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Dec 30, 2020
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Why is Minsk not responding to US actions?

The House of Representatives of the American Congress approved the bill “On Sovereignty, Human Rights and Democracy in Belarus”

The current crisis in Belarus has destroyed much of what the authorities have been creating in recent years. The international status of Minsk was undermined, political ties with the EU countries practically ceased to exist, and in the near future the republic may find itself under the most serious sanctions pressure in the entire history of its independence. The leadership of Belarus, finding itself in an extremely difficult international situation, decided to demonstrate to the West that it would not make concessions and would not allow external interference in its internal affairs.

The sanctions imposed by the European Union, as well as the non-recognition of Alexander Lukashenko as the legitimate head of state, have repeatedly caused a negative reaction from the official Minsk. On December 22, Foreign Minister of Belarus V. Makei said that his country would react harshly to the third package of restrictions introduced by the EU, which includes sanctions against several Belarusian enterprises. At the same time, the Belarusian authorities still do not seriously react to the actions of the United States, especially against the background of the recent approval by the House of Representatives of the US Congress of the draft law “On Sovereignty, Human Rights and Democracy in Belarus” (“The Act on Democracy in Belarus”).

Unlike the actions of the EU, which have always evoked a harsh reaction from the Belarusian authorities, at first only the chairman of the permanent commission of the House of Representatives (the lower house of the Belarusian parliament) on international affairs, Andrei Savinykh, spoke out towards the United States. On November 19, he stated that “The United States continues to act by inertia, stereotyped, using the usual methods of interference in the internal affairs of other countries, violating their sovereignty and the principles of international law”… A similar statement was made on December 24 by the Presidium of the Council of the Republic (upper chamber), which called the approval of the draft law “On Sovereignty, Human Rights and Democracy in Belarus” “Gross interference in the internal affairs of Belarus”… The words about bewilderment, about an attempt to destroy relations between Belarus and Russia, about a threat to “international peace and security” were sounded again. No more harsh statements followed. Even the Belarusian Foreign Ministry, which woke up on December 24, did not directly mention the Democracy Act in its statement. The Foreign Ministry only reacted to the expansion of visa restrictions adopted by the US State Department in relation to 39 persons. Minsk extremely toothlessly noted that the information on the introduction of additional sanctions was taken into account, the decision of Washington – “Emotional and has nothing to do with the real state of affairs”and the application of visa and financial restrictions is a “knowingly useless and counterproductive” tool. At the same time, the Belarusian Foreign Ministry hastened to remind that it has always proceeded from the fact that it is important to maintain normal, mutually beneficial relations with the United States.

There are several reasons for all this.

At firstSince the August 9 presidential elections in Belarus, Washington has not taken any serious steps towards Lukashenka. Apart from lengthy statements about non-recognition of the election results, condemnation of violence against protesters and demands to respect the rights and freedoms of citizens, the White House has done nothing in practice. The United States limited itself to imposing restrictions on eight Belarusian officials on October 2, then the restrictions were expanded in December. Under the so-called blocking sanctions on the toughest SDN list available to the United States (Specially named citizens) several heads of the power structures of Belarus, representatives of the Central Election Commission, the Minsk OMON, as well as the Alpha KGB unit were caught. The assets included in the list will be blocked, the Americans are prohibited from doing business with them or concluding deals, and the Belarusians themselves are prohibited from entering the United States. For comparison: the European Union has already introduced three packages of sanctions against Belarus, which included over 80 people, including Lukashenka, and 7 Belarusian companies. On December 18, information appeared about the beginning of arrests of accounts of Belarusian organizations – funds of the sanatorium by the Administrative Department of the President of Belarus were blocked in Lithuania.

As for the adoption of the Democracy Act, it has existed for more than a decade and a half and is being promoted by the same politician – Congressman Chris Smith. Similar documents were adopted in the USA in 2004, 2006 and 2011. This Act will rather be a framework document that formally allows the head of the White House to pursue a more active policy towards Belarus. Including finance the opposition and impose sanctions against not only Belarusian, but also Russian officials. All this has existed in Belarusian-American relations for more than a dozen years and does not in any way affect the real state of affairs. The actions of the US authorities are so far only moral support for the Belarusian opposition. There is no talk of radical action against Belarus in the White House.

Secondly, there is a clear understanding in Minsk that the United States cannot harm Belarus more than has already been done, without affecting its own interests and Russia. Political sanctions, as well as a few statements by American politicians are perceived in the Belarusian capital as quite commonplace, and it makes no sense to react to it. As Lukashenka says, he is used to living under sanctions and “does not care” about this.

The Belarusian authorities realize that the White House has little direct interest in Belarus. After 2014, having got its hands on Ukraine, the United States stopped paying much attention to the Belarusian issue, trying not to worsen relations with the official Minsk unnecessarily. This policy continues to this day. This is evidenced by the absence of economic sanctions against Belarus, as well as the swearing-in of the new US Ambassador to the Republic, Julie Fisher, on December 23. Now it depends only on Minsk whether the American diplomat will come to the Belarusian capital or not.

ThirdlyUnlike the European Union, which finances the opposition through various funds and influences public opinion in Belarus through the media and pro-Western opinion leaders, the United States does not yet have such an opportunity in the republic. There are no American foundations and no serious pro-American politicians in the country. American influence on Belarus comes indirectly through Poland and the Baltic states, which weakens the direct presence of the United States in the republic.

Besides, lately the Belarusian authorities inside the country prefer not to speak, but to act. This became especially noticeable after the presidential elections on August 9. Over the course of several months, dozens of pro-Western politicians and public figures were arrested in the country, and the network of organizations of Western influence was undermined. In particular, on December 22, representatives of the cultural and educational institution “Journalistic Workshop Press Club” were detained. This organization is part of an international network of press clubs; the network has direct links with both European and American funds for the development of democracy, and hence with the US intelligence services.

Ultimately, it cannot be said that Minsk and Washington are on the brink of a crisis in relations. Rather, it is a continuation of the history of Belarusian-American relations in the last quarter of a century, when the period 2015-2020 was marked by a certain warming. The attitude of the White House towards Lukashenko has not changed, and Minsk does not expect a friendly hug from Washington. The only thing the Belarusian authorities can regret is that now it is difficult for them to rely on the United States as a certain counterbalance in the dialogue with Moscow.

Photo: REUTERS Stringer

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