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Belarusian oppositionists released ahead of presidential elections

August 24, 2015, 17:04 UTC+3 Alexandrova Lyudmila
Former candidate for Belarusian presidency Alexander Statkevich

Former candidate for Belarusian presidency Alexander Statkevich

© ITAR-TASS/Vadim Rymakov

MOSCOW, August 24. /TASS/. Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko’s decision to release a group of oppositionists from their imprisonment is primarily aimed at legitimizing the upcoming presidential elections and shows the desire to improve the country’s image in the West not least because of economic considerations, Russian experts say.

In turn, the West is not abandoning the hope that pro-Western politicians may come to power in Belarus in the future to refocus Belarus geopolitically and withdraw it from integration projects with Russia.

Last Saturday, on Lukashenko’s decision, the Belarusian authorities released six oppositionists recognized as political prisoners by international human rights organizations, including former candidate for Belarusian presidency Alexander Statkevich. Most analysts believe Lukashenko has made a big political move for the sake of normalizing relations with the West, which had been seeking the oppositionists’ release.

Belarus will hold presidential elections on October 11 and Lukashenko would like them to be recognized as legitimate in the West, analysts say.

Minsk’s desire to normalize the relations with Western countries as quickly as possible can be primarily explained by the country’s economic problems amid conditions when Russia can no longer support the Belarusian economy in the scope that was before.

Lukashenko "is interested in the recognition of the elections and the normalization of the relations with the West to obtain a loan from the IMF and rid Minsk of its dependence on financing exclusively from the Russian side," Kommersant business daily quoted Dmitry Bolkunets, expert at the Higher School of Economics, as saying.

Lukashenko announced on Sunday that "Belarus faces no problem of choice: to cooperate with Russia or the West." According to him, Minsk states "openly and honestly" about its desire to normalize relations with the European Union and the United States while Russia "should have no doubts about Belarus’ honesty, principled position and reliability."

The trend towards Belarus’ warmer relations with the West has been observed already in the past 18 months, Vzglyad online newspaper quoted independent Belarusian political scientist Alexander Klaskovsky as saying.

"Following the results of the October 11 elections, Minsk very much hopes to get a rather good mark and seal the trend towards the normalization of the relations," he said.

Lukashenko’s rating in Belarus is, indeed, high, Deputy Director of the Institute of CIS Countries Vladimir Zharikhin told TASS.

"Apparently, he believes that it is already possible to do without jailings. It is not ruled out that he will try to hold the elections relatively cleanly in this situation," the expert said.

Lukashenko is "a pragmatist rather than an evildoer," the expert said.

"He earlier believed that risks existed for his rule. Now he has come to believe that it is possible to do without this and it wouldn’t be bad to release them and include them in the system of managed democracy," he added.

"Lukashenko faces new elections and he needs to create a situation of the relative loyalty of external, including Western, forces," President of the Center for Political Studies Sergei Mikheyev told TASS.

"Considering the West’s intensive activity in Ukraine and how all this ended, he is trying to protect himself against risks. His decision to release oppositionists should be perceived as one of compromise steps," the expert said.

However, this should not be regarded as a radical change of vector, he added.

"This is simply a preparation for new elections for the purpose of making them legitimate," he said.

At the same time, the West’s goal is simple: to replace Lukashenko, Mikheyev said.

"They [Western countries] believe that liberalization of the political regime will sooner or later lead to Lukashenko’s replacement. And, according to their plan, this should bring pro-Western politicians to power and geopolitically reorient Belarus. Moreover, it is not Belarus but Russia that is the focus of their plans. What they are trying to do is to see whether it is possible to rupture relations between Belarus and Russia and get Belarus out of integration projects, the expert said.

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