July 1 – July 7, 2024
Belarus-West relations

Amnesty Does Not Remove the Belarusian Question from the UN Agenda; Claims from the West and China Persist

The situation has not changed
Amnesty Does Not Remove the Belarusian Question from the UN Agenda; Claims from the West and China Persist

The Lukashenka regime attempted to use the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) summit to suggest that China has no issues with Belarus, despite previous transit problems caused by Minsk for Chinese goods to Europe. Similarly, the Belarusian authorities presented the meeting with the UN Secretary-General, which was made possible by the announcement of the release of several political prisoners, as a diplomatic win. However, Lukashenka is not willing to make concessions on issues like the migration crisis and human rights, and claims against him persist from both the West and China.

During the SCO summit, which opened on July 4 in Astana, Kazakhstan, a bilateral meeting between Lukashenka and UN Secretary-General António Guterres took place at Lukashenka’s request.

According to the new Belarusian Foreign Minister Maksim Ryzhenkov, the UN Secretary-General allegedly praised the authorities for their work towards achieving the Sustainable Development Goals and had no complaints against official Minsk. Ryzhenkov claimed that most of the meeting between Guterres and Lukashenka focused on the UN’s activities in Belarus and the start of a new cycle of interaction with the organization, rather than on human rights. He suggested that there was no special case against Belarus at the UN that would justify Guterres making any claims.

However, the press release following the meeting revealed that there were indeed significant issues. The UN Secretary-General emphasized the importance of ending the war in Ukraine based on the UN Charter, international law, and respect for the territorial integrity of states. Guterres also expressed concern about the human rights situation in Belarus and hoped that the amnesty of some political prisoners would be a step towards full respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms in Belarus.

Thus, the announcement of an amnesty for some political prisoners by Lukashenka before the SCO summit seemed more like a pretext to secure a meeting with Guterres.

It appears that the questions directed at Lukashenka came not only from the UN but also from China. On July 3, the day the SCO summit began, Poland imposed a 33-hour intensive inspection of rail cargo passing through Belarus at the Małaszewicze terminal, effectively blocking the movement. Officially, Poland’s customs service stated that it was conducting “routine control measures” at the terminal to prevent the import of dangerous goods or substances into the EU. During these inspections, the contents of containers transiting through Belarus to Poland were thoroughly examined—most of the cargo was from China. This “dry port” serves as a major transit route for goods from the East to the West, including significant shipments from China. The railway route is a substantial source of revenue for Belarus.

Poland’s actions demonstrated its ability to legally block rail transit to the EU through Belarus, sending a “clear signal to Lukashenka’s regime.” Such measures could precede Poland’s introduction of navigational seals for Chinese goods transiting through Belarus. This would close Belarus’s opportunity to bypass Western sanctions. Under Chinese labels, some Belarusian goods subject to restrictions, such as plywood, are transported. According to documents, these goods come from China and are reloaded in Brest but are actually produced in Belarus.

Politically, the Polish Ministry of Foreign Affairs hoped to pressure Beijing into forcing Minsk to meet Warsaw’s demands. Earlier, Polish President Andrzej Duda even discussed the issue with Chinese President Xi Jinping during a visit to Beijing. It is possible that the leaders could have agreed on the introduction of navigational seals to track the movement of goods. If China agreed to this, all Chinese goods passing through Belarus would be monitored by Poland, making it impossible to “mix” Belarusian products under the Chinese label.

A few days before the demonstrative railway blockade, a signal was sent to Minsk through diplomatic channels: Poland no longer intends to tolerate migration pressure on its border or the imprisonment of Polish journalist and public activist Andrzej Poczobut. Belarus has not responded, although the intensity of migration pressure has decreased, likely due to the activities of Belarusian special services involved in orchestrating the migration crisis.

However, during a speech at the Palace of the Republic on June 2, Lukashenka made it clear that he would not “catch migrants” and shifted the responsibility to the West. He claimed that the West uses the migration crisis to “pressure” Belarus. The absence of Poczobut from the list of amnestied individuals also indicates that Lukashenka is not willing to make concessions to either the Polish or Chinese sides. The arguments used by Lukashenka in negotiations with Xi Jinping at the SCO summit are unlikely to have convinced the Chinese leader, even though Belarus formally became a full member of the SCO, partly due to China’s support.

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Once a week, in coordination with a group of prominent Belarusian analysts, we provide analytical commentaries on the most topical and relevant issues, including the behind-the-scenes processes occurring in Belarus. These commentaries are available in Belarusian, Russian, and English.

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