Opinion: Europe needs Russia to bolster democracy in Minsk

European Union foreign ministers have imposed sanctions against Belarus. DW's Ingo Mannteufel says the European Union must get Russia on its side if it wants to bring about real change in Minsk.

There's no question that European Union foreign ministers made the right decision on Monday: imposing sanctions against Belarus President Alexander Lukashenko's regime was a justified reaction to Minsk's ongoing suppression of the political opposition.

The EU owes itself the decision - and more so to Belarus' unwavering rights activists. Although the government has released some dissidents, others still remain under house arrest or in prison.

Symbolic sanctions not enough

By falsifying election results and exercising brutal suppression policies against the opposition, Lukashenko has made it clear that he does not share EU values. Consequently, the EU should not only revive the sanctions it put aside two years ago against Lukashenko and members of his regime, but extend them to others involved.

Still, Europe should not delude itself. Refusing entry to high-ranking Belarusian officials and freezing their assets within the EU will not force Minsk to adopt democratic principles. Unfortunately, neither will the strengthening demands of Belarusian society - nor the support of other democracies.

These are, of course, honorable approaches that should be pursued, but there's one thing the EU cannot get around. If Europe truly wants to pressure Lukashenko's regime, it needs to impose targeted economic sanctions against Belarus, and it needs to engage in close cooperation with Russia.

One approach would be to ban EU-based credit institutions from loaning Belarus money. The EU should also consider whether it can ban the import of Belarusian oil products into its member states - a move that would hit Lukashenko's regime at its economic base.

But more than ever, the EU needs to work with Russia to reach a common policy on Belarus. After all, it was the support Moscow lent the Belarus government in early December that allowed Lukashenko to suppress the opposition's presidential bids - for better or worse tying Lukashenko to Russia's whim.

In Russia's pocket

Lukashenko has long been out of favor with the Kremlin, and especially with Russian President Dmitry Medvedev, evidenced by a Russian state smear campaign against Minsk last summer.

Yet Russia's move to support Lukashenko is understandable; the Kremlin would rather have an unpopular but dependent Lukashenko at Belarus' helm than new Belarusian leadership, which might steer the country towards Europe.

Moscow's zero-sum game provides the foundation for Lukashenko's shaky regime and his retention of power. If the EU intends to seek real change in Minsk, it must prioritize Belarus on its agenda for European-Russian relations - and convince Moscow that Lukashenko is not in the interest of a European-Russian partnership.

Author: Ingo Mannteufel / dl

Editor: Martin Kuebler


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