Wednesday

5th Oct 2022

EU to help Belarus dictator diversify income

  • Exile Natallia Radzina: 'The situation in Belarus is the same as it was in Poland in 1980' (Photo: Marco Fieber)

EU states are preparing to help Minsk reduce financial dependence on Moscow, but activists say it's a "bad idea" that'll lead to more repression.

The plan, endorsed by EU ambassadors last week, was drawn up by the EU foreign service.

Read and decide

Join EUobserver today

Become an expert on Europe

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

... or subscribe as a group

It envisages suspending visa bans and asset freezes on 171 of the 175 names on the EU's Belarus blacklist, including its authoritarian leader, Alexander Lukashanko.

The suspension, diplomats say, is to last from 31 October until 28 February, but can snap back into force at any time.

It's to be enacted at the end of the month, unless presidential elections, on Sunday (11 October), prompt fresh jailings of political opponents.

The four names to stay on the list are linked to political murders. The EU will also uphold a Belarus arms ban.

The suspension will let Lukashenko’s nomenklatura repatriate any frozen EU assets.

It will also free 14 Belarusian firms on the EU blacklist to do business in Europe.

Lukashenko’s biggest money-makers, his potash and petroleum products exporters, weren’t sanctioned in the first place.

The moves will be accompanied by financial aid.

The EU has drafted 29 economic measures, which include easier access to capital on EU markets and to loans from the European Investment Bank and the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development, an EU source said.

“The thinking is to create alternatives for Belarus in the economic field … We’re not saying it should stop cooperation with Russia, but we want to give it new options on the economic front”.

Bad idea?

The EU plan is billed as a reward for Belarus’ release, in August, of six political prisoners.

It comes amid a slump in Belarus-Russia relations and amid a geopolitical tug-of-war on the future of former Soviet states.

Lukashenko, this week, said he “doesn’t need” a proposed new Russian airforce base, which would limit his control of defence policy.

He has criticised Russia’s annexation of Crimea and its invasion of east Ukraine.

He’s also turned a blind eye to Belarusian nationalists, such as the so-called Pagonya Squad, going to fight on Ukraine's side against Russia in east Ukraine, Belarusian sources say.

The slump is due to concern that Kremlin revanchism could one day target Belarus.

But EU diplomats are under little illusion that Lukashenko will break his alliance with Russia or end internal repression.

“It’s hard to get into his head and to know what he’s thinking. But he appears to be somewhere in between, to be choosing cooperation with both sides [the West and Russia], according to who might be useful for what”, the EU source said.

“Nobody expects Belarus to become a democratic state overnight”, he added.

Belarusian activists are even less hopeful.

Natallia Radzina, who works in exile in Poland for the Charter97 NGO, called the EU move a “bad idea”.

“Lukashenko can’t go to the West because he’s too dependent on Russian oil and gas subsidies … He will build the Russian air base despite his words, because if he says No, it’ll mean the end of his regime”, she told EUobserver.

“He also can’t do it [go West] because democratic reform would end his rule”, she added.

“The sanctions move will just lead to more repression. He’ll see it as an EU carte blanche”.

Fear

Mikola Statkevich, one of the men freed in August, has called for protests in Minsk on Saturday, with between 2,000 to 5,000 people expected to come.

But Lukashenko’s re-election is a foregone conclusion.

Most opposition leaders have boycotted the vote, which, they say, will be rigged, leaving only state-picked candidates to run against him.

Opposition is also weak, Radzina said, because “people are really afraid”.

“If you challenge the government you can be jailed for five or six years. You can be beaten up in the street. You can even be killed”.

She said pro-Western feeling is kept in check by Belarusian and Russian propaganda, which monopolise media.

She noted, for instance, that Thursday's news of the Nobel prize win by Belarusian journalist Svetlana Alexievich got 23 seconds on TV, followed by three and a half minutes of material on state cultural projects.

Ray of light

Radzina said the Nobel award is a “ray of light” after “20 years of darkness” for Belarusian society, however.

“It reminds me of when [Polish writer] Czeslaw Milosz won the Nobel prize”, she said.

“It gave people some pride, at a time when they were facing a very difficult political situation. The situation in Belarus is the same as it was in Poland in 1980”.

Belarus frees prisoners ahead of elections

Belarus strongman Lukashenko pardoned six political prisoners ahead of presidential elections in October, and one day after registration for candidates closed.

Opinion

Lukashenko: no longer a troublemaker?

As EU foreign ministers discuss whether to prolong the suspension of sanctions on Alexander Lukashenko's regime, they should also think of a long-term strategy of conditional engagement.

Last-minute legal changes to Bosnian election law stir controversy

"[…] We were astonished that on election day, the high representative for Bosnia imposed significant further changes to the constitution," Austrian MEP Andreas Schieder, head of the European Parliament election observation delegation to Bosnia said on Monday.

News in Brief

  1. Russia's stand-in EU ambassador reprimanded on Ukraine
  2. France warns over incoming eighth Covid wave
  3. EU adds Anguilla, Bahamas and Turks and Caicos to tax-haven blacklist
  4. Czechs warn joint-nationality citizens in Russia on mobilisation
  5. Greece to unveil proposal for capping EU gas prices
  6. Four dead, 29 missing, after dinghy found off Canary Islands
  7. Orbán: German €200bn shield is start of 'cannibalism in EU'
  8. Lithuania expels top Russian diplomat

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. The European Association for Storage of EnergyRegister for the Energy Storage Global Conference, held in Brussels on 11-13 Oct.
  2. EFBWW – EFBH – FETBBA lot more needs to be done to better protect construction workers from asbestos
  3. European Committee of the RegionsThe 20th edition of EURegionsWeek is ready to take off. Save your spot in Brussels.
  4. UNESDA - Soft Drinks EuropeCall for EU action – SMEs in the beverage industry call for fairer access to recycled material
  5. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic prime ministers: “We will deepen co-operation on defence”
  6. EFBWW – EFBH – FETBBConstruction workers can check wages and working conditions in 36 countries

Latest News

  1. EU debates new pandemic-type loans to deal with crisis
  2. MEPs condemn EU Commission 'leniency' on Hungary
  3. Czech EU presidency wants asylum pledges to be secret
  4. European navies must stay on Suez trade routes, EU diplomats warn
  5. Macron's 'European Political Community' — how could it work?
  6. EU adopts common charger law, forces iPhone redesign
  7. Last-minute legal changes to Bosnian election law stir controversy
  8. EU wants probe into alleged war crimes by Azerbaijan

Join EUobserver

Support quality EU news

Join us