Friday

1st Mar 2024

Opinion

Time to save Belarus from Russia, again?

  • Lukashenko's foreign policy has for years consisted of playing Russia against the EU and vice versa (Photo: Amnesty International)

The economic situation in Belarus in the near future will probably force the regime to sell plenty of its most profitable enterprises to Russia.

As a consequence, Belarus will become more dependent on its eastern neighbour – not only politically but also economically.

Read and decide

Join EUobserver today

Get the EU news that really matters

Instant access to all articles — and 20 years of archives. 14-day free trial.

... or subscribe as a group

In a few years this process may be irreversible due to the current ties between the two countries (the State Union, close military co-operation, a Common Economic Space, and the increasing debt that Belarus has to pay Russia).

Representatives of the Belarusian regime will want to avoid such a scenario because for them Russian hegemony could mean the end of their power.

Paradoxically, if Russia tightens the screws it may contribute to Belarus’ dialogue with the European Union.

Therefore, the next few months are a good time for the EU to undertake negotiations with the regime and demand the release of political prisoners, especially as Belarusians want to be present at November's Eastern Partnership summit in Vilnius.

Salami-slice strategy

In recent weeks, more and more often we hear that Belarus is ready to sell its most profitable industrial enterprises.

The list is topped by the Navapolatsk Naftan refinery and Minsk Wheel Tractor Plant (MZKT). But there are others in the queue – the Minsk Automobile Plant, Grodno Azoty (a fertilizer factory) and Integral (a plant producing electronic components).

It is also well known that the Russian side is interested in buying Belaruskali (another plant that produces fertilizers) and the Mozyr petrol refinery.

Probably, Naftan will be committed in return for increased oil supplies to Belarus.

Russian companies Surgutneftegaz or Transneft are also interested in buying a recently-upgraded refinery with which they are co-operating, especially since they do not have enough of their own refineries capable of producing fuel corresponding to EU standards.

The sale of the Naftan refinery may be the easiest way to ensure Belarus will have oil supplies at low prices, but the game is also about obtaining another Russian loan.

In March this year Belarus asked for about $2 billion in credit, but its request was rejected by the Russian authorities. The Belarusians did not give up and still promise that this amount will be allocated entirely to the modernisation of its enterprises.

If Russia buys President Alexander Lukashenko's enterprises piecemeal it will mean that Belarus will deepen its dependency on its eastern neighbour.

The sales will mean the Belarusian authorities will continue to operate without plans to improve the economic situation of the country or to develop other sectors of the economy to ensure its normal operation even after the sale of its most profitable businesses.

These actions may also have social consequences. If subsidies for electricity, water and houses worsen, many Belarusians may be unable to sustain their families.

Can the West help?

The question thus arises whether the European Union and other Western countries could or should help Belarus?

The options (not just theoretical) are: another International Monetary Fund loan, this time more strongly fortified by the necessity to carry out specific modernisation reforms, or modernisation support as part of both the EU's Dialogue for Modernisation and its Eastern Partnership policy.

However, the question the EU must ask is, is it worth it?

On the one hand, it may become just another supporter of the regime, which will only prolong its duration.

On the other hand, there is still hope of initiating changes in Belarus, not only economically but also politically.

In the end, the question of how important Belarus is from a strategic point of view for the European Union must be answered.

Does the EU want a sovereign Belarus whose citizens will be able to decide their future, or is it interested in just having a stable and peaceful neighbour and border, no matter who is in power?

If the first, then the EU should develop a plan of action towards Belarus and consistently implement it.

If the second, then it is high time to revise the EU’s eastern policy.

The writer is an analyst at the Polish Institute of International Relations (Pism) in Warsaw

Disclaimer

The views expressed in this opinion piece are the author's, not those of EUobserver.

Belarus tightens grip on political prisoners

As the Nobel peace prize nominee and human rights defender Ales Bialiatski continues to languish away in a penal colony in Belarus, his compatriots in Brussels attempt to secure his freedom and those of 10 other political prisoners.

EU-Belarus trade: hands in the cookie jar

EU-Belarus oil trade has helped Lukashenko to cling on to power with billions in foreign currency. So is Brussels ready to put its money where its mouth is?

Belarus plays cat and mouse with EU

Belarus released a political prisoner Wednesday and another on Thursday. Another 11 remain behind bars as the EU prepares to review sanctions in October.

Letter

Right of Reply: The EU-ACP Samoa agreement

Portuguese S&D MEP Carlos Zorrinho, chair of the delegation to the OACPS-EU joint parliamentary assembly, responds to EUobserver's piece Energy and minerals disputes overshadow new EU-ACP pact.

The macabre saga of Navalny's corpse

With Alexei Navalny's funeral in Moscow on Friday, Vladimir Putin's regime haven't just insulted his mother and widow with their treatment of his corpse — they've breached international treaties and conventions.

Joined-up EU defence procurement on the horizon?

Disputes between member states, notably Germany, highlight the lack of coordination among national industrial capabilities for a European Defence Industrial Strategy — which may include the EU's first ever defence commissioner.

Latest News

  1. Deepfake dystopia — Russia's disinformation in Spain and Italy
  2. Putin's nuclear riposte to Macron fails to impress EU diplomats
  3. EU won't yet commit funding UN agency in Gaza amid hunger
  4. EU Commission clears Poland's access to up to €137bn EU funds
  5. Right of Reply: The EU-ACP Samoa agreement
  6. The macabre saga of Navalny's corpse
  7. Belgium braces for Flemish far-right gains, deadlock looms
  8. Podcast: Hyperlocal meets supranational

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. Nordic Council of MinistersJoin the Nordic Food Systems Takeover at COP28
  2. Nordic Council of MinistersHow women and men are affected differently by climate policy
  3. Nordic Council of MinistersArtist Jessie Kleemann at Nordic pavilion during UN climate summit COP28
  4. Nordic Council of MinistersCOP28: Gathering Nordic and global experts to put food and health on the agenda
  5. Friedrich Naumann FoundationPoems of Liberty – Call for Submission “Human Rights in Inhume War”: 250€ honorary fee for selected poems
  6. World BankWorld Bank report: How to create a future where the rewards of technology benefit all levels of society?

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. Georgia Ministry of Foreign AffairsThis autumn Europalia arts festival is all about GEORGIA!
  2. UNOPSFostering health system resilience in fragile and conflict-affected countries
  3. European Citizen's InitiativeThe European Commission launches the ‘ImagineEU’ competition for secondary school students in the EU.
  4. Nordic Council of MinistersThe Nordic Region is stepping up its efforts to reduce food waste
  5. UNOPSUNOPS begins works under EU-funded project to repair schools in Ukraine
  6. Georgia Ministry of Foreign AffairsGeorgia effectively prevents sanctions evasion against Russia – confirm EU, UK, USA

Join EUobserver

EU news that matters

Join us