Updated at 11:50,16-10-2017

Minsk may not reciprocate for EUs concession on Makey

By Alyaksandr Klaskowski, BelaPAN

The Foreign Affairs Council of the European Union on Monday suspended the EUs entry ban against Belarusian Foreign Minister Uladzimir Makey.

"In order to facilitate diplomatic contacts between the EU and Belarus, the Council today suspended the EU travel ban on Vladimir [Uladzimir] Makey, Belarusian Minister of Foreign Affairs," the Foreign Affairs Council says in a statement. "Mr Makey will remain on the list of persons subject to EU restrictive measures, but the visa ban will not be applied to him."

The move drew criticism from opposition leaders, but some observers played down the decision as technical. Belarusian officials may take it as a sign of weakness and start acting from the position of strength.

Technical move

Dzyanis Melyantsow, of the Belarusian Institute for Strategic Studies, says he does not see the decision as part of political bargaining, noting that the foreign minister should have an opportunity to travel to the EU.

Makey, head of Alyaksandr Lukashenkas Presidential Administration at the time, was blacklisted for his alleged involvement in human rights abuses after the December 2010 government crackdown on the opposition.

He was not in charge of repressions but he made hawkish statements, defending beatings and arrests.

Alyaksandr Lukashenka appointed him as foreign minister in August 2012 and told him to improve ties with the European Union and the United States. Under his leadership, the foreign ministry stepped up diplomatic efforts targeting EU countries considered by Minsk weaker links, in particular Lithuania and Latvia, both maintaining strong economic ties with Belarus.

Incidentally, it was Latvian Foreign Minister Edgars Rinkevics who suggested in late April that the EU should resume political dialogue with Belarus, and that Mr. Makey should be invited to take part in the meeting of the foreign ministers of Eastern Partnership participating countries due to take place in Brussels on July 22.

However, Minsk may interpret the EUs decision as a sign that the bloc is ceding ground and adopt a more aggressive policy or a wait-and-see tactics.

The Belarusian foreign ministry welcomed the decision on Makey as "a constructive step in the right direction."

EU has never taken oath of allegiance to Belarusian opposition

The move "dispels the illusion that the sanctions were introduced to the dictation of the Belarusian opposition or in cooperation with it," says Yury Drakakhrust, of the RFE/RL Belarus Service.

"The EU introduced the sanctions, paying and taking responsibility for them, introduced for its own reasons with moral considerations being one of the motives," he told The Viewer.

He defends the decision to allow the Belarusian foreign minister to travel to the EU, noting that the EU wants to discuss various issues with Makey, not only human rights.

Drakakhrust said that criticism from opponents was unfounded, noting that the EU has never taken an oath of allegiance to the Belarusian opposition

"This is a game between the EU and Lukashenka, and it is the EU who decides on the combination of sticks and carrots, taking into account various circumstances that the critics cannot even imagine," he says.

Minsk unlikely to reciprocate

The EU has kept up pressure on Minsk to release what it calls political prisoners. The decision on Makey might have been made in hope for reciprocity.

"We may now expect the Belarusian government to respond by releasing one of the political prisoners soon," Anatol Lyabedzka, chairman of the United Civic Party, told BelaPAN. "Only the release of the prisoners of conscience can somehow justify the EUs decision."

The EU decided to lift its entry ban on Makey in an attempt to secure the release of political prisoners, Lithuanian Foreign Minister Linas Linkevicius told the RFE/RL Belarus Service.

Observers expected Minsk to free some of the imprisoned opponents this spring but they overestimated the Belarusian authorities willingness to compromise. Although Minsk made small steps that could be seen as concessions it granted an entry visa to Dunja Mijatovic, the OSCE representative on freedom of the media, and hosted a seminar on the death penalty.

Earlier, Minsk made it clear that it wants the EU to extend an invitation to Lukashenka to an Eastern Partnership summit scheduled to take place in Vilnius this fall. However, it would be quite satisfied with an invitation issued to Prime Minister Mikhail Myasnikovich or Makey, says Melyantsow. The authorities are likely to drag their feet on political prisoners seeking to get as much as possible for each of them, he adds.