Updated at 01:25,03-03-2021

Minsk to be reaching out to EU amid Russian-Ukrainian conflict

Tanya Korovenkova, BelaPAN

Minsk is cautious not to strain relations with Russia over its intervention in Ukraine and seeks to get as much as possible from the European Union (EU). Observers note that the West may compromise on human rights in favor of geopolitical interests.

Belarusian officials skipped an Eastern Partnership summit held in Prague on April 24 and 25 to mark the fifth anniversary of the program.

The organizers failed to ensure equal treatment, said Dzmitry Mironchyk, spokesman for the Belarusian foreign ministry, in apparent reference to their failure to invite the Belarusian leader.

Minsk ignored the summit because it did not want to subscribe to an appeal to Russia to move its troops farther away from the Russian-Ukrainian border, Yury Drakakhrust, of the RFE/RL Belarusian Service, told The Viewer.

Moscow is now very sensitive about any pro-Western moves by its allies, he adds.

Although Lukashenka is opposed to Russia’s proposal that Ukraine be transformed into a federation and has not recognized the annexation of Crimea de jure, he backs Moscow when it comes to fundamental interests.

Viktoryya Zakrewskaya, of the Belarusian Institute for Strategic Studies (BISS), says that Minsk’s decision to skip the summit was a message to the EU to pursue more reasonable and differentiated policies toward its Eastern Partners.

Minsk wants the EU to review its conditions for Belarus in return for its moderate line on Ukraine, she told The Viewer, apparently referring to Brussels demand that the Belarusian government release all imprisoned dissidents.

“The West has less room for maneuver on the issue. If it wants to continue discussions with Eastern Partnership countries, it should appreciate Lukashenka’s efforts,” she said, reflecting on officials’ thinking.

Drakakhrust notes a shift in international politics. “If the world is returning to the Cold War times, human rights and humanitarian issues take a backseat to security.”

He says that Minsk would like to receive economic assistance from the EU and maintain close ties with Russia. It wants the EU to give priority to geopolitical interests at the expense of human rights.

Belarus is important to the West, Drakakhrust says. “If Russia attacks Ukraine from the north, Minsk can forget about improved ties with the West. If not, everything is possible.”

If Lukashenka does not back Russian President Vladimir Putin directly, the West can turn a blind eye to many issues in Belarus to reach out to it, he adds. Minsk, for its turn, can make concessions to the West, for instance to release political prisoners.

“No one will love Lukashenka or invite him [Belarus] to join the EU, but the normalization of relations is possible,” he stresses.