When Sanctions Work - The Belarus Buckle

Damon Wilson and David Kramer recently gave they account of how the United States pressure resulted in Belarus regime’s release of political prisoners. David Kramer was the key figure in George W Bush administration responsible for dealing with Belarus.

It is interesting to see different approaches of the United States with their principled stand and the Realpolitik of Germany. According to Wilson and Kramer, the German embassy in Minsk was trying to strike a deal with Belarus authorities to let Alexander Kazulin, a former Belarus presidential candidate, quietly go into voluntary exile. Kazulin rejected that offer and was subsequently released without any conditions following the US pressure.

Within two months of the asset freeze on Belneftekhim, an authoritative representative of the Lukashenka government quietly approached the U.S. Embassy in Minsk to ask what the American response would be if the regime released its political prisoners. Note that the regime approached the American embassy, not any European embassy, because it was the United States that kept ratcheting up the pressure against the government, backed up its threats when the regime continued to stall and whose political figures, from the President on down, used the bully pulpit to shine a light on authoritarianism and corruption in Belarus. Lukashenka and his cronies wanted to get out from under that bright light and free themselves from the pressure from sanctions, and the only way to do so was to release the political prisoners.

Within 48 hours of the American reply to the regime’s inquiry, the first of the prisoners was released. Most of the others soon followed. Unfortunately, the unwelcome intervention of one European Embassy in Minsk delayed the release of Kazulin, the most sensitive of the political prisoner cases. German Ambassador to Belarus Gebhardt Weiss had proposed to the Lukashenka regime that Germany take both Kazulin and his very ill wife, but Kazulin rejected this offer because he deemed it virtual exile. The intervention of Weiss, who never consulted with Kazulin before making the offer to the regime, may thus have delayed Kazulin’s release from prison. Irina Kazulina, who was too ill to travel anyway, died several weeks later after a long but courageous bout with cancer.

The full text of the article is available at American Interest Online



most politicians in Germany

most politicians in Germany are still keen to let Russia “take care” of Belarus. There are many reasons for that – historical (some instances of Realpolitik mentioned above), cultural (“Weissrussland” is just one example) and economic (think of Schröder’s current job).

One more example. I still regularly receive correspondence from German organizations with address containing ridiculous remark Belarus/Russland.

A propos, Molotov-Ribbentrop was not so bad for Belarus. On the contrary, it allowed for reunion of the nation...

Tobias, Many thanks for your


Many thanks for your comment. Of course it is not possible to have another Molotov–Ribbentrop Pact these days. No question that there are people like yourself in Germany for whom Belarus means Belarus, not white Russia (thank you for that).

But my impression is that most politicians in Germany are still keen to let Russia "take care" of Belarus. There are many reasons for that - historical (some instances of Realpolitik mentioned above), cultural ("Weissrussland" is just one example) and economic (think of Schröder's current job). Unfortunately this is how German foreign policy often looks to me as an outsider.

Other EU countries know what it means to live under Russia and as a result their foreign policy is very different.

Your generally right in your

Your generally right in your criticism towards the EU, but I find your insinuations on the Molotov–Ribbentrop Pact and partition of Rzeczpospolita are speculative and offending. I'm not sure which press you are reading, but that's not the way German politics has worked in the last thirty years or so.

Yahor, I think there is no


I think there is no coordinated EU approach towards Belarus. For example, Poland is much more bold in supporting democracy in Belarus. On the other hand, Germany seems to be more willing to accept the things as they are and let Russia play the leading role in Belarus. Perhaps these are echoes of the Molotov–Ribbentrop Pact and partitions of Rzeczpospolita.

The sanctions did make lives of ordinary Belarusians worse (particularly those who need US visas). The question is whether it is the price worth paying for release of political prisoners such as Kazulin.

Absolutely agree that it is not enough (or perhaps not necessary) to introduce sanctions. The US government should rather support civil society and electronic media in Belarus more actively. Otherwise, the sanctions look like barking up the wrong tree.

The article blows the success

The article blows the success aspect of sanctions out of proportion. The author himself admits that the situation has worsened since the release of political prisoners, that Lukashenka simply changed the tactics in oppressing the democratic opposition. Yes, there is inconsistency in European approach. Yet it is a broader issue of a coordinated EU foreign policy as a union of 27 states.

On a different note, maybe the sanctions didn't make lives of regular citizens any worse, but they definitely didn't make them any better. As a Belarus citizen I had to obtain the US student visa 3 times to complete a four-year degree in the US (given that I traveled home 3 times within that period). Most of my fellow international students had to obtain the US visa only once and could travel with no hassle. I consider this to be almost a sanction against regular citizens. I guess what I am trying to say that there is a need to do something positive for the population while punishing the government. Then sanctions would be morally justified.

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