From neighbourhood to partnership
[b]In early November, Minsk was visited by Foreign Ministers Guido Westerwelle and Radosław Sikorski, of Germany and Poland [/b]Analysts noted that the visit, which followed that of the Lithuanian President, testified to a real thaw in Minsk-EU relations. On meeting the Belarusian President, Mr. Westerwelle and Mr. Sikorski underlined that the EU wishes to see Belarus as a fully-fledged partner, rather than as a mere neighbour. Naturally, Belarus desires the same.
Analysts noted that the visit, which followed that of the Lithuanian President, testified to a real thaw in Minsk-EU relations. On meeting the Belarusian President, Mr. Westerwelle and Mr. Sikorski underlined that the EU wishes to see Belarus as a fully-fledged partner, rather than as a mere neighbour. Naturally, Belarus desires the same.
On welcoming his guests, Mr. Lukashenko expressed gratitude to Poland and Germany, saying that they had done a great deal during difficult conditions — and continue to do much today, to ensure constructive relations between Belarus and the EU. “It may sound banal, but we’re very much interested in Europe,” Mr. Lukashenko explained, adding that ‘Europe also can’t do without Belarus’. According to the Belarusian leader, the potential for co-operation is yet to be fully realised, with political and economic sanctions hampering the rapid improvement of relationships. The Head of State believes that it would be wise to eradicate these methods. Speaking of the Eastern Partnership programme, Mr. Lukashenko regretted the ‘hanging about’. “Sadly, we have more hopes than realities now,” he said pitifully.
Belarus’ other message for the EU is its desire to build co-operation for the future, rather than placing 100 percent dependence on the results of the forthcoming presidential elections. “These are not our first or last elections,” stressed Mr. Lukashenko, speaking to the two foreign ministers. However, he assured them that the forthcoming political campaign ‘will meet the most democratic standards’. “Their legitimacy is more important to us than to anyone else in the world,” the Belarusian President noted. “If you wish to, you can even count votes,” he told his foreign guests.
Tackling bilateral Belarusian-German and Belarusian-Polish relations, the Belarusian leader noted, “We don’t have any bias towards Germany or Poland. We liaise closely with both.” Minsk hopes for further intensification of dialogue and ‘the materialisation of relations’ with the EU.
During the meeting at the Presidential Residence, Mr. Sikorski noted that Poland supports the economic integration of Belarus with the EU, as well as the simplification of the visa regime. He hopes that political conditions will be created to allow Belarus to take advantage of EU financial assistance. He gave Moldova as an example, which receives 2bn euros from the EU.
His German colleague, Guido Westerwelle, commented that Belarus’ invitation to a large number of international observers has been a ‘correct step’. “We’re keen to strengthen our collaboration,” he emphasised, addressing Mr. Lukashenko. He explained that co-operation should be built on principles of democracy and supremacy of law, with transparency at the forthcoming elections of primary importance for Europe. In turn, the Belarusian President assured them that Belarus will be conducting its electoral campaign completely openly, “All those wishing to visit our country prior to and during the elections will receive open access to Belarusian society.”
The meeting between Mr. Sikorski and Vladimir Makei, the Head of the Presidential Administration, tackled the strengthening of bilateral political and economic interaction, as well as the removing of barriers hampering our dialogue.
Mr. Sikorski and Mr. Westerwelle negotiated with their Belarusian colleague, Sergei Martynov. “We have the chance to improve our relations, which is something we’d like to take advantage of in future,” comments Mr. Martynov. He notes that Minsk, Warsaw and Berlin are keen to improve relations and promote further progress in a united Europe, while strengthening independence, as well as economic and energy security.
The visit by the two foreign ministers was accompanied by practical decisions. At the final briefing, Mr. Sikorski noted, “I’ve adopted a political decision, but it will also have financial repercussions. I’ve retracted my veto on Belarus’ participation in the Northern Dimension.” The latter is an international project initiated by the EU, covering Northern Europe, the Baltic States and Russia. It’s hoped that restrictions hampering fully-fledged Belarus-EU relations will soon be removed.
By Vitaly Volyanyuk
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