Updated at 18:18,16-07-2018

Minsk, EU lack agenda for possible dialogue

By Valery Karbalevich, of the Stratehiya think tank,

The Council of the European Union prolonged last week its travel bans and asset freezes targeting Belarusian officials and businesses until October 31, 2014. The move came weeks before the EUs Eastern Partnership summit scheduled to take place in Vilnius later this month. In the lead up to the summit, EU politicians would like to review results and prospects of the blocks relations with post-Soviet nations.

Minsk would like to unfreeze ties with the EU without making any concessions, insisting that the EU lift all sanctions first. Belarusian officials are confident that the EU is more interested in a political thaw and have adopted a wearing-out strategy. Minsk does not think it is necessary to release the nine remaining political opponents and improve ties with the EU as long as Russia keeps heavily subsidizing Belarus (energy subsidies alone are estimated at $10 billion a year).

According to the EU Official Journal, the Council lifted its travel bans and asset freezes from 13 individuals dismissed from their posts, and five companies formerly owned by Uladzimir Peftsiyew. Thee prison administrators were added to the blacklist.

The EUs restrictive measures against the Belarusian citizens and economic entities earlier placed on the blacklist were prolonged until October 31, 2014.

A total of 232 individuals, including the Belarusian leader, are currently subject to travel bans and all of them plus 25 entities are subject to asset freezes.

As a result of the stand-off Belarus does not qualify for benefits of the EUs Eastern Partnership program.

Minsk has ignored the EUs offer to discuss visa facilitation and delayed the entry into force of local border traffic treaties with Lithuania and Poland.

The EUs incentives proved ineffective in relations with Minsk and the block has no other tools to have Belarus share European values and make some progress towards democracy.

Compared to the huge Russian subsidies, the EUs aid is quite small. This year, the EU plans to provide 600 million for six Eastern Partnership countries, according to the Swiss and Polish foreign ministers.

The EU is preoccupied with its problems and cannot compete with Russia for influence in Eastern Europe; it is not prepared to spend money on it. The EU sees Belarus as a geopolitical province. Belarus does not create any real problems such as illegal migration, ethnic, religious or other violence. To the EU, Belarus is a humanitarian challenge.

Political, ideological and diplomatic tensions have been simmering between Minsk and the EU since 1996. A thaw was observed in 2008-2010 after Moscow moved to cut subsidies to Belarus and Minsk refused to recognize Georgias breakaway territories of Abkhazia and South Ossetia as independent states. The thaw ended in the December 2010 police crackdown on protesters in Minsk.

Even if Minsk released all political prisoners, the EU does not seem to have an agenda for a new dialogue. After the 2010 crackdown EU politicians do not have any illusions about the possibility to democratize the Belarusian regime.

Minsk faces a similar challenge. Traumatized by the mass protest against his re-election in 2010, Alyaksandr Lukashenka is unlikely to experiment with political liberalization ever again.

The EU is unlikely to subsidize Belarus like Russia does in return for its geopolitical loyalty.

In other words, the release of imprisoned opposition activists would only create new problems that both sides are not prepared to deal with. So, no change should be expected in relations in the foreseeable future.