationAudiovisual Media Services Directive to Exclude Minors from Gambling Ads
  10. ILGA-EuropeTime for a Reality Check on International Day for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination
  11. UNICEFHuman Cost to Refugee and Migrant Children Mounts Up One Year After EU-Turkey Deal
  12. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic Energy Research: How to Reach 100 Percent Renewable Energy