Swedish Foreign Minister: Lukashenka Decided to Fall Down
Last week at a conference at the Polish Institute of International Affairs in Warsaw the Swedish Foreign Minister Carl Bildt made a remarkable statement. He said that Lukashenka was near his end and Moscow was not going to save the Belarusian leader. His statements on Belarus were unequivocal.
Discussing with the EU initiative of Eastern Partnership, Carl Bildt said:
It is essential that we should hold on to the principle “more for more” and “less for less” in the Eastern Partnership, I mean, when someone goes for reforms, he should have more support and opportunities, and vice versa. Speaking about “less for less”, we have an obvious example – Belarus. A person who takes decisions in Minsk chose another direction, he decided to go down, even fall down. This naturally reflected in our ability to help Belarus with reforms and to integrate it into the European community. This is a European country which has an authoritarian regime – and this cannot be combined. I think this will change – and our proposal lies on the table in Minsk. At the same time we clearly state that political prisoners and political harassment which we see at the moment are unacceptable for us.
Mr Bildt assured that the EU was not going to forget Belarus because of North African developments:
What happens in the South in a sense dominates in the sphere of European foreign policy – and it will be so for a while. Yet does it mean that our partners from the East will loose their priority status? I do not think so. Vice versa. It seems, that the European politicians will realize – how we pursue the Neighborhood policy will have a key role in our security.
According to him, the European nations will now consider applying economic sanctions against the regime in Minsk:
Targeted economic sanctions — yes. However, the main problem which Belarus is facing is a very, very big economic chaos. It wouldn’t be so bad if Belarus had investors, foreign partners, if it had been a reliable country for credits and could get money with a reasonable interest rate.
I have not to explain why the latter shall be forgotten, since who is willing to invest in Lukashenka? No one! Belarusian leadership hopes that Moscow will now rescue them. But it seems to me that Moscow is not going to do it. Probably in more distant future as well. Because no one, I would emphasize, no one wants to put his money into a ‘black hole’ which is Belarus. Neither from West, nor from the East. Soon Lukashenka will have no options – he will have to turn for help to international institutions. The US cannot help Belarus because of documents adopted there. Only the Europe will remain. And we will establish very strict conditions and will carefully watch to the government’s behavior. Belarus is in a very, very desperate economic situation. In addition, I am sure that adopting general economic sanctions first of all would affect ordinary people.
While answering further questions, Mr Bildt sounded, however, not so certain:
Some things are absolutely clear: until now everybody was mortal. And I do not believe that Lukashenka will be the first one to live eternally. Therefore, of course, the time will come when Belarus will be post-Lukashenka. I am not ready to say whether it happens tomorrow or in ten years. Yet I do know one thing, we shall be ready for that in order to help in the transit period with economic and political system reforms, and shifting to another system of values.
This statement of Swedish minister is a logical move in the context of last developments in Belarus-European relations. Belarusian government have chosen confrontational line towards the EU after December elections in Belarus, accusing some European countries of meddling in Belarusian internal affairs. On 1 April, Belarusian Foreign Ministry declared that the Eastern Partnership was loosing its attraction for the country.
The last turning point came when Lukashenka received no invitation to the summit on Chernobyl in the Ukraine attended by some high-level EU representatives. Enraged, he publicly abused the EU and Ukrainian leaderships. Until then Ukraine made its best to retain Belarus in the Eastern Partnership, for among the Ukrainian political establishment prevailed the opinion that the Partnership will have much less sense for Ukraine if Belarus goes out. After Lukashenka’s derogative remarks, the Ukraine had no reasons to save the Belarusian government anymore.
Then, on 29 April, the Polish Foreign Ministry declared that the Belarusian delegation would not take part in the Warsaw summit of the Eastern Partnership in late September. One of the pillars of Lukashenka’s strength – a policy of equilibrium between East and West – seems to be crumbling.
Victory Day Celebrations and Political Trials in Belarus
While independent press covers numerous political trials, unprecedented in post-Soviet history of Belarus, the official press focuses on celebrations of victory in the World War II organized by the authorities.
The state-controlled Belarus Today and Zviazda covered the Victory Day celebrations in Minsk in great detail as they did in the past. However, unlike in earlier years there was no military parade in Minsk. Economic difficulties made the government cut their expenses. Lukashenka with his sons and flowers are on front pages of Belarusian state press but state newspapers write nothing about the methods which used to make sure that people show up at the celebrations. Belarusian blogs are full of stories suggesting that thousands of employees of state enterprises were obligated to take part in the official Victory Day events.
The main story on the front page of the official Belarus Today covers events in Ukraine, not in Belarus. Anti-Soviet demonstrators in Western Ukraine clashed with those who took out to the streets to celebrate the Victory Day with red Soviet flags. As a result of these clashes, several people were injured. While Ukrainian authorities are investigating what caused the incidents and why police was so ineffective, Belarus Today was quick to blame Ukrainian President Victor Yanukovich personally. This is in line with the recent verbal attack of Belarusian president against Yanukovich who did not invite him to Chernobyl-related events in Ukraine last month.
Belarus state press traditionally uses the Victory Day celebrations for state propaganda purposes. First, the victory is supposed to show advantages of the Soviet political model, which is given the full credit for the defeat of Nazis in Europe. Second, the war effort is supposed to symbolise the struggle of Soviet people against invaders who came from the West. It very well fits the contemporary anti-Western rhetoric of Belarusian authorities. Germany and Poland were accused of staging protests which followed presidential elections last December.
Lukashenka continues to use the 11 April terrorist act to tighten control over the Belarus society. Last week he requested to strengthen labour discipline because of terrorist acts. He urged to use methods of Yuri Andropov, a Soviet leader in 1980-s who came from the KGB ranks. According to Lukashenka, because the suspect terrorists could take time off work to build their explosive devices, the discipline and ideological indoctrination of all employees in Belarus should be strengthened.
Most of headlines of independent media cover trials of those who protested against falsification of presidential elections in December 2011. The authorities allowed independent journalists and Western observers to be present at those trials but excluded some of the detainees’ relatives. Riot police officers act as witnesses in most of the trials. They claim that they were beaten by protestors who failed to abide by their lawful requests. Opposition activists, including former presidential candidates denounce the trials as political shows and point to numerous inconsistencies in charges bought against them. Judges tend to agree with prosecutors and are widely expected to find opposition activists guilty and sentence more of them to years in prison.
It is surprising that in the shadow of the ongoing political trials, Lukashenka announced at the Victory Day celebrations that he was open to cooperation with Europe. On the next day, a response to this invitation followed from Ferentz Contra, the ambassador of Hungary which took the rotating presidency of the EU in 2011. According to him, any meaningful dialogue with the Belarusian authorities will begin only after release of all political prisoners.