Getting the Travel Ban Right
Lukashenka invites the West to participate in a "tug of war" with Russia. He wants to persuade the West that Belarus is significantly strengthening cooperation with Russia, and thus push the West towards cooperating on his terms: extension of loans, development of trade and economic cooperation without significant steps towards political liberalization. Russia's generous loans, heavily discounted gas prices and imprisonment of Bialiatski are two recent steps in this game.
Despite some emotional reactions in Belarus, the new Eurasian economic integration does not mean significant changes in relations between Belarus and Russia. Lukashenka expects increased subsidies from Russia, including lower energy prices, and also improved conditions for Belarusian exports.
This blackmail against the West is successful to some extent. The West is afraid ofing push Lukashenka into the arms of Russia. However, the threats by the West to expand the list of banned Belarusian officials play into Lukashenka's hands. It is in his interests that his fortress has a larger garrison, which would defend itself to the last round.
On 14 November 2011, the EUobserver on-line periodical (Brussels) reported with a reference to information sources in EU diplomatic circles that the EU could include the Prime Minister of Belarus Mikhail Miasnikovich, the First Vice-Premier of Belarus Uladzimir Siamashka, and the Head of State Border Committee of Belarus Ihar Rachkouski on the existing visa ban list.
Moreover, it was noted by EUobserver that Lukashenka’s close business allies might find themselves on the list as well. The group of candidates consists of Triple Co. owner Yury Chyzh, head of Minsk-based machine-building plant Amkador and a member of the Council of the Republic Alyaksandr Shakutsin, Tabak-Invest cigarette plant and retail chain Karona owner Pavel Tapuzidzis, and Director General of Brest-located fish-packing plant Santa Impex Alyaksandr Mashenski.
Out of the all the heads of enterprises and businessmen mentioned in the EUobserver list, only Yury Chyzh clearly represents the interests of Lukashenka's family. He is Viktar Lukashenka’s de facto business manager.
The on-line newspaper doublestressed that a "tough reaction was almost inevitable" if human rights defender Ales Byalyatski was imprisoned as a result of a tax evasion trial.
The author underscored in the previous reports that inclusion of state officials on the visa ban list could not be regarded as a tough reaction anyway.
Taking into account that the visa ban list is among the main EU signals to Lukashenka regime, it seems to be relevant to put Lukashenka and a wide range of his supporters, involved in repressions and election frauds, on the list.
However, the broadening of visa ban list has reached a point where the measure could become counterproductive. It is necessary to take pains in order to determine carefully the people that can be included into the list.
It is absolutely irrelevant to include the First Vice-Premier Viktar Siamashka on the list. For his part, he has made a lot of efforts to develop cooperation with the West. In particular, Siamashka noted in 2009 that Belarus should initiate negotiations with the EU on creating a free market zone. At the same time, he is a consistent adversary of selling Belarusian enterprises to Russian companies as well as other steps towards real integration with the Eastern neighbour (as Russia sees it), including amalgamation of monetary systems etc.
Furthermore, this decision will do more bad than good if the Head of State Border Committee Ihar Rachkouski is included. It’s worth mentioning that Rachkouski obtained quick promotion with Viktor Lukashenka’s assistance, when around 40 senior officers from the State Border Committee with Vadzim Zaytsau at the head were appointed to high offices in KGB in July 2008. However, this fact does not create sufficient grounds for applying sanctions against Rachkouski. There is no information available about a connection between the State Border Committee leadership and repressions in Belarus.
In 2009, Rachkouski stated on his own initiative that Belarus would take retaliatory measures in response to the tightening of border control by Russia. It is also remarkable that Rachkouski often delivers his speeches in Belarusian. A developed national conscience is a rare occurance among those who are wearing uniform in Belarus.
Andrei Liakhovich is a contributing author. He directs the Center for Political Education in Minsk.