Who loses Belarus? – Jamestown



On October 7, the European Parliament (EP) adopted a resolution demanding that the European Union (EU) impose the fifth package of economic sanctions on Belarus, including additional sectors, such as metallurgy, woodworking and chemistry. European Parliament says sanctions should affect “all uncovered state banks and key companies such as Belaruskali [Potassium Company] and Beltelecom [Telecommunications Company]”(Zerkalo, October 7).

On October 5, one of the major Russian dailies, Komsomolskaya Pravda, which is said to be Vladimir Putin’s favorite newspaper, has closed its Belarusian branch. This happened after a journalist in this branch, Gennady Mozheiko, a Belarusian citizen, published an article in which a former classmate of Andrei Zetser shared favorable memories of him. Zeltser was an IT company associate who shot KGB officer Dmitry Fedosyuk and was later killed by retaliatory fire (GED, October 5). The article was only available on the newspaper’s site for several minutes, after which the site was blocked and the reporter arrested (DW, October 5).

These two episodes have no common denominator, but they nevertheless illustrate two contrasting ways in which two powerful neighbors of Belarus, Russia and the EU, deal with the intransigent Minsk. As for Russia, the initial response to Mozheiko’s arrest was explosive. The influential editor of Komsomolskaya PravdaVladimir Sungorkin protested, as did RT editor-in-chief Margarita Simonyan and the entire Union of Russian Journalists. Even Putin’s press secretary, Dmitry Peskov, opposed Minsk’s treatment of “press freedom”. And even. after a few days, Komsomolskaya Pravda quietly closed its Minsk branch, and the scandal has all but vanished from the forefront of public debate (Marine, October 6).

Freelance journalist Artyom Shraibman shared his take on this chain of events. Mozheiko’s arrest, he points out, is consistent with the arrest of around 200 people in conjunction with their social media posts expressing favorable attitudes towards Zeltser and denouncing “the regime”. He also observes that the Komsomolskaya Pravda exit in Belarus, a separate entity from its parent company, was a hybrid publication. On the one hand, he was quite liberal, that is, he was not beholden to the Belarusian or Russian authorities. On the other hand, he took advantage of Moscow’s protective umbrella. “Russia would react in a completely different way to such a slap in the face from any of its pro-West-oriented neighbors, be it the Baltic States, Georgia or Ukraine. But the allies, especially the authoritarians, have a lot more freedom of action, ”says Shraibman. “The Kremlin understands sovereignty as the right to establish order in its territory by whatever methods it deems appropriate, and it expects the same from allied autocrats. Therefore, there is tolerance for their actions, even when they are hostile to Russian interests ”(Carnegie.ru, October 8). Shraibman, in other words, discerns a self-limiting and nuanced approach on Moscow’s part, one that prioritizes the geopolitical aspect of national security. And if he thinks that Lukashenka risks alienating too many influential Muscovites in the long term, passing such a judgment on a politician who has already been in power for 27 years does not seem to be sagacious.

The Western approach is much less flexible than that of Russia. On October 21, the Belarusian consulate in New York will be closed as requested by the US government (Svaboda, October 11). By now, even ardent former supporters of economic sanctions among Belarusian observers have understood that, in order to achieve the protest movement’s cherished goals (fair elections and regime change), sanctions are ineffective at best and counterproductive at worst. In reality, they are making Russia too influential vis-à-vis Belarus and depriving the West of even a shred of its former influence. Concrete example: Vitaly Tsyhankou from Radio Freedom, one of the proponents of more sanctions against Belarus, shifted the debate on sanctions. Instead of showing how useful they are, he postulates whether or not Lukashenka would release political prisoners if the sanctions were lifted. And because the answer is more “no” than “yes”, why seek to lift the sanctions in the first place! (Facebook / Tsyhankou, October 6). Pavel Matsukevich, now a senior researcher at the Center of New Ideas, a Belarusian think tank made up of recent Belarusian exiles, is more blunt. In his last interview (Euroradio, October 8) and an article (New Belarus, October 8), he argues that the sanctions harm Belarusians but not the regime.

Against the background of these widespread attitudes, the European Parliament recommended further economic sanctions against Minsk. Does this mean that, unlike Russia, which would have preferred geopolitical pragmatism to questions of principle, the European institutions are doing the opposite? Not entirely. As Matsukevich shows, the EU is doing its best to cancel air travel between Baghdad and Minsk because the flow of illegal immigrants through Belarus is harming Europe. So when the EU’s immediate interest is at stake, it acts accordingly, but Belarus’ national interest is poorly served. Otherwise, the issuance of visas for Belarusians would be simplified and the ban on flights from Belavia and Western airlines to Minsk would be lifted, which would benefit ordinary Belarusians.

However, as the EU tries to stop the flow of migrants from Iraq via Belarus, it does not try to convince Iraq and other third countries, in which the EU is influential, to refrain. to send new ambassadors to Minsk, which legitimizes Aliaksandr Lukashenka, who must accept his letters of accreditation. In September, Lukashenka received letters of credence from ambassadors from nine countries; earlier, in April – from six o’clock; and in November 2020 – twelve ambassadors, including those from Israel, the Vatican, Japan and Turkey. And this is in addition to Lukashenka’s participation in CSTO and Shanghai Cooperation Organization summits and meetings with Iranian and Pakistani leaders. At this rate, by 2025, we can easily be recognized by half or even 80% of the countries in the world with which Belarus maintains diplomatic relations (183 countries), notes Matsukevich.

The inevitable conclusion is that the contrast between the approaches of Russia and the West to official Minsk does not bode well for Belarus and the West itself.


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