Sunday

23rd Jul 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.

Thank you for reading EUobserver!

Subscribe now and get 40% off for an annual subscription. Sale ends soon.

  1. €90 per year. Use discount code EUOBS40%
  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.

Juncker: Death penalty will end Turkey's EU bid

Turkish president Erdogan said he would reinstate capital punishment, for people behind last year's failed military coup. But European Commission president Juncker says the move would end Turkey's bid to join the EU.

Cyprus talks up in the air

A week after the failure of negotiations to reunite the islands, Greek Cypriots are calling on Turkish Cypriots to reaffirm their commitment to the process.

News in Brief

  1. Polish parliament adopts controversial justice reform
  2. GMO opt-out plan unlikely to go anywhere in 2017
  3. Slovak PM threatens to boycott inferior food
  4. France takes Google's 'right to be forgotten' to EU court
  5. Turkey accuses German companies of supporting terror
  6. Israel's Netanyahu caught calling EU 'crazy'
  7. UK does not collect enough data to expel EU nationals
  8. Polish president threatens to veto justice reform

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. European Jewish CongressJean-Marie Le Pen Faces Trial for Oven Comments About Jewish Singer
  2. ACCAAnnounces Belt & Road Research at Shanghai Conference
  3. ECPAFood waste in the field can double without crop protection. #WithOrWithout #pesticides
  4. EU2017EEEstonia Allocates €1 Million to Alleviate Migratory Pressure From Libya in Italy
  5. Dialogue PlatformFethullah Gulen's Message on the Anniversary of the Coup Attempt in Turkey
  6. Martens CentreWeeding out Fake News: An Approach to Social Media Regulation
  7. European Jewish CongressEJC Concerned by Normalisation of Antisemitic Tropes in Hungary
  8. Counter BalanceOut for Summer Episode 1: How the EIB Sweeps a Development Fiasco Under the Rug
  9. CESICESI to Participate in Sectoral Social Dialogue Committee on Postal Services
  10. ILGA-EuropeMalta Keeps on Rocking: Marriage Equality on Its Way
  11. European Friends of ArmeniaEuFoA Director and MEPs Comment on the Recent Conflict Escalation in Nagorno-Karabakh
  12. EU2017EEEstonian Presidency Kicks off Youth Programme With Coding Summer School

Latest News

  1. Dutch coalition talks lengthiest in 40 years
  2. Polish parliament steps up showdown with EU
  3. EU urges UK to clarify its Brexit positions
  4. Law expert: direct EU powers have become too complicated
  5. Winter is here for Spitzenkandidat, but he'll survive
  6. Mafia money pollutes the EU economy
  7. Central Europe should be wary of Brexit stopping
  8. Poland's 'July coup' and what it means for the judiciary

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. EPSUEP Support for Corporate Tax Transparency Principle Unlikely to Pass Reality Check
  2. Counter BalanceEuropean Parliament Improves the External Investment Plan but Significant Challenges Ahead
  3. EU2017EEPM Ratas: EU Is Not Only an Idea for the 500mn People in the Bloc, It Is Their Daily Reality
  4. Nordic Council of MinistersCloser Energy Co-Operation Keeps Nordic Region on Top in Green Energy
  5. ILGA-EuropeGermany Finally Says Ja - Bundestag Votes for Marriage Equality!
  6. EPSUJapanese and European Public Sector Unions Slam JEFTA
  7. World VisionEU, Young Leaders and Civil Society Join Forces to End Violence Against Girls
  8. UNICEFNarrowing the Gaps: The Power of Investing in the Health of the Poorest Children
  9. EU2017EEEstonia to Surprise Europe With Unique Cultural Programme
  10. International Partnership for Human RightsEU-Kyrgyzstan Human Rights Talks Should Insist on Ending Reprisals Vs. Critical Voices
  11. European Free AllianceEFA Is Looking for a New Intern
  12. Malta EU 2017Conservation of Atlantic Tunas: International Measures Become EU Law