Can the USA and the EU influence the situation in Belarus?

Putin talks Belarus future with EU leaders | DW News

Can the USA and the EU influence the situation in Belarus?

Can the USA and the EU influence the situation in Belarus?&# 160;

Experts: Western countries should continue to support democratic developments in Belarus

After more than two weeks of mass protests in Belarus against falsified election results in favor of the incumbent President Alexander Lukashenko and the use of brutal violence by the authorities against protesters, on Wednesday, August 27, Belarusian authorities again arrested at least 50 demonstrators. The prosecutor’s office of Belarus has also opened criminal cases against a number of members of the “Coordination Council”, which the opposition has set up to start a peaceful dialogue with the country’s authorities. Lukashenko refuses to dialogue with representatives of the opposition movement, accusing members of the “Coordination Council” of trying to seize power.

The United States, which has issued a number of statements, condemns the violence against the protesters, calls for the release of all detainees and the opportunity for “the people of Belarus to independently determine their future”. The US authorities agree with the protesters that the accuracy of the vote count can be questioned. At the same time, “the United States cannot and will not determine the course of events in Belarus,” said the US Deputy Secretary of State. Stephen Bigan during his visit to Lithuania on Monday 24 August. “This is the right of the Belarusian people, enshrined in the UN Universal Declaration of Human Rights, as well as in the OSCE Charter,” he added..

Stephen Bigan, however, met during his stay in Lithuania with the leader of the Belarusian opposition Svetlana Tikhanovskaya, who was forced to leave Belarus under pressure from the authorities..

As previously reported by the Russian Service "Voices of America", Stephen Bigan, the second most important American diplomat, concluded talks in Moscow with senior Russian government officials on Wednesday. His two-day visit to Moscow aimed to address differences between the United States and Russia on a range of issues, including the ongoing political crisis in Belarus and the likely poisoning of Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny..

Stephen Bigan’s visit to the Russian capital demonstrated Washington’s intensified efforts to find a peaceful solution to the crisis in Belarus, where thousands of demonstrators continue to oppose the August 9 presidential election, which, according to official figures, was won by incumbent President Alexander Lukashenko.

The leaders of the European Union also earlier agreed to impose sanctions on those involved in electoral fraud in Belarus and violence against protesters. On Thursday, August 27, the EU again discussed the introduction of sanctions, as the threat of their introduction did not affect the position of the current head of the country. The United States, for its part, did not declare its intention to impose sanctions.

The Baltic states and Poland, for their part, offered assistance in setting up a mediation mission in negotiations between the government and the opposition with the aim of a peaceful transition of power. However, in the end, the EU issued a statement of support for the creation of such a mission under the auspices of the OSCE, of which Belarus is also a member. Both the US and the EU called the country’s elections “neither free nor fair,” but they did not call directly for new elections under OSCE supervision. Both sides have also repeatedly stressed their support for the independence of Belarus, thereby opposing potential Russian interference..

President Lukashenko rejects any initiative to create an international mediation mission. If before the elections he announced interference in the internal affairs of the country and pressure from Moscow, then after the start of the protests, the incumbent head of Belarus began talking about such pressure from the West. Lukashenka also accuses NATO that the alliance is building up its military presence in Poland, Lithuania and Latvia – the three countries of the alliance bordering on Belarus. The North Atlantic Alliance denies such claims. “NATO is not building up its military forces in the region, so any attempt to use this as a pretext for repression against peaceful demonstrators is absolutely unjustified,” NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg said Thursday, August 27, after meeting with German Chancellor Angela Merkel..

Russia also states that there is pressure on Belarus from the outside, including considering the creation of an international mediation mission as such. Moscow has spoken out in support of Lukashenko’s idea of ​​holding a referendum on changing the country’s Constitution and organizing subsequent elections – a process that could take a long time.

Russian President Vladimir Putin also announced on Thursday, August 27 that Russia has formed a reserve of law enforcement officers. This was done at the request of the President of Belarus, but Russian forces will not be used until “the situation gets out of control,” the Russian president said in a TV interview with the Russian channel Russia 1..

