The EU expects Belarus to re-open the office of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) in Minsk. However, the Foreign Ministry of Belarus insists that there is no reason for the extension of the mandate.
Tensions broke out between Minsk and OSCE after opposition candidates and their supporters took to the streets on December 19th to protest the results of the presidential elections. The riots resulted in clashes with the police. Hundreds of people were detained, including seven opposition candidates, who were charged with organizing the protests.
Now all European leaders agree that the expulsion of OSCE from Belarus is a kind of revenge Minsk wants to take on this E.U. watchdog for its criticism of the elections. On the 12th of January Brussels is holding an emergency meeting to discuss the situation in Belarus and revise EU policy there, the head of the European Parliament Ezhi Buzek said. The plenipotentiary representative of the EC Lawyers' Chamber in Russia Alexander Treshchev believes that Europe is going to take on a really tough stance on Belarus:
The way the authorities of Belarus acted during the latest presidential elections could not but provoke harsh criticism in Europe. I think that Russia will adequately react to arrests of its citizens during the riots. Despite numerous requests from the Russian Foreign Ministry, Minsk did not hand over Russian citizens to Moscow and brought up administrative and criminal cases against them. The same thing happened to European nationals detained during the riots. In view of this I would not rule out the EU introducing economic sanctions against Belarus.
Meanwhile, the former presidential candidate Vitaly Rymashevsky was released Monday but is not allowed to leave the country. On January 4th Mr. Rymashevsky is expected to comment on his arrest during a press-briefing. Four more ex-candidates remain under arrest, as well as two Russian citizens, their status being a matter of concern in the Russian Foreign Ministry.
In all, more than 600 people were detained during the opposition protests in Minsk on 19th of December. About 100 of them were fined and released a few days later. Another three hundred were freed on New Year`s Eve, while the other 150 detainees were due to be released on January 3rd.
Time will show whether this was the way Minsk responded to EU criticism.