Tuesday

15th Oct 2019

Lithuania exploring 'exit strategy' for Belarus leader

EU state Lithuania and EU neighbour Georgia are working on an exit strategy for Europe's "last dictator" - Belarus president Aleksander Lukashenko - amid concern that Russian gas and oil hikes against Belarus are part of a wider process threatening the country's independence.

"I recently visited Georgia and I had a lot of discussions with our Georgian colleagues - some of them think we need to propose an exit strategy for Lukashenko," Lithuanian prime minister Gediminis Kirkilas told EUobserver in Vilnius on Friday (23 February).

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

The prime minister declined to speculate whether such an "exit strategy" could one day see Lukashenko retire to a friendly country such as Venezuela, or whether it would mean a full rapprochement with the EU starting with, say, Belarus' release of senior political prisoner Aleksander Kozulin.

"For the preparation of this strategy we have to have some informal consultation with envoys, such as a former president who can speak Russian [and go to Minsk]," Mr Kirkilas added. "Lukashenko has to take some steps [such as releasing Mr Kozulin]...but we have to work with him, to speak with him."

The prime minister explained that Belarus' conflict with Russia is "much more deep than it seems" in the context of a proposed Russia-Belarus state union that is being resisted by Minsk. "Belarus sovereignty is the main issue. Lukashenko will step down sooner or later, but to have an independent Belarus is very important [for the EU]."

Old allies Russia and Belarus fell out in January when Russia imposed gas and oil hikes set to cost Minsk $1.8 billion a year and that could push it to the edge of economic crisis, with European kremlinologists scratching their heads as to why Moscow made the move.

Russian ambassador to the EU Vladimir Chizhov recently said it is simply designed to fit in with market prices, adding that the old talks on state union are at a "relative standstill" but that all options are still on the table, including the absorption of Belarus by Russia.

Of all the EU states, Lithuania has kept the closest contacts with Minsk since EU-Belarus relations began to deteriorate in the mid-1990s, with Lukashenko and 34 of his officials currently on an EU visa ban list and with EU trade sanctions worth $530 million a year to kick in by July.

The Belarus game is being played out amid EU concern for Mr Lukashenko's mental health. The 53-year old autocratic ruler is a gifted orator and a match-fit ice hockey player. But he is wildly unpredictable in policy terms, prone to emotional outbursts and increasingly self-contradictory statements.

The prospect of Mr Lukashenko one day leading a reformed government and shaking the hands of a European Commission president in Brussels is laughable to most EU diplomats working on the Belarus dossier, while some hardline Belarus activists want him to face justice over disappeared persons.

Other candidates wanted

"We are looking for other people in the Belarus administration that we can talk to," Lithuanian foreign ministry eastern Europe director, Arunas Vinciunas, said last week. The US has also recently hinted it would prefer to work with an alternative leader from the existing government.

EU diplomacy is focussing on approaches to potential reformers at the "low and medium" levels of the Belarus government for now. Lukashenko's former EU ambassador and current foreign minister, Sergei Martynov, was once considered a reformer but lost that reputation after returning to Minsk.

Meanwhile, Mr Lukashenko seems to be grooming his eldest son, Viktor, for succession, having recently appointed him as a senior member of the country's security council and given him two assistants to underline his importance.

The president has also carried out an extensive process of derussification of the Belarusian KGB and military to reduce the risk of a Russian-led palace coup, but many Kremlin-loyal Belarus KGB and military officers remain in the system adding to Mr Lukashenko's unease.

Historically, Belarus has only been independent twice in its entire history - briefly in 1918-1919 and since 1991, with Lukashenko taking the reins in 1994. Ethnic Belarusians make up 81 percent of the 10 million-strong population, with Russians (11%), Poles (4%) and Ukrainians (2%) also forming large groups.

Belarusians recall that surrealist painter Marc Chagall, Hollywood actor Kirk Douglas (a.k.a. Issur Danielovitch) and proto-existentialist writer Fyodor Dostoyevsky have Belarusian origins. "We are not just a territory underneath a gas pipeline," Belarusian activist Natalia Koliada once told EUobserver.

