EU diplomacy struggling for influence as future of Belarus hangs in balance
Finding its role in Belarus as protests swell is an exercise in diplomacy for the European Union.
After the EU condemned electoral fraud and the violent repression of the protests, the bloc is wondering how to support the demand for democracy in the country. Although the opposition affirmed this is not a geopolitical revolution, the strong ties between Minsk and Moscow make Belarus a minefield for European diplomacy. According to experts, Brussels has to be humble.
"The EU influence in Belarus is very limited, contrary to that of Russia," explains Kristi Raik, International Centre for Defence and Security. Raik argues that in the short term it may be that the EU does not have much influence at all on what is going on.
"Still I would say that the moral and also practical humanitarian support to the people demonstrating in Belarus and civil society is very important."
The EU is calling on the Belarusian authorities to open dialogue and is asking for new transparent elections, although for the moment this is not an option for the ruling regime.
“We are in favour of democracy, the rule of law and free and fair elections and that’s why these new elections need to take place under the supervision of international organisations," says MEP David McAllister (chairman of Foreign affairs Committee). He says the organisation best suited for the job is the The Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE), as there are not only European nations but also the USA and Canada, not to mention Belarus and Russia.
EU leaders threatened to impose targeted sanctions against the individuals responsible for the violence and the falsification of election results. However, critics affirm that this would indirectly affect the population without turning into an effective leverage on the leadership.
"Sanctions are always a double-edged sword," says Jelena Milic, Centre for Euro Atlantic studies.
She adds that what the EU has done properly was the timing of the rejection of the results of the elections.
But at the moment the Kremlin seems to be Lukashenko’s only interlocutor. The stakes are high and the apparent disengagement of the US gives Brussels one more reason to act carefully.