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Lukashenko at the crossroads

By Messenger Staff
Thursday, February 26
On April 2 the Belarus Parliament is due to debate whether to recognize the Georgian breakaway territories as independent states. So far Belarus President Lukashenko has refrained from taking this step. But predictably Russia is exercising all sorts of pressure to try and force its neighbour to commit this illegal and internationally condemned action.

If Belarus does not resist Moscow’s arm-twisting and recognizes South Ossetia and Abkhazia it will be easier for the Kremlin to apply the same or similar type of pressure on other CIS countries to try and make them support its violation of international law. But Belarus has another issue to consider. Diplomatically isolated, it is crucial for the country to find some way of coexisting with the rest of Europe. It has a chance to become one of the members of the Eastern Partnership Programme, and sees this as a priority.

Everyone knows that Czech Foreign Minister Karel Schwarzenberg has made a statement warning Belarus not to make a wrong step if it wants to cooperate with the EU. Everyone also knows that this was an implied threat to exclude Belarus from the Eastern Partnership Programme if it follows Russia’s bidding. Of course the recognition of its breakaway regions as ‘independent states’ by another country (in addition to the grand total of two who have done this so far!) would be bad for Georgia. But this step would also considerably damage Belarus’ reputation and image worldwide, undermining its chances of being accepted into any EU programme.

Russian political analyst Mikhail Remizov considers this question will force Belarus to establish its political identity. Will it chose to be a Russian ally or part of the European periphery? Remizov comments that currently Belarus is quite successfully attempting to cooperate with Europe and receive benefits from it, and has the prospect of further deeper integration with it. This situation suits the EU because the Lukashenko regime will eventually pass: it could last a maximum 10-15 years, and by then tight links will have been established between the EU and Belarus. The alternative for Belarus is the rather vague prospect of becoming a virtual Russian satellite and remaining in isolation: the price it will have to pay to go down this road is easier to understand than the benefits it might obtain by doing so.

Moscow directly insists that Belarus must make a pro-Russian decision, promising different benefits, mainly economic ones revolving around energy supply, in exchange for its loyalty. Remizov thinks that European interests will prevail, but Russian politicians think otherwise. Communist MP Anatoly Locot believes it makes no difference when Belarus recognizes the two regions, be it April or May, but it will happen.

The question of recognition or non-recognition is one small element of the confrontation between the EU and Russia, in which the latter is slowly and gradually promoting its policy, acquiring more and more influence. This will continue unless the EU elaborates a viable plan to resist Moscow’s imperialism. Maybe the EU needs a “distinguished” European leader in its ranks to counterbalance the US? If this is the plan, tell us openly, now.