Wednesday

22nd May 2019

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.

Read and decide

Join EUobserver today

Support quality EU news

Get instant access to all articles — and 18 year's of archives. 30 days free trial.

... or join as a group

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.

News in Brief

  1. Poll: Denmark set to double number of liberal MEPs
  2. European brands 'breaking' chemical safety rules
  3. Report: Merkel was lobbied to accept EU top job
  4. May struggling to get Brexit deal passed at fourth vote
  5. German MPs show interest in 'Magnitsky' sanctions
  6. CoE: Rights violations in Hungary 'must be addressed'
  7. EU affairs ministers rubber-stamp new ban on plastics
  8. Private companies campaign to boost turnout in EU poll

Analysis

EU should stop an insane US-Iran war

"If Iran wants to fight, that will be the official end of Iran. Never threaten the United States again!", US president Donald Trump tweeted on Monday (20 May).

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. Vote for the EU Sutainable Energy AwardsCast your vote for your favourite EUSEW Award finalist. You choose the winner of 2019 Citizen’s Award.
  2. Nordic Council of MinistersEducation gets refugees into work
  3. Counter BalanceSign the petition to help reform the EU’s Bank
  4. UNICEFChild rights organisations encourage candidates for EU elections to become Child Rights Champions
  5. UNESDAUNESDA Outlines 2019-2024 Aspirations: Sustainability, Responsibility, Competitiveness
  6. Counter BalanceRecord citizens’ input to EU bank’s consultation calls on EIB to abandon fossil fuels
  7. International Partnership for Human RightsAnnual EU-Turkmenistan Human Rights Dialogue takes place in Ashgabat
  8. Nordic Council of MinistersNew campaign: spot, capture and share Traces of North
  9. Nordic Council of MinistersLeading Nordic candidates go head-to-head in EU election debate
  10. Nordic Council of MinistersNew Secretary General: Nordic co-operation must benefit everybody
  11. Platform for Peace and JusticeMEP Kati Piri: “Our red line on Turkey has been crossed”
  12. UNICEF2018 deadliest year yet for children in Syria as war enters 9th year

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic commitment to driving global gender equality
  2. International Partnership for Human RightsMeet your defender: Rasul Jafarov leading human rights defender from Azerbaijan
  3. UNICEFUNICEF Hosts MEPs in Jordan Ahead of Brussels Conference on the Future of Syria
  4. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic talks on parental leave at the UN
  5. International Partnership for Human RightsTrial of Chechen prisoner of conscience and human rights activist Oyub Titiev continues.
  6. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic food policy inspires India to be a sustainable superpower
  7. Nordic Council of MinistersMilestone for Nordic-Baltic e-ID
  8. Counter BalanceEU bank urged to free itself from fossil fuels and take climate leadership
  9. Intercultural Dialogue PlatformRoundtable: Muslim Heresy and the Politics of Human Rights, Dr. Matthew J. Nelson
  10. Platform for Peace and JusticeTurkey suffering from the lack of the rule of law
  11. UNESDASoft Drinks Europe welcomes Tim Brett as its new president
  12. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic ministers take the lead in combatting climate change

Join EUobserver

Support quality EU news

Join us