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EU-Belarus: relations reloaded

Politicians and experts are forecasting a new page for EU-Belarus relations, speaking about the development of partnerships and analysing possible proposals and agreements. We offer some of these opinions

Federica Mogherini, High Representative of the Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy:

There are no geopolitical reasons behind lifting sanctions against Belarus. Our decisions always reflect context and achievements, and this was true in the present decision. In deciding to cease (rather than abolish) sanctions in October, we based our judgement on the OSCE/ ODIHR final report in January [produced following observation of the Presidential elections].

Our decision to lift most sanctions does not mean that we believe Belarus’ situation has become rosy overnight. However, we believe that inspiring steps have been taken in recent years. We’d like to encourage Belarus to move further.

Critical interaction between the EU and Belarus involves ordinary people, without geopolitics or geo-strategy. This is our region. Belarus is among our eastern partners. When we see important — though limited — steps in the correct direction, we believe we must support them.

Kirill Koktysh, Associate Professor at MGIMO Political Theory Chair:

The EU’s decision is primarily a way to save the EU’s own face. It was impossible to further assert that Belarus is a totalitarian state while stating that Ukraine has democracy. This contradiction became evident to European voters, so it was necessary to introduce changes. Minsk has been visited by Angel Merkel, François Hollande and some other top ranking European politicians and commissars, making it ridiculous to speak of isolation. Moreover, it was wise to do justice to the role which Minsk has played in settling the Ukrainian crisis. The Minsk venue is a single format which works. As regards economic consequences, some interesting situations could occur. In particular, European producers limited by sanctions against Russia can sell their produce via Belarus. Relocation of production facilities might take place, since Belarus is a member of the Eurasian Union. In this respect, European companies could preserve their access to the Russian market, rather than losing out to China. Belarus can play its role: Russia and the EU will benefit as a result — at least, regarding the preservation of existing ties and turnover.

Natalia Makushina, DW (Deutsche Welle) reporter:

Brussels’ choice is based on geopolitics. Calm in the Eastern region is vital for Europe now and Belarus is not a hot spot (unlike Ukraine). The country does not require as much attention as Syria and is not a major partner in resettling refugees in Europe.

After the 2008-2009 thaw, Brussels has been trying to renew relations with the Belarusian authorities, working from scratch. A package of attractive (in the view of European politicians) proposals has been prepared for Belarus, including help with economic modernisation ‘to meet interests of the Belarusian population’, experience sharing regarding conducting reform, support for joining the WTO and liberalisation of the visa regime. This appears advantageous for the future of all Belarus. However, Belarusian leaders also have their own goals, which are no less important.
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