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Lifting Belarus sanctions element of West’s struggle with Russia over influence on Minsk

February 15, 2016, 18:41 UTC+3 Alexandrova Lyudmila
© AP Photo/Sergei Grits

MOSCOW, February 15. /TASS/. With its decision to lift sanctions on Belarus, the West formally recognizes its role in settling the Ukraine crisis but is actually struggling with Russia over influence on Minsk, which has great geopolitical significance for Moscow, Russian experts say.

The EU foreign ministers had agreed to partially lift the EU’s sanctions on Minsk. President of Belarus Alexander Lukashenko, another 170 Belarusian officials and three organizations are expected to be removed from the EU’s black list.

The Belarusian authorities have not softened any specially their attitude to the opposition in the past few years. However, Belarus’ geopolitical role in the current situation has increased. That is why, Minsk is not against receiving dividends both from the West and the East, according to experts.

A serious breakthrough is taking place in the relations between the European Union and Belarus actually frozen from 2010. As the Western media reported, citing diplomatic sources, already today the foreign ministers of the EU’s 28 member states will make a decision on cancelling most of the sanctions against Belarus. Sources in European institutions reported earlier that today "a decision is expected on lifting the sanctions against Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko and 170 other officials in Belarus." Also, as diplomats said, the EU would lift restrictions on three Belarusian organizations.

The visa sanctions against Belarus were imposed in several stages from 2002 to 2010. The most serious package of restrictions was adopted in 2010 after the presidential elections in Belarus and the authorities’ crackdown on a mass protest that followed. The blacklist against Minsk was gradually expanded until mid-2012 to include as many as 240 individuals and 32 organizations.

However, Lukashenko’s relations with the West started to improve after the Belarusian president took an active role in the attempts to resolve the situation in east Ukraine and important talks on settling the crisis in the Donbass region were held in Minsk.

Following the results of the latest presidential elections in Belarus and considering Belarus’ decision to release some political prisoners and Minsk’s mediatory role in the Ukrainian crisis settlement, the Council of the European Union made a decision on October 30, 2015 to freeze for four months the EU’s blacklist that included 170 Belarusian individuals, including President Lukashenko, and three organizations.

"It is obvious that Europe wants to enter into a dialog with the Belarusian authorities, although it has no trust for Minsk," Director of the Center for Work with Graduates at the Higher School of Economics Dmitry Bolkunets told TASS.

"Any hardly anyone, except the IMF, will give it money. But Europe has considered Minsk’s role in settling the Ukrainian crisis and, possibly, the problems that have emerged for Russia with the opening of a military base in Belarus," the expert said.

"Besides, amid the crisis in Ukraine, the war in Syria and the problem with refugees, they [Western counties] have started to pay less attention to Lukashenko who was previously called in the West as the last dictator of Europe," he added.

"The lifting of sanctions aims to tear Belarus away from Russia to offer it the same European choice that was offered to Ukraine," Professor of the Department of Political Science at Moscow State University Andrei Manoilo told TASS.

"It is not ruled out that sooner or later the Ukrainian scenario may start to be repeated in Belarus in some form," the expert said.

"Lukashenko is carrying out the multi-vector policy, which was conducted by former Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych who shortly before the demise of his regime tried to get the most preferential terms both from Russia and the West and frightened one with the other. So, Lukashenko is trying in the same way to secure the West’s loyalty and lend his support to Russia more expensively," the expert noted.

"The struggle between Russia and the West for influence over Belarus has intensified," First Vice-President of the Center for Political Technologies Alexei Makarkin told TASS.

"They are lifting the sanctions, although no big changes have occurred in Belarus. The latest presidential elections were even less competitive than the previous polls, after which the basic sanctions were imposed, and there were even fewer opposition candidates at them. The only thing that Lukashenko has done is that he has released several political prisoners. The possibilities for the opposition have not increased but the geopolitical situation has changed. The Minsk venue has turned out to be acceptable for all. If [German Chancellor Angela] Merkel and [French President Francois] Hollande come to Minsk, then it seems strange that sanctions are in effect against the host who receives them in a well-wishing manner," the expert said.

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