EU countries to halt arms sales to Turkey

EU states have agreed to stop arms sales to Turkey over its invasion of Syria, marking a nadir in relations with their Nato ally. In response, Ankara mocked the decision as a "joke".

EU powerless in new Syrian mayhem

EU foreign ministers are meeting to find a common position on the Turkish invasion in Syria. However, events are evolving quickly, as Kurdish forces asked the Syrian army to protect them.

Turkish attack on Syria might revive Isis

The EU has told Turkey to stop its attack on Syria, but Trump seems to be less worried about the 12,000 Isis fighters walking free, saying "they will be escaping to Europe".

Borrell hard on Russia in EU hearing

The EU should continue to expand in the Western Balkans and maintain sanctions on Russia, its next foreign policy chief, Josep Borrell, has said.

Column

These are the crunch issues for the 2019-2024 EU commission

These developments will largely determine who will be running the world in the coming decades and perhaps generations. If the Europeans can't find an answer over the five years, they will be toast. And we haven't even mentioned climate change.

Opinion

Time to pay attention to Belarus

Belarus may be hosting the European Games, but Vladimir Putin is not playing games when it comes to Belarus' independence. The West needs to get serious as well.

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. Nordic Council of MinistersBrussels welcomes Nordic culture
  2. UNESDAUNESDA appoints Nicholas Hodac as Director General
  3. UNESDASoft drinks industry co-signs Circular Plastics Alliance Declaration
  4. FEANIEngineers Europe Advisory Group: Building the engineers of the future
  5. Nordic Council of MinistersNew programme studies infectious diseases and antibiotic resistance
  6. UNESDAUNESDA reduces added sugars 11.9% between 2015-2017
  7. International Partnership for Human RightsEU-Uzbekistan Human Rights Dialogue: EU to raise key fundamental rights issues
  8. Nordic Council of MinistersNo evidence that social media are harmful to young people
  9. Nordic Council of MinistersCanada to host the joint Nordic cultural initiative 2021
  10. Vote for the EU Sutainable Energy AwardsCast your vote for your favourite EUSEW Award finalist. You choose the winner of 2019 Citizen’s Award.
  11. Nordic Council of MinistersEducation gets refugees into work
  12. Counter BalanceSign the petition to help reform the EU’s Bank

Latest News

  1. EU countries to halt arms sales to Turkey
  2. Nine Catalan separatist leaders given long jail terms
  3. Poland's right-wing ruler wins four more years
  4. EU powerless in new Syrian mayhem
  5. Hungarian opposition wins Budapest in blow to Orban
  6. New Dutch terror bill must not target aid workers
  7. EU proposes pesticide ban, but key documents still secret
  8. Brexit nail-biter and EU nominations This WEEK

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. UNICEFChild rights organisations encourage candidates for EU elections to become Child Rights Champions
  2. UNESDAUNESDA Outlines 2019-2024 Aspirations: Sustainability, Responsibility, Competitiveness
  3. Counter BalanceRecord citizens’ input to EU bank’s consultation calls on EIB to abandon fossil fuels
  4. International Partnership for Human RightsAnnual EU-Turkmenistan Human Rights Dialogue takes place in Ashgabat
  5. Nordic Council of MinistersNew campaign: spot, capture and share Traces of North
  6. Nordic Council of MinistersLeading Nordic candidates go head-to-head in EU election debate
  7. Nordic Council of MinistersNew Secretary General: Nordic co-operation must benefit everybody
  8. Platform for Peace and JusticeMEP Kati Piri: “Our red line on Turkey has been crossed”
  9. UNICEF2018 deadliest year yet for children in Syria as war enters 9th year
  10. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic commitment to driving global gender equality
  11. International Partnership for Human RightsMeet your defender: Rasul Jafarov leading human rights defender from Azerbaijan
  12. UNICEFUNICEF Hosts MEPs in Jordan Ahead of Brussels Conference on the Future of Syria

Join EUobserver

Support quality EU news

Join us