Russia/Belarus politics: Quick View - Lukashenka goes to Brussels

Content Type
Country Data and Maps
Institution
Economist Intelligence Unit
Abstract
No abstract is available.
Topic
International Relations, Politics, News Analysis, Forecast
Political Geography
Russia, Belarus

Event

On October 9th Belarusian state media announced that Alyaksandar Lukashenka, the Belarusian president, had received an invitation to the EU's Eastern Partnership summit, which will take place in Brussels, the Belgian capital, on November 24th.

Analysis

In March police cracked down violently on protests and arrested a large number of activists. With Western governments condemning this violent response, the prospect of an improvement in foreign relations with the EU-carefully planned since 2015 to secure much needed external financing-seemed to have disappeared.

It is therefore significant that the Belarusian president was invited to Brussels for the summit so quickly after such events. Alongside Armenia, Azerbaijan, Georgia, Moldova and Ukraine, Belarus is a member of the Eastern Partnership, an association of former Soviet countries that have expressed a desire to join the EU over the long term, after they have converged towards European standards. Such a pragmatic move from the EU has two explanations, both related to Russia. First, the EU wants to encourage Belarus's current rapprochement with Poland (300,000 ethnic Poles live in Belarus) and, even more importantly, with Ukraine and Moldova. In July Igor Dodon, the president of Moldova, visited Belarus and held talks with Mr Lukashenka. A few days afterwards, Mr Lukashenka visited Ukraine, in a friendly gesture towards a country at odds with Russia, Belarus's traditional purveyor of financial support. Second, the EU wants to send a clear message to Russia, with which it has had a difficult relationship since the annexation of Crimea in 2014, that east European countries are no longer irrevocably part of Russia's backyard.

From the Belarusian viewpoint, such a visit holds at least three advantages. First, Mr Lukashenka will use this opportunity to boost his reputation, both domestically and internationally, and will aim at normalising his country's image away from that of "the last European dictatorship". Second, Mr Lukashenka will aim to restore ties with the EU-which lifted its sanctions on Belarusian individuals in 2016-in the unrealistic hope of securing a visa-free agreement. Third, Mr Lukashenka will aim to present himself as an unavoidable negotiating power in solving the conflict between Ukraine and Russian-backed rebels in eastern Ukraine.

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