Saturday

20th Apr 2019

Lukashenko's PR man sheds light on EU campaign

With EU states nearing agreement on relaxing Belarus sanctions on Monday (13 October), the man that Minsk hired to help do the job - British public relations magnate Lord Timothy Bell - tells EUobserver about unmaking the image of a dictator.

"The whole world is absolutely overwhelmed by an off-the-cuff remark by Condoleezza Rice, who as far as I know has neither met him nor been there," Lord Bell said, on the US secretary of state's 2006 bon mot - "the last dictatorship in Europe" - to describe Belarussian President Alexander Lukashenko's regime.

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

"When I go there, I mix perfectly happily with ordinary people. I see a country that has a perfectly nice atmosphere about it, people are very relaxed, people I talk to in hotels, bars and restaurants don't keep looking over their shoulder. But it's being described in the media in the way Ceausescu's Romania was described."

The Belarussian government hired the British peer - who once advised former UK Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher and today also represents anti-Kremlin exile Boris Berezovsky - in July to help persuade the EU to drop a visa ban list on Belarus top brass.

Lord Bell admits he has not made an effort to see what life is like outside central Minsk or to get to know the opposition. He also has not met with members of the nomenklatura such as Belarus KGB head Stepan Sukhorenko, implicated in some of the government's worst acts of repression.

He says he is "not a spokesman for the country," but is happy to report that "I have found them [Belarus authorities] to be very hospitable, very pleasant to be with. The media description of Belarus and its administration has absolutely no relation with reality in my experience."

Lord Bell also made light of Belarus recent parliamentary elections, in which no opposition members got in amid OSCE allegations of vote-rigging, creating a stumbling block for the EU sanctions move. "I don't think you measure the success of an election by the number of opposition candidates that are elected," he said.

The former advertising executive said he steered President Lukashenko to give two recent high-profile interviews to the Financial Times and Germany's FAZ, while praising the president's decision to be photographed at ballot boxes with his young son.

Not just about placing articles

But he said that the main part of the Belarus work of his firm - the London-based Bell Pottinger Group - is to tell Minsk and its Brussels embassy how EU decision-making works and to channel messages about Belarus to key players inside the EU institutions.

The Bell Pottinger Group's Brussels subsidiary, Bell Pottinger Public Affairs Brussels, is based in the Bastion Tower on the edge of the EU quarter. The office has just three full-time staff, but also works with subcontractors, such as Brussels PR veteran Dirk Hudig, as well as playing host to the group's visiting British personnel.

"It's nothing to do with placing articles in newspapers. It's about trying to ensure an accurate flow of information to the [European] Parliament, the [European] Commission and other key European figures," Lord Bell explained.

"We assist him [President Lukashenko] in understanding how it [the EU decision-making process] works and where

we've got useful intelligence about any particular country that's very positive or very negative."

'Delicate situation'

Lord Bell said he sees no conflict of interest in advising an anti-Kremlin figure such as Mr Berezovsky in London, while at the same time working for President Lukashenko, a former Kremlin ally who wants to maintain strong Russia ties while mending fences with the EU.

He described Belarus' foreign relations approach as an "an extremely delicate situation," however.

"They want to attract inward investment, want Belarussian people to travel freely, they would like the visa sanctions removed from their senior people so they can gain experience of other capitals," Lord Bell said. "[But] he [President Lukashenko] doesn't want to make a choice between his friends in the east and his friends in the West."

EU seeks mini-trade detente with US

EU states have agreed to open trade talks with the US in a bid to rebuild relations with their oldest partner on the world stage.

Interview

Russia divides Europe's eurosceptic parties

Divisions on how to handle Russia's "neo-imperial appetite", among other factors, are set to block Italian Matteo Salvini's dreams of a new EU league, Jan Zahradil, a leading Czech MEP and a candidate for EU commission president has said.

EU migrants sneaking into US from Mexico

Almost 1,000 Romanian nationals were caught trying to sneak into the United States in 2017, of which around half attempted to cross via Mexico. Nationals from countries like Hungary and the UK were also intercepted.

Stakeholders' Highlights

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

Latest News

  1. Romania drafts EU code on NGO migrant rescues
  2. Bulgaria, Hungary, and Malta shamed on press unfreedom
  3. EU drafts $20bn US sanctions list in aviation dispute
  4. Brunei defends stoning to death of gay men in EU letter
  5. US Democrats side with Ireland on Brexit
  6. Wifi or 5G to connect EU cars? MEPs weigh in
  7. How Brexit may harm the new EU parliament
  8. EU parliament backs whistleblower law

Stakeholders' Highlights

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

Join EUobserver

Support quality EU news

Join us