Staunton, April 29 – Vladimir Makey, the Belarusian foreign minister, continued to distance Minsk from Moscow by saying that his country seeks a “balance” between Europe and Russia, a statement to a Prague paper that underscores the concerns of Belarus about its own fate in the wake of Moscow’s Crimean Anschluss and Minsk’s new efforts to attract Western support.
Belarusian President Alyaksandr Lukashenka sharply criticized Russia’s annexation of Crimea in comments that could not have been welcome in Moscow and would have been the basis for expanded talks and enhanced cooperation with the West had they come from anyone but a leader regularly reviled as “Europe’s last dictator.
Now Lukashenka’s foreign minister has gone beyond those comments and suggested that it is the fate of Belarus “to balance between East and West,” a remark reflecting Minsk’s hope that its position on Ukraine and the deteriorating situation in some other post-Soviet states will lead the EU specifically and the West more generally to revise its approach to Belarus.
Makey said that EU states need to recognize that there have been “definite shifts” in the political sphere and that these changes mean that the EU’s reaction to the December 2010 events in Belarus are increasingly “inadequate” and insupportable given the country’s policies, size and the situation in other countries in the region.
The EU imposed and maintains a sanctions regime against 32 Belarusian enterprises, while it has imposed only half as many against Syria and far fewer against the Russian Federation “after the well-known events in Crimea.” Governments should consider the reality that “Belarus is a small country [while] Russia is a large one.”
According to the Belarusian foreign minister, Minsk wants “to have normal ties with the European Union and with Russia simultaneously because this will yield concrete dividends” for the Belarusian people. He added that Belarus is fated “to balance between East and West” and thus must find “a mutually acceptable level of relations” with each.
Unfortunately, he continued, some Europeans do not understand this reality. With regard to the EU’s Eastern Partnership, he said, European partners “openly acknowledge that the situation in Belarus compared to several countries including those [in that program] is no worse and in many regards is even better than in these countries.”
Despite that, however, Belarus is excluded while others are included. What some EU officials say in explanation is that “Belarus is close, on our border, and therefore we are forced to double or triple our criticism” of Minsk. From a Belarusian perspective, he said, this appears to be a form of “double or even triple standards” regarding his country.
In fact, he said, in his view, “this is a present-day form of racism” and thus totally unacceptable.
Makey reiterated that Minsk finds “absolutely unacceptable” “the open support of the Belarusian opposition by countries of the European Union,” especially when the EU doesn’t do this elsewhere and especially because the events in Ukraine show where such external support can lead to. Were Lukashenka to be ousted, the situation in his country could rapidly deteriorate.
Belarus is committed to developing ties with Europe because “we live in Europe geographically” and because “we have made a very serious contribution to European stability,” by blocking the flow of illegal migrants “who via the open border with Russia” have been seeking to enter the EU.
Moreover, Makey said, if one asks Lithuania, Latvia, Poland or other countries whether Belarus has “created any territorial problems,” the answers will be not at all. And that too is something the EU and its member countries should take into account in thinking about Belarus rather than continuing to treat it as an outcast.