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September 13 – September 19, 2021
Belarus-West relations

The Belarus crisis remains under the Western spotlight as the Lukashenka regime flirts with de-escalation

The situation has not changed
The Belarus crisis remains under the Western spotlight as the Lukashenka regime flirts with de-escalation

Belarusian authorities continue to harshly criticise pressure from Western countries but also took a small step towards de-escalation by announcing the release of 13 detainees. Meanwhile, the Belarus crisis remains a focus of Western attention due to ongoing repression and the migration crisis at the EU border.

US National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan held talks with Lithuanian Prime Minister Ingrida Šimonytė, during which he condemned the Belarusian regime for orchestrating migrant flows at the border. President of the European Commission, Ursula von der Leyen, concurred, accusing the Belarusian authorities of a hybrid attack using migrants to destabilise the European Union. The Belarus situation was also discussed by French President Emmanuel Macron and German Chancellor Angela Merkel. As a result, it was announced that Belarus will be formally included in the agenda of the French Presidency of the European Union, starting from January 2022, guaranteeing priority attention from the EU in the short term.

In response to this coordinated action, which must be cause for alarm in Minsk, Alexander Lukashenka lashed out at the “collective West”, criticising pressure on sovereign states via sanctions, asymmetric actions and hybrid influence, creating new dividing lines in Europe with “barbed wire” and refusing dialogue to solve pressing international problems.

In contrast to this rhetoric, the Belarusian regime also struck a more conciliatory note by pardoning 13 political prisoners. This decision is probably intended to soften new Western sanctions restrictions and test the water for bargaining with political prisoners in exchange for lifting sanctions and normalising relations. Regardless of the motive, the West mostly ignored the overture, an exception being the Papal representative in Belarus Apostolic Nuncio, Archbishop Ante Jozic, who welcomed the decision and urged the acceleration of this process. The potential positive effect of this step was also undermined by ongoing repression. Sixteen new political prisoners replaced the thirteen released in the past week.

Despite the apparent desire of the Belarusian regime to de-escalate tension with the West, the concessions by the Belarusian authorities are inadequate from the perspective of Western capitals. In the absence of more decisive action by Minsk, including the end of the migration crisis, the cessation of repression, and the release of at least a majority of political prisoners, the West has no choice but to steadily increase sanctions pressure on the regime.

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