Andrei Yahorau: Sanctions have no important meaning in Belarus-EU relations

Aliaksei Yurych, EuroBelarus Information Service

Now Belarus-EU relations will be developing regardless the extension of sanctions or their abolition.

On February 29 the four months during which sanctions against the official Minsk were frozen expire. On February 15 the Council of the EU will consider the “Belarusan issue”. On February 9-10 the Foreign Ministers of Visegrad countries paid an official visit to Minsk.

Have the Belarusan authorities given any basis to review the existing format of sanctions?

Andrei Yahorau, political scientist, the Director of the Center for European Transformation answered the questions of the EuroBelarus Information Service.

— What has changed in Belarus over the past four months? Is there something for the EU Council to consider?

— Nothing has changed in the country after the sanctions were frozen, but still, there is something to consider: there is deadline for the monitoring of the inner-political situation, after which concrete decisions should be taken.

Over the passed months nothing extraordinary has happened in our country — this fact should also be evaluated. The main thing that didn’t happen is that there were no mass repressions, no excesses connected with the tough violations of human rights. Human rights were violated; however, they were not particularly tough: the defendants of the “graffitists” case got huge fines, but no brutal violence was used against them, which, as we know, could be possible. This fact will, definitely, be perceived positively in Europe; however, it’s not enough for the conclusion that the situation has gotten at least somewhat better in Belarus. Absence of something particularly bad doesn’t suggest that the situation has changed to the better.

— What is the alignment of forces in the Council of EU? The representative of Latvia says that time has come to abolish sanctions against Minsk; the UN Special Rapporteur on Belarus Miklos Haraszti is convinced that the “dismal state of human rights has remained unchanged in Belarus”.

— As usually, the presence of divergence of opinions re the “Belarusan issue” is still felt in the EU.

There are countries that lobby the abolition, revision, and reduction of sanctions; these countries have close ties with Belarus and are building economic relations, for example, Latvia, Lithuania, Austria can follow the same course.

But as usually, tough critics of the situation in Belarus remain. Among them are Poland, the Netherlands, and Great Britain, who concentrate of the human rights and insist on sanctions.

Traditional “slough” is also present, which, actually, doesn’t care which party to join — the domineering or the status-quo.

The EU Council is most likely to decide on freezing the sanctions for the next six months.

— On February 9-10 the Foreign Ministers of Visegrad countries paid an official visit to Minsk. Have they been studying the inner political situation or have they had a special program of Minsk visit?

— Diplomatic visits on the eve of the significant decisions that the EU makes always have political meaning and play their role in evaluating the situation. But I don’t think that the evaluations of the Visegrad countries will be crucial, since too many parties are involved in decision-making. It’s possible to ignore Haraszti’s position or OSCE’s statement in relation to the latest facts of violations of human right; however, it will still be a position of a number of countries.

— How crucial is the decision re sanctions for the official Minsk?

— Sanctions have no important meaning in Belarus-EU relations; and, on the whole, sanctions are optional. Relations will be developing regardless of whether sanctions exist or not, bilateral relations will be developing in accordance with their own logic. Sanctions are always symbolic and are related to the real situation and real actions: if there are political prisoners in reality — sanctions are used; if there are no political prisoners — systemic process of settlement of relations is going on, i.e., no sanctions are planned. Now Belarus-EU relations will be developing regardless the decision to freeze sanctions or to abolish them.

It is illogical to abolish sanctions now — it violates the logic of the ongoing processes more than the preservation of the status-quo or the prolongation of suspension. I think that European politicians are not that crazy to make radical steps: renovation of sanctions or their complete abolition — both is absolutely silly in the existing situation. That’s why from the rational point of view only one variant remains, which hardly influences the prospect of relations.