A constitutional referendum in exchange for the lifting of Western sanctions?
While Western countries are distracted by the crisis in Kazakhstan and tensions with Russia over Ukraine, the Belarusian regime hopes for a reset in relations with the West after the constitutional referendum. To this end, Minsk is actively seeking mediators for a possible dialogue with Western capitals. Meanwhile, Western countries do not intend to abandon sanctions pressure and are preparing to introduce new sanctions packages.
The beginning of the new year signalled the complete introduction of previously adopted sectoral sanctions by the EU and other Western allies. Consequently, the Norwegian producer of mineral fertilisers Yara announced that it would stop buying raw materials from Belaruskali from April 1st, 2022, as the sanctions imposed on Belaruskali made it impossible to continue cooperation. Meanwhile, from February 1st, Lithuania will terminate the contract with Lithuanian Railways to transport Belarusian potash. The Lithuanian government confirmed the conclusion of the commission for the verification of transactions of strategic enterprises, adopted in December, that the agreement between the Lithuanian Railways and Belaruskali is incompatible with national security and should be terminated. If private carriers want to transport Belaruskali fertilisers through Lithuania, their transactions with the Belarusian company will be subject to state review. Upon receiving an application from companies not included in the sanctions lists for the transportation of Belarusian potash, the cargo operator of the Lithuanian Railway LTG Cargo will consult with state bodies.
Four EU candidate countries (North Macedonia, Montenegro, Serbia and Albania) and three Members of the European Free Trade Association (Iceland, Liechtenstein and Norway) joined the decision of the EU Council of November 15th, 2021, to expand the criteria for imposing sanctions on the Belarusian regime, which allowed the adoption of the fifth package of restrictions last year.
Despite this, the Belarusian regime remains optimistic about the possibility of resetting relations with Western countries after the constitutional referendum scheduled for late February. On January 13th, the Belarusian Foreign Ministry held a meeting with 50 foreign diplomats and representatives of international organisations regarding constitutional reform in Belarus. Earlier, the Ambassador of Belarus in London, Maxim Yermalovich, stated that Belarus expects an adequate response to the constitutional reforms from Western countries, including the UK, and would like to start discussing practical issues, including the removal of all economic restrictions, including those on Belavia.
In parallel, Belarusian diplomacy has intensified the search for possible mediators to bargain with Western countries according to the formula “constitutional referendum in exchange for abolishing Western restrictions.” For this purpose, Minsk held a series of meetings with partners who have previously acted in this capacity – the Vatican, the Order of Malta and Italy.
However, Western countries are unlikely to bargain with the Belarusian regime on its terms as they are unimpressed by sham political changes. The European Union has already begun work on a new package of sanctions which may take effect in the spring, after the constitutional referendum.
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Situation in Belarus