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January 16 – January 22, 2023
Belarus-West relations

The West is preparing new sanctions against Belarus as the anniversary of the Russian attack on Ukraine approaches

The situation has not changed

The EU has begun preparation of the 10th package of sanctions against Russia, with a significant component also applying to Belarus. The concept of an international tribunal to bring the Belarusian and Russian military-political leadership to justice over aggression against Ukraine is gaining support in Western political circles. The Belarusian regime continues its ambiguous foreign policy tactics, using Vatican contacts as a confidential communication channel with the West.

The 10th package of EU sanctions against Russia, with a significant component applicable to Belarus, will be ready for approval no earlier than February. According to Ursula von der Leyen, the head of the European Commission, the new measures will mainly be aimed at closing loopholes, preventing the circumvention of prior sanctions, and enforcing consequences against parties conspiring at such circumvention. Earlier, von der Leyen said that the EU would continue to exert pressure on Russia and expand sanctions on those who support the war, including Belarus.

Meanwhile, the European Parliament voted in favour of a resolution that calls on EU bodies and member states to facilitate the creation of a special tribunal to consider crimes related to Russian aggression against Ukraine. The resolution notes that such a tribunal would complement the International Criminal Court. The tribunal’s powers should enable it to bring to justice not only Putin and the Russian military and political leadership but also the leadership of Belarus “as a state providing territory and material and technical support for the Russian war of aggression against Ukraine.”

The Joint Transitional Cabinet (JTC), the National Anti-Crisis Management, and other representatives of democratic forces advocate a similar agenda. Active ministerial and judicial consultations are underway in several European countries regarding the criminal responsibility of persons guilty of aggression against Ukraine, including the classification of the KGB and GUBOPiK as terrorist organisations.

The United States shares this view. According to James O’Brien, the head of the US State Department’s Sanctions Coordination Office, all responsibility for both repression and Belarus’ complicity in the war lies with Lukashenka, who “cannot say that someone else makes decisions for him and is fully responsible for both repression and Belarus’s complicity in the war”. The United States has therefore introduced two programs of sanctions against the Belarusian regime for violations of human rights and democratic freedoms and material and military-technical support for Russian military aggression against Ukraine. In the event of the direct entry of Belarus into the war, the US reaction will be severe and will not be limited to economic sanctions.

The United States does not regard Belarus as a Russian-occupied country. Washington’s policy treats the Lukashenka regime as the government of an independent country whose actions deserve condemnation. However, Washington leaves open the possibility of resuming dialogue with the regime if Minsk makes several concessions, including releasing political prisoners and fulfilling OSCE commitments.

Reacting to trials in absentia and sentences imposed on civil society representatives and the opposition, the United States imposed sanctions, such as visa restrictions, against 25 regime figures for involvement in undermining Belarusian democracy. Meanwhile, Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya attended several high-level meetings at the World Economic Forum in Davos. The launch of an international coalition in support of an independent and free Belarus was discussed, along with assistance to the repressed, temporary documents for Belarusians and problems of discrimination against Belarusian business abroad.

Minsk continued its ambiguous foreign policy tactics. Press Secretary of the Belarusian Foreign Ministry, Anatol Hlaz, threatened the United States with a response to personal sanctions. Meanwhile, Foreign Minister Siarhei Aleinik met with the Apostolic Nuncio, Archbishop Ante Jozic, to discuss the situation in the region and reiterated readiness to continue cooperation. An initiative to organise Vatican-mediated peace talks in Belarus was also likely discussed. At a meeting with Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, Lukashenka indirectly confirmed this, saying that Belarus is ready to organise and participate in peace negotiations between Russia and Ukraine. However, he also expressed full support for Russian policy regarding waging war against Ukraine and negotiating peace with the West.

Consequently, as the anniversary of Russian military aggression approaches, the Belarusian regime has confirmed loyalty to the Kremlin in the context of the war and has made no compromises regarding Western relations.

 

 

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