Updated at 18:18,16-07-2018

Dialogue with Belarus to fail without reform, observer says

By Tanya Korovenkova, BelaPAN

Belarusian and EU diplomats have exchanged visits in an effort to iron out differences that prevent the two sides from improving relations. But a dialogue without reform in Belarus is doomed to failure, observers say.

Lithuanian Foreign Minister Linas Linkevicius conferred with Prime Minister Mikhail Myasnikovich, Foreign Minister Uladzimir Makey and opposition leaders in Minsk last week.

Brussels may shorten blacklist

Linkevicius seemed to be happy with his two-day stay in Minsk. He welcomed the release of human rights defender Ales Byalyatski as a step in a positive direction. He said he appreciated Belarus consistent position on the annexation of South Ossetia, Abkhazia and Crimea by Russia.

Linkevicius said that the EU may shorten its list of Belarusian officials targeted by travel bans and other sanctions if Minsk takes steps to address other issues and frees more dissidents.

Lithuania seeks special mission

Andrey Yeliseyew, of the Belarusian Institute for Strategic Studies, does not expect relations between Belarus and EU to improve considerably in the near future.

Further steps are possible to meet halfwayMinsk may even release more political prisoners The EU is also thinking how to format the Eastern Partnership, he told The Viewer.

The EU does not expect Minsk to side with Russia on the Russian-Ukrainian conflict and Minsk has met that expectation, Yeliseyew adds, noting that Alyaksandr Lukashenka repeatedly made statements that conflicted with Moscows view.

Lithuania seeks the role of an intermediary between the EU and Belarus, Ukraine, Russia and other East European countries, Yeliseyew says, but notes that Vilnius lacks tools on influence on those countries.

New cycle

The visit by Linkevicius marked the beginning of a new cycle in relations between Belarus and the EU, says Andrey Yahoraw, director of the Minsk-based European Transformation Center.

The sides are tired of frozen relations and are looking for new forms of cooperation, he told The Viewer, noting that the EU seeks to engage with Belarus.

Lithuania and Latviaseek to depoliticize relations with Belarus and take them to the level of pragmatic cooperation in non-political areas by making issues of democracy and human rights secondary and drawing Belarus in economic relations, investment and trade to have an opportunity to influence political and human rights issues through it, he says.

Yahoraw is skeptical about the effort, noting that it cannot work without input from Belarus pro-democracy and pro-EU political forces and without real political reform in the country.