Crisis as Opportunity

MINSK/BERLIN (Own report) – At Berlin’s insistence, the EU foreign ministers decided, Monday, to temporarily suspend EU sanctions on Belarus, at least for the next four months. Because of the Ukrainian conflict, Minsk is confronting grave economic and foreign policy difficulties. Because of Russia’s economic crisis, Belarusian imports have been drastically reduced and Minsk is forced to seek alternate markets. President Alyaksandr Lukashenka is also worried that Russia’s overwhelming power could threaten Belarus’ independence and therefore, is actively intensifying his own foreign policy initiatives. To acquire alternate markets and maintain its independence, Minsk cannot avoid reinforcing its relations to the West. Berlin’s political establishment is closely monitoring these developments. There is an opportunity for “successfully implementing structural changes” in Belarus, as experts declared just before Sunday’s presidential elections. In the hope of weakening Minsk’s ties to Moscow and strengthening its bonds to the western hegemonic sphere, Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier made a plea for suspending the sanctions. Berlin’s political PR is ill at ease with this year’s Nobel Literature Prize laureate, Svetlana Alexievich’s warning to maintain sanctions – in conformity with EU policy until now.

Active Foreign Policy

“Belarus’ foreign policy efforts to solve the Ukrainian crisis can be seen” in the context of Minsk’s endeavors to cooperate more closely with the West, explains the DGAP analysis.[3] “The establishment of the Minsk framework as the basis of negotiations” for solving the Ukrainian conflict has “harvested two important results.” First, Lukaschenka “has domestically become more popular,” and secondly, with his mediation, “he has made his mark, internationally, for a more independent foreign policy within the sphere of CIS.” It is not for nothing that, in late April, during his visit to Georgia, the Belarusian president declared, “he would like to be the mediator between Russia and Georgia,” writes the DGAP. “Belarus seeks to pursue an active foreign policy,” concludes the author of the analysis. “The Minsk framework is the foundation of Belarus’ efforts to develop a foreign policy that radiates in more directions than solely toward Russia.”

Sense of Urgency

This is where western strategists pick up. In the German political establishment, the Belarusian government’s crisis policy is being closely monitored. “Official Minsk is, by all means, expressing its interest in normalizing relations” with the West, wrote in late 2014 the “Belarus-Analysen,” published by the University of Bremen. However, the desired “foreign policy support” for Belarus in its opposition to Russia, can “only be achieved in the case of a maximum rapprochement to the EU and the USA.” “At the moment, there is no reason” for hope, that Minsk would be prepared to go down this route.[4] In March 2015, “Belarus-Analysen” had been more optimistic. “The Belarusian mediator role in the Ukrainian conflict has enhanced perspectives of a fundamental improvement of relations between the EU and official Minsk,” the journal wrote at the time. It remains “to be seen, whether the Belarusian leadership will continue to limit itself to finding a modus for maintaining the status quo,” or whether the “pressure from reformers within the ruling elites to address the problems will be strong enough to force structural changes to be addressed … with the active participation of actors from private sectors and civil society.”[5] Immediately preceding the presidential elections, it was analyzed that even though “the regime’s willingness to undertake structural reforms, for the time being, remains limited, the objective sense of urgency, as well as the expectations of the population … have perceptibly grown.” “Conditional EU policy,” therefore has finally “regained a limited chance of success.”[6]

Change of Course

The idea that it could be tried again to break Belarus away from Russia and pull it over into the western hegemonic sphere, now prevails in Berlin. Following an EU decision last Friday, Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier suggested the possibility of a relaxation of EU sanctions, even before yesterday’s EU Foreign Ministers Meeting. Yesterday, his colleagues ruled in favor of sanctions being suspended, initially, for four months.

Full article: Crisis as Opportunity (German Foreign Policy)

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