Phillip Gordon to visit Belarus on Friday
As the proverb goes, guests bring joy twice: when they come and when they go. The increasing frequency of Western visitors to the Belarusian capital is a positive sign that its isolation is coming to an end, but Alyaksandr Lukashenka surely sighs with relief when the outsiders leave. Luckily, Western officials never stay for long; they drop by Minsk on their way to states with larger arsenals and oil resources. Of course, some were forced to prolong their visit – like Emanuel Zeltser, a US lawyer charged with industrial espionage. Those are important because their fellow countrymen usually come to the rescue. Others were impelled to depart sooner than they expected, like the staff of the US embassy in Minsk.
This Friday, the Assistant Secretary of State for European and Eurasian Affairs Phillip Gordon plans to meet top government officials as well as the opposition leaders during his one-day trip to the Belarusian capital. He will be the highest US official to visit Minsk since US Ambassador Karen Stewart’s forced departure in March 2008. The way for Gordon was paved by the earlier visits of EU Foreign Policy chief Javier Solana (February 2009) and a US congressional delegation (June 2009). A Senior Fellow for US Foreign Policy at the Brookings Institution, in Washington, DC, Gordon was appointed to replace Assistant Secretary Daniel Fried.
The first move of the Obama administration toward Belarus was a one-year extension of the US national emergency act on June 12, 2009, which blocks the property of certain “persons undermining democratic processes.” This time, however, the Belarusian government didn’t do anything drastic to protest. Perhaps Minsk realized that another hostile act would effectively end the relationship between the two countries, or maybe the need for loans during the global economic crisis taught it a lesson in diplomacy.
Two Letters to Obama with One Subject: Russia
Last July, a number of European leaders, signed an open letter to Obama urging a more active and principle-driven role of the United States in Europe. Vaclav Havel, Lech Valensa and other former European presidents were worried about what they called the Russia’s creeping intimidation and influence-peddling in the region.
Recalling the “realism” of Yalta conference which divided Europe for decades, the authors praised the US role during the Cold War and in opening the doors of NATO. In their opinion, role of the United States was crucial in NATO enlargement and the realization of the idea of united and free Europe at peace. The European leaders called for renaissance and strengthening of the role of NATO, creation of a special program for young leaders, relaxation of the U.S. visa regime and promotion of Europe’s energy independence from Russia.
This week a similar letter was written from Belarus. Stanislau Shushkevich, the first Head of State of Belarus, and Ivonka Survila, President of the Rada of Belarus Democratic Republic-in-Exile, expressed concerns about Russia’s economic and political pressure in their letter to President Obama. The authors called the United States to create an initiative similar to EU’s Eastern Partnership, which would include the countries of the former Soviet Union into transatlantic cooperation.
Below is the text of the open letter from Belarus.
On July 16, 2009, the Polish newspaper Gazeta Wyborcza published an open letter to the administration of President Obama raising crucial issues pertaining to the Euroatlantic partnership. It was signed by some 22 foreign policy and security elites from the newer NATO and EU members-—self-styled Central and Eastern European (CEE) intellectuals. Whether implicitly or explicitly, all the matters they touched on concern the dynamics of current and likely future events in their region of Europe vis-a-vis Russia. Their call for a reengaged, collaborative United States as a true partner with Europe in addressing concerns of the region was eloquent, accurate, and most timely.
Regrettably their letter omitted input, or at least signatures, of their counterparts from those Eastern European slates which unfortunately do not at present enjoy the luxury (and security guarantees) of NATO and EU membership—Armenia, Azerbaijan, Belarus, Georgia, Moldova, and Ukraine. Not coincidentally, they are the ones closest to Russia in Europe and the ones, in the cases of Belarus and Ukraine, having had by far the longest experience with Soviet Russian communism. That experience is of particularly crucial value now in the context of evolving developments and trends.
All the issues raised by the authors of the Open Letter published in Gazeta Wyborcza — and many, many more – apply even more vitally to these countries. Last year’s Russo-Georgian conflict is no doubt the most graphic demonstration, but hardly the only one.
Moscow’s economic blackmail, most recently, of Belarus, Moldova and Ukraine to force them into the Kremlin’s revisionist line of post-Soviet spheres of influence is a less publicized but no less real threat to their future. Periodic energy blackmail by Russia of all of six of these countries became the norm in this first decade of the 21 st century.
Through its long domination by, first, Russia and then the Soviet Union our homeland of Belarus is a special case and needs special attention. We discern that the present “constellation of forces” — economic, political, security—may be propitious for bringing about that “change we can believe in” which your administration has enunciated and which has captured the imagination of people everywhere.
With most welcome wisdom, the European Union has responded to evolving realities in Eastern Europe, notably, through its Eastern Partnership initiative. Now we call on the United States to join in with equal vision and vigor. For all the reasons pointed out by the signers of the July 16 Open Letter from their vantage point in NATO and EU member countries, we too call on the United States to carpe diem. Please engage with us and with our NATO and EU friends from Central and Eastern Europe. We have much to offer from our perspective outside these organizations. And our needs ace ever so great. We look to America, just as we look to Europe, for the wisdom and spirit these times demand.