Belarus and Europe: zero effect

Andrei Yahorau — for “The Belarusan Magazine”

From the beginning of the year, Belarus has been visited by so many formal and informal European guests, to name politicians, diplomats, government officials, experts, representatives of international organizations, that the enumeration of names and positions will take more than one page. However, the effect of this diplomatic pilgrimage vanishes.

Such a mass pilgrimage to Minsk is quite simply explained by a number of reasons.

1. Diplomatic thaw

It is due to the gradual restoration of diplomatic relations between Belarus and the EU, which has begun with the Eastern Partnership Summit In Vilnius in November 2013. From that time on, the negotiations have begun on visa facilitation and on defining possible format of bilateral relations (so-called “intermediate phase” of cooperation).

2. Geopolitics

It is due to the aggravation of geopolitical confrontation between Russia and the European Union in the Eastern Partnership region, and to the Russian aggression against Ukraine. In this conflict, Belarus balances between the parties. On the one hand, Belarus de facto plays on the Russian Federation side. It supports the negotiating position of Russia and denies its involvement in the conflict, votes against the UN resolution on territorial integrity of Ukraine, in fact recognizes the annexation of the Crimea, and recognizes Russian passports of the Crimea residents. On the other hand, Belarus does not support the Russian regime of economic blockade of Moldova and Ukraine, as well as it does not support Russia’s trade sanctions against the EU. Belarus becomes a bypass channel for a number of products from these countries, as well as for some of the EU goods in their way to the Russian market. Besides, Belarus provides negotiating platform for the settlement of the Ukrainian conflict, and it makes the best use of its peacekeeping image. Diplomacy and official rhetoric tend to emphasize the neutrality of Belarus in the Ukrainian issue, focusing on the territorial integrity of Ukraine, and emphasize good relations at large with the new Ukrainian government and the president.

3. The Eastern Partnership Summit

On the eve of the Eastern Partnership Summit in Riga in May, European diplomats and officials are trying to understand to what extent and in what issues convergence between Belarus and the EU is possible in the Eastern Partnership framework. Politically, it is necessary to determine not just the level of representation, but more, a set of regulations of the Summit's final declaration, which could be signed by Belarus.

4. Presidential election 2015 in Belarus

Elections determine the time horizon of diplomatic efforts to establish the relations; on the base of their results the EU will have to make specific decisions, either to cooperate or to return to the policy of restricting contacts. European diplomats once again make clear to the Belarusan authorities that the depth of future cooperation will depend on the situation with human rights in the country, and try to convince the Belarusan authorities to abandon the repressive policies.

Though, if the reasons for the growth of contacts with the official Minsk are clear, their effectiveness is undecided. What do European emissaries understand about the Belarusan authorities’ position? What do they generally want from the Belarusan authorities? What are they ready to do for this? In reality, what are the relations between Belarus and Russia? What really the Eurasian Union of Belarus, Kazakhstan and Russia is? What effectually the truth is and where do the Belarusan authorities pull the wool over the eyes?

I would venture to suggest that the level of understanding before and after the visits to Belarus remains approximately the same, ie, the overall impact of all these visits approaches zero.

This occurs due to the following circumstances:

a) The Belarusan regime offers a primitive formula for the cooperation;

b) The Europeans can not believe such cynicism and look for additional meanings in this behaviour, which actually miss.

The formula is as follows: the EU provides financial assistance to Belarus (through the European Investment Bank, assistance in expanding programs of the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development, assistance in obtaining the IMF loans, Eurobonds), expands economic cooperation (trade, investments, preferential treatment, quotas, the Generalized System of Preferences) and supports infrastructure projects (transport, environment, energy sector, border), assists Belarus in solving other problems (WTO, the Bologna process and higher education, public health, local government). Instead, Belarus does not do anything. That is, it does absolutely anything; it does not even fulfill common and mandatory conditions for everyone.

The conversation proceeds approximately in such mode:

— We want to get investment projects from the European Investment Bank!

— OK, we can do it, but there are some circumstances. To do this, we need a bilateral Partnership and Cooperation Agreement (or at least its temporary equivalent), and there are some items in this agreement that you do not meet. It would be nice of you to ensure greater independence of the judiciary, transparency of administrative decisions, to take some anti-corruption measures, etc. All in order, to ensure safety of our investments. And then anything might happen… Also, it would be good to ensure protection of human rights, democracy, well, at least the movement in this direction... It is just the rule here, we can’t behave in a different way, you see?

— We see! But we are in the hot seat, there is an economic crisis in the country, and Russia is close! And you know these people?! Did you see what did they do to Ukraine?! We are afraid, and in general ...

I'm afraid, regardless of the issue (the WTO, the Bologna process, sectoral cooperation) all the talks proceed in a similar logic.

“It can not be! Europeans think. It’s impossible they do not understand! Perhaps they can not reveal all the circumstances, probably Russia presses too much, perhaps they are not ready ... We must help, but just a little, we can not help much as we have common rules ...“

The bottom line of all these complex communicative transactions is a set of projects minimally acceptable by both sides, being empty, by and large. And nothing changes. And the number of emissaries’ visits to Belarus doesn’t matter, as these visits won’t add anything to the understanding of situation.

Still, what is necessary for the understanding (if we assume that it is really necessary)?

Firstly, the EU ought to want something from Belarus. And not in the logic, “Tell us what do you want and we will see what we can do”, but set tasks in regard to Belarus. Then everything will be seen in a different light.

Secondly, the EU should stop looking for answers to their questions in the communication only and mainly with the Belarusan regime. No one in the official structures can tell them the truth; functionaries do not know it themselves. The first person does know the truth; though, today the truth might be one thing, tomorrow it might change to quite another thing. All the rest of the environment catch the directions of ideological winds and curves of the political vertical line.

Thirdly, the Europeans should finally realize the complete antagonism of the Lukashenka-Putin-Nazarbayev authoritarianism, and other kinds of it, and the European model. This authoritarianism is not a transient at all and not an inevitable regime on the way to the European standard. It is an alternative regime and in a way it is no less developed and modern than European democracy.

This understanding will help to get rid of a number of illusions. It will allow to stop considering the integration initiatives, opposite in content, such as the EAEU, being familiar European forms and dreaming of their peaceful coexistence.


  • A usual circle. No sanctions, no changes

    Andrei Yahorau — for “The Belarusan Magazine”

    After the abolition of the sanctions, the EU and Minsk will further expect from each other for the steps that no one is going to take. The situation in the country will not change; only the third force can affect it. If the Belarusan civil society doesn’t become this third force, then Russia will become it.

  • Letter from Minsk

    Andrei Yahorau — for Carnegie Europe

    Strategic Europe continues the second phase of its Capitals Series exploring how EU foreign policy is viewed by six countries in Europe’s Eastern neighborhood. Carnegie Europe asked contributors from each capital to give a candid assessment of the EU’s policies toward their country, with a ranking on a scale from “miserable” to “excellent.” The spotlight is on Belarus.

  • The Year of Belarusan thinking in the Flying University

    Tatiana Vadalazhskaya, Flying University

    We publish the speech of Tatiana Vadalazhskaya, a coordinator of the Flying University, during the first session of the university seminar in the 2015-2016 academic year.

  • Academic non-freedoms

    Uladzimir Matskevich, philosopher and methodologist — for “The Belarusan Magazine”

    In order to join the Bologna process in practice, Belarus needs institutional structural changes.

  • Mikola Statkevich: a hero, a politician, a man

    Andrei Yahorau — for “The Belarusan Magazine”

    The release of political prisoners will result in improvement of Belarus’ relations with the EU and the US, but not in recognition of elections and their winner.