Updated at 13:48,15-08-2017

Minsk prompted to adopt wait-and-see tactics with EU

By Tanya Korovenkova, BelaPAN

The European Unions member countries are about to agree that the EUs entry ban on Belarusian Foreign Minister Uladzimir Makey should be suspended as early as June, Lithuanian Deputy Foreign Minister Andrius Krivas told reporters last week.

The ban may be lifted for Makeys term as foreign minister and he may be invited to a meeting of Eastern Partnership foreign ministers scheduled to take place in Brussels on July 22. Makey may decline the invitation though.

Vilnius summit

While speaking at a meeting of EU foreign ministers in Luxembourg in late April, Latvian Foreign Minister Edgars Rinkevics suggested that the EU should resume political dialogue with Belarus and that Makey should be invited to take part in the July 22 meeting.

"In the context of the forthcoming Eastern Partnership summit in Lithuania, it is important to hold regular discussions [with Belarus] about its possible results," Rinkevics said.

Meanwhile, EU politicians have been discussing the level of Belarus representation at an Eastern Partnership summit to be held in Vilnius in November. They may invite Makey on condition that Minsk releases and exonerates what the EU calls political prisoners.

Minsk has not yet made any steps in that direction but expects the official invitation to the summit to be addressed to Alyaksandr Lukashenka and then it will be up to Belarus to decide who should represent it, as Andrey Hiro, the Belarusian ambassador to Germany, said on May 7 during a meeting in Berlin.

Consolation prize for Lukashenka

High on the summits agenda will be association agreements with Ukraine, Moldova, Georgia and Armenia. "This is much more important for the EU than the ephemeral topic of pressure on the Belarusian regime through visa sanctions against individuals," says Yury Chavusaw, a Minsk-based political analyst.

He says that the EU would be happy to have Belarus represented by the prime minister, a deputy prime minister or the foreign minister, but Brussels does not want to see the Belarusian authoritarian leader at the summit.

The EU may offer a consolation prize to Lukashenka for not attending the event, Chavusaw says.

In 2009, the Belarusian ruler was handed an invitation to a similar Eastern Partnership event but he forwarded it to a deputy prime minister. As a consolation prize, Lukashenka was invited to visit Italy and the Vatican.

"It is difficult to say what compensation the EU can offer now. Obviously, it will not lift sanctions because the EU would lose face in that case. Other bonuses are possible, for instance its support for Belarus bid to join the WTO," says Chavusaw.

He adds that Lukashenka might be happy with a top-level meeting that could help boost his personal image.

Although Lukashenka boasts of his Europes last dictator status, isolation compromises his internal legitimacy and complicates talks with his counterparts in the East, Chavusaw says.

Lukashenka waiting to get as much as possible

Minsk has not been making any concessions to the EU to restart a dialogue, says Andrey Yahoraw, head of the European Transformation Center, a Minsk-based think tank, noting that the Belarusian authorities, on the contrary, seem to expect the EU to lift sanctions against officials and businessmen.

Chavusaw says that Minsk expects the EU to drop its demand for the release of political prisoners and adopt a strategy of engagement with Belarus, noting that EU politicians have been discussing a new approach as of late.

The EU should "take a tough position in the framework of the current strategy, not discuss possible changes to the strategy openly and publically. Many say that the ball is in the Belarusian court and Minsk should release political prisoners, but the EUs actions have prompted Minsk to take a wait-and-see approach," Chavusaw says.

Minsks tactics in relations with the EU depends on its Moscows policies and behavior, both analysts say.

Yahoraw says that Moscow is always happy to take advantage of tensions between Minsk and the EU.

Chavusaw says that Minsk gives priority to negotiations with Moscow on new customs and trade arrangements and "it is likely to continue doing so for the next few years."

Minsk uses all opportunities for horse trading with both Russia and the EU. "If Belarus trades in political prisoners in the West, it trades in sovereignty in the East," he stresses.