Andrei Yahorau: European window of opportunity is slowly closing, relations take form of fatigue

Piotr Kuchta, EuroBelarus Information Service

The Belarusan regime is not able to pursue a truly multi-vector policy, and the EU cannot decide what it needs in the region on the whole and from Belarus in particular.

Such opinion was expressed by Andrei Yahorau, political scientist, the head of the Center for European Transformation in his speech at the international conference “Belarus and the region”, organized by the Belarus Security Blog in Minsk.

Andrei Yahorau noted that he is speaking from the position of the pro-European orientated Belarusan civil society, interested in reforming the country according to the Western pattern:

“Undoubtedly, the bilateral aspect of cooperation between Belarus and the EU, which is on the rise now, creates new opportunities for the both parties. These opportunities appeared in 2015 after the suspension of the Western sanctions against the official Minsk, but we can count down the existence of this window from the same moment. We are in a stage when the European window of opportunity is slowly closing, and there’s very little time to change the situation,” believes Andrei Yahorau.

If we touch upon the strategy of relations with the EU, the official Minsk as always is interested in “very simple moments”, therefore “we have this never-ending seesaw: now warming, then exacerbating.”

“As for our European partner, it is much more difficult to designate a zone of interests. Belarus would be perfectly satisfied with the formula it previously used with Russia: “keep silent and pay”, but the EU is not ready for this kind of relations. At the same time, it is unclear what the intentions of the EU in the region and in Belarus in particular are. We present interest to Europe not ourselves, but rather in connection to the role and actions of Russia here,” Andrei Yahorau argued.

The head of the CET believes that “Belarus is now lucky in relations with Russia. I mean the spectrum of the relations between Russia and the EU is greater than the current cooperation between Belarus and the European Union even in the conditions of the exchanging sanctions.”

“Thus, we have some space to normalize the relations with Europe, and we can provide arguments to our comrades in the East that we also wish to cooperate with the West, on the same quality level as the relations between the EU and our partners in the Eurasian Economic Community,” underlined Andrei Yahorau.

The state of the Belarusan-Ukrainian relations did not reach the previously expected level:

“This large country could influence the situation in the region, but it failed to conduct successful reforms according to the European model. Today Belarus maintains the necessary level of trade with Ukraine. There are no “fraternal feelings” to Ukraine, pure pragmatism only,” Andrei Yahorau declared.

“The complex relations inside and outside the region make the prospects for cooperation with the European Union very vague. I believe the current format of relations, which includes a dialogue on human rights, regular meetings of the EU-Belarus Coordination Group will continue. This is quite an important format of communication, but it is of rather an advisory nature instead of a having real impact on processes and decisions. I believe that we should use the remaining time for consultations on drafting a basic Cooperation Agreement between Belarus and the EU,” Andrei Yahorau emphasized.

“For example, we could address the reform of education, establishing a different system of relations with small businesses. However right now nothing is specified, so far we see a formal dialogue, and the relations take the form of fatigue or a cautious dialogue, which further shortens the time frame for changes.”

EuroBelarus Information Service