Updated at 11:50,16-10-2017

West has no big carrot, nor big stick for Lukashenka

By Alyaksandr Klaskowski, BelaPAN

Russia subsidizes the Lukashenka regime to consolidate Belarus as a vassal buffer state, noted participants at an international conference held in Tallinn last week. Dependence on Moscow is blamed for Belarus anachronistic government system and economic backwardness and seen as a threat to its independence. The EU could help the country advance its interests, said Kamil Klysinski of the Warsaw-based Center for Eastern Studies, noting that the country might find it difficult in the Eurasian Union side by.

Assistance from Brussels unlikely to outweigh Moscows subsidies

The Belarusian authorities want to receive investment and technologies from the EU, said Klysinski, but after the December 2010 crackdown on post-election protesters in Minsk Brussels sees the Belarusian government as an unreliable partner, he added.

He described the EUs position on Belarus as weak, noting that its proposals are unclear to Minsk. It was a mistake to expect officials to join independent experts or opposition figures at roundtable discussions in the framework of the European Dialogue on Modernization with Belarus, Klysinski said.

As the EU seeks new opportunities to restart a dialogue, Minsk raises its stakes hoping for concessions from the EU. The Belarusian leader is focused on money, but reluctant to compromise, he said.

Other conferees said that the EU cannot replace Russia as a source of subsidies and Moscows offer of support is much more attractive.


Sanctions seen with skepticism

David Kramer, executive director of Washington-based Freedom House, played up sanctions against the Lukashenka regime.

The release of Belarusian political prisoners, including Alyaksandr Kazulin, in 2008 was due to the Western sanctions, he noted. The sanctions currently in place are not effective because of the growing trade between the EU and Belarus, he said, suggesting that Brussels and Washington slap a trade embargo on Belaruskali, a potash giant.

Kramer said that Barack Obamas administration did not appear to pay enough attention to Belarus, and that Washington officials were tired of the Belarus issue.

But other participants argued that Belarus under sanctions can surrender its independence to Russia. Others said that sanctions may plunge the country into chaos that will not necessarily result in a triumph of democracy.

Kramer admitted that change in Belarus should take place from within, adding that the West seeks to level the playing field that currently gives a big edge to Lukashenka.


Boycott seen as a trap for opposition

Anais Marin, a Belarus researcher with the Finnish Institute of International Affairs, said that both the EU and the domestic opposition found themselves in Lukashenkas electoral trap.

The Belarusian ruler imposes on them useless election cycles, while the opposition wastes time on protocol, logistical and other matters and hardly has any time to communicate with voters. She suggested that the opposition should seek elections without Lukashenka.

Participants attacked Marins proposal as unrealistic, noting that it is virtually impossible to sideline Lukashenka as long as he remains in power.

Conferees criticized the idea of a boycott, stressing that it means inaction given a ban on demonstrations in Belarus. A boycott would further marginalize the opposition and discourage its potential activists from joining its ranks, critics said.

Those advocating a boycott in fact do nothing but lobby sanctions, said Yury Drakakhrust, of the RFE/RL Belarus Service.


Deadlock

Some opposition leaders who have little political weight among the electorate appeal to the West to bring democracy to Belarus.

The West has other more important issues to deal with and it is unlikely to suspend trade with Belarus. EU politicians think about their voters who are not eager to suffer financial losses in the name of a victory over the Belarusian regime.

Meanwhile, most Belarusians are apathetic and indifferent to debates over sanctions or a boycott.

It does not make any sense to boycott the 2014 local elections because the turnout limit was revoked a few years ago. Moreover, the authorities have a variety of tools to boost presidential election turnout.

If a boycott makes no sense and it is impossible to beat Lukashenka in an election because of vote rigging, where is the way out? Read what conference participants think about it in the last article of the four-story series.

The May 23-24 conference in Tallinn focuses on Belarus relations with the European Union and Russia. It brought together political analysts from a number of countries, including Belarus, Poland, Russia, and the United States.

The conference was organized by an Estonian-registered NGO called New Way for Belarus with support from the German Marshall Fund, the Estonian foreign ministry and online television channel ARU TV.