Freedom House: Belarus is the only “Not Free” Country in Europe
WASHINGTON — Freedom House released its country reports on freedom in the world. Belarus remains the only European country classiffied as “Not Free”.
A few former Soviet Union countries did better — Ukraine and Baltic States are regarded “Free”, while Moldova, Georgia and Kyrgystan are “Partially Free”.
Here is the summary of the report on Belarus:
Hopes that President Alyaksandr Lukashenka might loosen his grip on Belarus in 2008 proved illusory. After brutal crackdowns and additional arrests, Belarus released all of its political prisoners in August. The regime also agreed to allow international observers to monitor its September parliamentary elections. However, the monitors determined that the elections did not meet democratic standards, and no opposition members won representation, leaving them without a platform to influence political processes.
Separately, the regime passed new legislation that tightened control over the media and extended it to the internet. Relations with Russia grew increasingly tense during the year, as Moscow continued to exert pressure to obtain higher prices for its energy exports and to acquire Belarusian companies through privatization. Despite strong European Union interest in improved relations, the absence of democratic reforms in Belarus made any progress extremely difficult.
Read full text of Freedom House report on Belarus at freedomhouse.org.
New York Times: Russia’s Neighbors Resist Wooing and Bullying
Today’s New York Times argues that Russia’s policy towards the former Soviet Union republics is far from successful. Despite its own economic hardship, Moscow is trying to buy loyalty of its neighbors. But the neighbors, and Belarus in particular, only disappoint Russia. Having taken cash from Moscow, Minsk is now seek more from the West, often neglecting its pro-Russian commitments:
Belarus — which was promised $2 billion in Russian aid — is in open rebellion against the Kremlin, flaunting its preference for Europe while also collecting money from the International Monetary Fund. Uzbekistan joined Belarus in refusing to sign an agreement on the Collective Rapid Reaction Forces, an idea Moscow sees as an eventual counterweight to NATO.
Russia’s strategy for consolidating support in neighboring capitals can hardly be called a strategy. Belarus’s president, Aleksandr Lukashenko, who is avidly pursuing Western partners, has been barraged with carrots and sticks from Moscow — first promised $2 billion in Russian aid, then bitterly chastised for his economic policy, then punished with a crippling ban on the import of milk products, then rewarded by a reversal of the import ban. Russia regards Mr. Lukashenko’s truculence as a bluff.
“He is imitating a quarrel with Russia until the West demands serious changes from his regime, at which point, he will, of course, surrender,” said Parliament member Konstantin F. Zatulin, a standard-bearer for Russia’s ambitions in former Soviet space. “It’s just his greedy line of behavior.”
Read full text in New York Times.