March 5, 2012
The week of February 27th to March 3rd is likely to write history in the short annals of European diplomacy. For the first time, the EU has played tit for tat with Belarus, its annoying Eastern neighbour country that excels above all by its authoritarian, repressive regime.
On February 28th the EU foreign ministers condemned once again the level of repression and decided upon a new set of sanctions against officials responsible for acts of democratic and human rights repression: 21more officials were added to the “black list” of some 200 officials, who are not allowed to enter the EU and whose EU assets are frozen.
The Belarus reaction to this “intimidation” was prompt and surprising: it invited the EU and the Polish ambassadors to return to their capitals for ”consultation”. The EU responded in kind and with the same promptness by withdrawing all EU ambassadors for consultation.
Belarus got surprising support from Russia: Prime Minister Putin personally criticised the -very mild – EU sanctions as a step towards “intervention”. In fact, Putin should be more than happy about any further estrangement between EU and Belarus. It will bring him closer to his objective of making Belarus an integral part of the Russian-dominated economic union with Kazakhstan.
The strong Russian interest in Belarus defines the limits of EU foreign policy towards the country. The EU has no interest in seeing Belarus slip under complete Russian domination. Since its independence in 1992 Belarus has served as a convenient buffer between Russia and EU. The EU aims at a democratic Belarus that respects the rule of law and operates as a market economy. But it is difficult to envisage such an outcome with the present political leadership in power since 1994 (!) and unlikely to quit through the ballot box.
In the long term, the EU will more likely have to put up with Belarus becoming part of the Russian sphere of influence or even the Russian Federation unless nationalist and democratic forces will prevail.
Author : Eberhard Rhein