The EU has imposed sanctions on the government of Belarus provoking an expression of "deep regret" from the Belarussian Ministry of Foreign Affairs. Meanwhile Sweden and Poland are preparing for a conference designed to support democratisation in the country, which takes place on February 2nd 2011.
Speaking for the Foreign Affairs Council of the European Council on Monday 31st January 2011, Claire Ashton said:
"I have deplored the events after the Presidential elections of the 19th of December and condemned the violence and arrests and repeatedly asked for the release of all those detained on political grounds.
"We would hope for improvements in the situation in Belarus but we have seen practically no change on the ground. Therefore we were left with no alternative but to apply restrictive measures against Belarus officials responsible for the flawed elections and subsequent violence, including President Lukashenko. There are almost 160 names on the list.
"Our overriding priority remains the release of all detainees and that would be an essential element before the EU could review that decision.
"Meanwhile, I repeat again our full support for the people of Belarus. We're committed to strengthen our link with civil society there."
On Tuesday 1st February 2011, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Belarus published this statement:
The Ministry of Foreign Affairs expresses its deep regret over the EU Council Conclusions of 31 January 2011.
At the core of this decision is the flagrant "blind eye" policy of the Council vis-a-vis the aggressive actions and violence initiated by the demonstrators manifested in the attempt of a takeover of the seat of the Government and the Parliament of the Republic of Belarus on 19 December 2010 following the presidential elections. The selective and biased interpretation in the Council Conclusions of the findings of the international election observation in Belarus is meant to disregard the clearly expressed will of the Belarusian people.
Neither of the two notions will change the objective facts.
Such an attitude cannot produce the right corollary.
The logic behind the Council Conclusions paves the way to the EU's direct interference into domestic affairs of a sovereign state. It undermines trust and inevitably leads to actions detrimental to the ambition of shaping a Europe free of dividing lines shared by both the East and the West of the continent.
By creating artificial obstacles to interstate cooperation the European Union deprives itself of the possibility to contribute in a constructive manner to social transformations in Belarus. The outright attempt to justify the violation of law that a part of the opposition committed endangering public security appears in fact a promotion of lawlessness and extremism from abroad. This practice prevents public organizations from developing a responsible civic position based on national interests.
This is hardly in line with the officially proclaimed goals of the European Union.
It is particularly unacceptable that the EU responds in an absolutely incomparable way to the by far tougher actions by the governments of certain other countries in Europe. The clear-cut "double standards" policy proves hollow the EU rhetoric in support of the "European values".
Tension in relations with the EU is not our choice. Nevertheless, the Council Conclusions compel the Republic of Belarus to take proportionate and adequate measures with a view to strengthening the national sovereignty, safeguarding the stability and cohesion of the Belarusian society.
We call on the European Union to renounce its logic of confrontation and unwise attempts to destroy the constructive content of our relations that has no reasonable alternative and that we have been painstakingly shaping together.
Belarus will continue to pursue in a coherent and gradual manner modernization and reform of public institutions, development of social dialogue and civil society in line with the country's needs.
The pressure against Belarus has no other chance but to fail. Joint efforts to overcome the current difficulties in relations with the EU which emerged through no fault of the Belarusian authorities is in the common interests of Belarus and the EU and contribute to consolidation of the European unity in the face of new risks and challenges.
We favour stronger partnership with the EU, an open, candid and respectful dialogue and equal cooperation without discrimination and "double standards".
On Wednesday 2nd February, the Swedish Forieign Minister Carl Bildt will travel to Warsaw to participate in the international donor conference entitiled "Solidarity with Belarus" which is being arranged by Poland in support of the Belarusian people and a democratic Belarus. There he will meet with Poland's Minister of Foreign Affairs Radoslaw Sikorski.
Mr Bildt said:
"I am expecting a meeting where the participants describe the strengthened measures we plan to take to support civil society in Belarus. This is about support to various NGOs, the media and the political foundations in Sweden, among others, that are working for a democratisation process in Belarus."
The Swedish delegation will include Robert Hardh from Civil Rights Defenders, and Christian Holm, Member of the Riksdag (Moderate Party) and chair of the Riksdag's Belarus Network.
Posted by Linda Haywood