Minsk failed to take advantage of the sanctions reprieve in relations with the West
The Belarusian regime avoided inclusion in sanctions packages related to military aggression against Ukraine because the West wished to give it room to manoeuvre and prevent the direct participation of Belarusian forces in the war. However, the EU is preparing the tenth package of sanctions against Russia, which will also affect Belarus.
The regime avoided inclusion in the seventh, eighth and ninth packages of Western sanctions, but at a press conference to announce a new declaration on EU-NATO cooperation, European Commission President, Ursula von der Leyen, stated that the EU now intends to correct this “oversight”. The EU will strengthen support for Ukraine and continue to exert pressure on Russia and those who support it militarily, including Belarus and Iran. In her speech regarding recent threats to EU security, she mentioned the migration crisis at the Belarus/EU, alleging that it was orchestrated by the Lukashenka regime.
Previous speculation regarding the reasons for the EU refraining from including Belarus in recent sanctions packages suggested that this was at the request of Ukraine, though EU representatives made no public comment. Kyiv denies any involvement and stressed that several personal and sectoral sanctions have already been imposed on Belarus for supporting the war against Ukraine.
There is currently no consensus within the EU regarding the synchronising sanctions against Belarus and Russia. Ukraine and its partners are intensively lobbying regarding the content of the tenth EU sanctions package, with the General Staff of the Armed Forces of Ukraine again recalling that Belarus continues to participate in Russian aggression by providing Russia with its territory and airspace for strikes, as well as ammunition and logistical equipment.
The leader of the democratic opposition in exile, Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya, spoke in favour of a consistent position towards Lukashenka and his complicity in the war, though she also expressed understanding regarding the reluctance to provoke aggressive escalation.
In late 2020, it was rumoured that some European countries (France and Hungary) opposed tightening the sanctions noose around the neck of the Belarusian regime to give it room for manoeuvre and prevent Belarus from directly entering the war. Earlier this year, a telephone conversation between the Minister of Foreign Affairs of Belarus, Sergei Aleinik, and the Minister of Foreign Affairs of Hungary, Peter Szijjártó, can be considered an indirect confirmation of this. In particular, Hungary plans to continue cooperating with Belarus in areas not affected by sanctions, such as the pharmaceutical industry, medical equipment and agriculture. Szijjártó also asked Aleinik to assist Hungarian truckers stuck on the western border of Belarus.
Meanwhile, Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya outlined the priorities of her team for 2023. The main tasks are to prevent direct Belarusian participation in the war against Ukraine, to form an international coalition for democratic Belarus, and to strengthen sanctions against the regime. In addition, democratic forces plan to support repressed Belarusians and their families, assist with visa issues, and investigate solutions for those who may be deprived of citizenship. An overarching priority is to strengthen Belarusian society and preserve national identity.
The implementation of this agenda will be assisted by the United States. Washington intends to expand regional security cooperation with Belarusian democratic forces in response to the threat to Belarusian independence posed by Russia and Lukashenka’s support for its military aggression. The United States also intends to strengthen the effectiveness of sanctions (but not to introduce new ones) and continue to support Belarusian civil society.
The Belarusian regime did not take advantage of the pause in sanctions to take steps to avoid increased pressure from the West. Instead of using this window of opportunity to de-escalate, Lukashenka pursued deeper and more far-reaching military integration with Russia. The West interpreted this step as rejecting the proposed deal and therefore returned to a strategy of increasing sanctions pressure.
Subscribe to our newsletter
Situation in Belarus