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Belarus: Sanctions Seem to Work

Facing the threat of serious economic sanctions and a financial crisis, the Belarusian regime last week changed its approach to political prisoners.

The state’s prosecution has started to soften its charges and, therefore, possible punishments, for several political prisoners. On...


The regime acts quite logically given the critical situation in the financial system of Belarus. The devaluation of the Belarusian rouble seems almost inevitable now. The population of Belarus will see its living standards fall. The population’s loyalty to the government will also fall, respectively.

The few foreign investors who already had the bad luck of investing in Belarus are reported to be now withdrawing their money. The current financial problems have made hopes for an influx of new foreign investors, doubtful before, completely illusory. Without a significant positive signal from Belarus nobody will ever come back there again. And the best signal investors could get would only be democratisation and improved relations with other countries. Authorities need currency from whatever external sources possible. All this gives an unambiguous answer as to the feasibility of imposing economic sanctions by the West.

It may be argued that if western investors to not participate in the privatisation of Belarusian state assets, Russian investors in any case will. This may bring Belarus under bigger dependence from Russia.

This, however, may be an other argument in favour of a dialogue and coordinating efforts between the West, the Belarusian opposition and Russia. Besides that, the West remains key source of cash of the Belarusian regime in any case, by buying oil refining products from the state oil company BelOil.

Also, there is the eternal dilemma of whether the population of Belarus will not be hit harder by the sanctions than the regime. Some may also question whether the liberation of political prisoners and a stop of political terror should be paid by lower living standards of people not involved in politics.

In any case, December of 2010 must once again have taught everyone that Lukashenka’s regime only responds to harsh economic dictates in a situation where it has no space to maneuver. The fact that Lukashenko has reduced the possible sentences for several political prisoners should not create an illusion of progress in the democratization of the Belarusian regime.

To the contrary, it should be a signal that economic sanctions against Belarus should be introduced immediately and in the most rigid of possible forms. The regime is indeed afraid of them. It appears that only a concrete threat of sanctions can indeed motivate it to positive action. It is now high time to demonstrate this threat.

The introduction of economic sanctions should not be the subject of negotiations between the West and Lukashenka. The subject should be the lifting of them.


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