Expert commentary

“I believe that the US needs to make it clear to Russia that Russian intervention will come at a cost,” an expert at the Institute for Foreign Policy Research in Philadelphia said in an interview with the Voice of America Russian Service. Stephen Blank (Stephen Blank, FPRI). He advocates that the US and the European Union impose sanctions on both the Lukashenka regime and on Russia if the latter resorts to military intervention. At the same time, one of the levers of Washington’s pressure on Moscow may be the threat of stopping arms control negotiations, since the latter is extremely interested in holding them, the expert said..

“From Russia’s point of view, the situation can only be resolved by keeping Lukashenka in power and turning him into a satellite of Russia,” adds Stephen Blank. – I would choose a tough position. We do not need to send troops, but we need to make it clear to Lukashenka and the Kremlin that the game is over and the Belarusian people are mature enough to choose their own government ”.

“The Russians talk about all kinds of foreign interference, which does not exist. The only foreign interference is from Moscow, “he adds..

Expert of the British analytical center “Chatham House” Cyrus Giles (Keir Giles, Chatham House) believes that although Moscow prefers to see Alexander Lukashenko as president of Belarus, it “leaves its options open.” Lukashenka’s stay in power is the least risky step for the Kremlin to maintain its influence, even if a number of opposition leaders have spoken out in favor of maintaining close relations with Russia, he said..

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Nevertheless, by accusing the opposition “Coordination Council” of anti-Russian positions, Moscow is thereby forcing the latter to refute this, notes Kir Giles. Thus, the Kremlin leaves itself with various options for action, depending on the course of events..

The British expert also believes that at the moment the opposition’s possibilities to change the situation in the country are limited, since Lukashenka still has significant support for the security apparatus. At the same time, Western countries also have limited opportunities to influence official Minsk and Moscow. Increased pressure from the United States and the European Union can only aggravate the situation, strengthening the arguments of the Lukashenka regime and Russian officials about the presence of external political influence. “At the same time, if the US and the EU make it clear to Lukashenka and Putin that they will not stand aside and observe, then this in itself is a step towards influencing the course of events,” the Chatham House expert concludes..

A similar position is shared by an analyst at the Washington-based Heritage Foundation Alexis Mracek (Alexis Mrachek, The Heritage Foundation), noting that Western countries must continue to uphold democratic principles, but increased pressure on the Lukashenka regime could worsen the situation.

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“Lukashenka may react even harder,” she says. The best solution for Western countries would be to continue the diplomatic dialogue with both Minsk and Moscow, while sanctions will not help change the situation, the expert said..

“The West definitely has leverage on Moscow,” adds Alexis Mrachek. “But I think that, in the end, Moscow will probably not listen to the West. In the past, they did not listen to the US or the European Union. “.

“The United States and European allies may have some influence on the situation in Belarus, but ultimately it is the Belarusians who must decide what their political future will be,” an analyst at the Heritage Foundation said..

Earlier, in a commentary for the Russian service of the Voice of America, a member of the Coordination Council Maria Kolesnikova noted that the people of Belarus are grateful to the United States and Europe for their support. However, now Belarusians themselves bear “responsibility for everything that happens in Belarus,” she said..

Meanwhile, opposition presidential candidate Svetlana Tikhanovskaya, according to German newspaper Die Welt, has called on German Chancellor Angela Merkel to mediate the crisis by reaching out directly to Lukashenko or the Russian president..

Former adviser to President Obama and expert at the Council on Foreign Relations, a Washington think tank Charles Kupchan (Charles Kupchan, Council on Foreign Relations) considers it unlikely that Germany will be able to influence the position of Russia.

“Putin listens to Merkel more than others … but do I think she can make a deal on Belarus? No, “he said in a comment to the Serbian service of the Voice of America..

The former adviser to President Obama also believes that the leverage of Western countries in relation to Belarus is limited, although they should be used “in words and in deeds” – to oppose the election results, use violence and support the opposition. But the key foreign player in the development of events in Belarus today is Russia, emphasizes Charles Kupchan, since President Lukashenko chose to appeal to Moscow to maintain his power, and did not enter into any dialogue with the West..

“I think that now everything depends on Putin and his decision regarding how to act in relation to Lukashenka and the protests,” the expert concludes..

  • Valeria Jegisman

    Journalist «Voices of America». Prior to that, she worked for international non-governmental organizations in Washington and London, in the Russian-language version of the Estonian daily newspaper “Postimees” and as a spokesman for the Estonian Ministry of Internal Affairs. Interests – international relations, politics, economics

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