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European ambassador leaving Minsk

March 01, 2012, 14:37 UTC+3

The immediate pretext was Brussels’ expanding the list of Belarusian officials who are banned from entry to the European Union

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MOSCOW, March 1 (Itar-Tass) — On Wednesday, the European Union recalled its ambassadors from Belarus. The move climaxed a conflict between Brussels and Minsk over violent dispersal of opposition rallies after the presidential elections in the country. The immediate pretext was Brussels’ expanding the list of Belarusian officials who are banned from entry to the European Union. Moreover, the European Union threatened to impose large-scale sanctions against Belarus. In this context, Moscow does not rule out that the crisis in Belarus’ relations with the European Union would only increase its dependence on Moscow.

The conflict emerged after the European Union toughened its sanctions first imposed after the presidential polls in Belarus in December 2010, the Kommersant writes. After the elections, Belarus’ police used force to break up rallies of President Alexander Lukashenko’s opponents, many opposition leaders were jailed. The European Union then imposed visa restrictions in respect of the Belarusian president and 209 other state officials. On February 28, twenty-one more names were added to the list. The majority of these people are judges who are accused by the Belarusian opposition of making politically motivated sentences against oppositionists.

Experts say, the Kommersant stresses that the current conflict means only one thing that is President Lukashenko has no more hopes to make it up with the West. According to the founder of the Belarusian Partisan website, Pavel Sheremet, Minsk is cherishing the idea that the European Union is living though the hardest economic period and would not dare to close the border with Belarus. “Two Belarusian oil refineries are major oil suppliers to Poland and Germany,” the expert said. “According to some estimations, if Belarus stops oil supplies to these countries, fuel prices there will go up by 20 percent. But the only thing Minsk seems not to comprehend is that Europe would endure this price rise while Belarus would not be able to pay its debts already in three months.”

According to the newspaper, it would be Russia that might benefit from the conflict between Belarus and the European Union. Russia openly supported Minsk in a statement of the two presidents on the inadmissibility of sanctions against Minsk that was published on February 24. In November 2011, Lukashenko had to sell the remaining stake in Beltransgaz to Russia’s Gazprom for 2.5 billion U.S. dollars and low prices on Russian gas. And now Moscow hopes that talks will soon be launched on possible sales of other Belarusian assets to Russian companies. These assets are the Naftan and Mozyrsky oil refineries with an overall capacity of 22 million tons a year, the Belaruskaliy potash company and a number dairy plants.

Experts do not rule the current conflict has economic hidden motives, writes the Nezavisimaya Gazeta. Belarus is faced with a difficult financial situation, while Lukashenko’s chief “purse,” businessman Vladimir Peftiyev, has been stripped of a possibility to visit European countries where he has assets. According to the newspaper, Belarusian television has recently been broadcasting more and more films exposing European, to be more concrete Polish, plots against the republic. According to former chairman of the Belarusian Supreme Council Stanislav Shushkevich, this propaganda and the diplomatic war are aiming rather to distract Belarus’ people from economic problems.

What made official Minsk so nervous?, asks the Novye Izvestia newspaper. This is not the first time the European Union blacklists Belarusian officials. As of now, the black list has 200 names. Whereas earlier, it was only the foreign ministry that reacted to the sanctions, issuing blistering statements that condemned the European Union’s “non-constructive steps,” now, according to the newspaper, the visa restrictions might have been applied to businessmen close to the authorities. Such restrictions might entail big losses and wreckage of million-dollar-worth contracts with western partners.

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