Diplomatic relations between Belarus and the European Union have been deteriorating with the latest news of European ambassadors leaving Minsk for home. EU states have recalled their top diplomats in solidarity with Brussels and Warsaw whose envoys were kicked out by Belarus. For the EU ambassadors to return to work, condition is that Belarus will have to release and rehabilitate its political prisoners. The news has been that Belarusian regime is now preparing to ban one hundred or so leading opposition figures.
The European Union finds Belarus once again on top of its political agenda with new tit for tat measures taken against each other.
Both sides are preparing fresh countermeasures against each other, with Belarus threatening to limit the presence of EU embassies and companies operating in Belarus while the EU is preparing to add one or more Belarus oligarchs to its blacklist in March. This week’s events have a precedent in the so-called Drazdy dispute of 1998 when President Alexander Lukashenko confiscated the homes of Western diplomats.
Relations between the EU and Belarus have been varying between bad and worse. Belarus is among the few states in Europe that have not asked for membership in the European Union. Similarly, the European Union has not offered membership to Minsk. However, EU-Belarus bilateral trade has been growing. Belarus is very important for the European Union. It is the second most important country of Eastern Partnership countries after Ukraine and there is the EU’s common interest with Belarus in fighting a number of cross-border issues, such as illegal immigration, trade in drugs, etc.
The Belarusian regime’s authoritarianism is nothing new but the intensity of suppressing political opponents may reflect a growing threat of a revolutionary appeal worldwide.
Despite the importance of common interests between the EU and Belarus, the two sides have now entered a low point. What is important in these recent events is the regional pattern (Ukraine has also jailed its political opponents), as well as a growing global revolutionary zeal, such as the Arab Spring and protests in Russia, which are threatening many of the existing regimes and their privileges. We can thus expect more insecurity and paranoia among the authoritarian regimes, whether they face a real revolutionary threat or not.
Wikistrat Bottom Lines
The EU can use this opportunity to press for further sanctions against Belarus. Belarus is still quite dependent on the EU, more than the EU is dependent on Belarus.
Other regimes, such as those in Ukraine, can use the pattern of its neighbor to feel more comfortable with their own repression of political opponents. After all, it is easier to implement a policy when foreign pressure is distributed among more players. Ukraine will thus look to Belarus to prevent its own isolation.
Belarus can threaten to harm the EU by cutting off gas supply from Russia. This would hurt Russia, as well as Belarus, but Russia and Belarus might be more tolerant to such damage.
Trade between the two countries can be harmed if the two sides decide to escalate their disagreements. Belarus has already threatened to limit European business ventures in Belarus if the dispute escalates.
Russia’s relations with the EU and the outcome of Putin’s new foreign policy will have an impact on how Belarus views its security and whether it will be able to rely on Russian support in opposing the EU.
Revolutionary movements such as the Orange Revolution in Ukraine can always threaten Eastern European authoritarian regimes.
Marinko Bobic contributed to this analysis.