If you’re like us, you’re probably wondering what the EaP has been up to with Belarus, as Ukraine, Moldova and Georgia inevitably steal the limelight as the stars of the upcoming Vilnius Summit. Belarus’ participation in the EaP has always been a bit special, taking quite a different form from the other Eastern Neighbours, and in fact, until the recent shift in the travel ban, has rarely been represented at EaP events. But rumour has it the November Summit might be different, as the never-ending EU-Belarus game continues…
Player 1: The EU and EaP…
According to reports Lithuanian Foreign Minister Linas Linkevičius is scheduled to meet with Belarusian President Lukashenko in late October to hand him an invitation to the EaP gathering in Vilnius.
In further attempts to bring Belarus closer under the neighbourhood umbrella, Latvian and Belarusian officials have held talks over Belarus’ participation in the Eastern Partnership program. With Belarusian Deputy Foreign Minister Alexander Guryanov met with Ambassador at Large of the Latvian Foreign Ministry Juris Poikans in Riga to discuss future plans, and Belarus-EU relations in general.
On the agenda were the topics of trade and economic cooperation between the two countries, as well as measures to step up Belarusian-Latvian interaction in transport and transit sectors. As neighbours to Belarus, and not only in the figurative sense, Latvia and Lithuania have taken strides this year to enhance cooperation and encourage Belarus to engage on the EaP platform. But it is uncertain just how much of an impact these steps have really had.
We should also find the way how to continue further EU engagement with Armenia and Belarus should not be neglected as well #Easternpartners
— Edgars Rinkēvičs (@edgarsrinkevics) October 21, 2013
As Belarus in Focus explains:
“Since 2011, several attempts have been made by the E.U. to normalize Belarus-EU relations. In H2 2011, the Polish EU Presidency advocated the renewal of a dialogue between Minsk and Brussels. However, Belarus did not yield to pressure and refused to fulfill the basic EU requirement, i.e. the release of political prisoners. The Lithuanian EU Presidency has also not seen significant changes in Belarusian-European relations, although Lithuanian leaders’ policy vis-à-vis Belarus has been more cautious. ”
Many have argued that Belarus’ interest in the EaP is ultimately minimal, as it begins to integrate more with Russia’s Eurasian Union. As Belarus has recently stated that restoring EU-Belarus relations is important, but it is not a crucial priority for the country. Then again, at a press conference last week, Belarusian President Lukashenko told Russian journalists that Belarus was not negotiating with the European Union ‘because no one wants to talk to us anyway’.
In spite of this, experts are saying that whether Belarus attends the EaP Summit next month or not is immaterial:
“Belarus will continue to ignore the basic EU requirements for the normalisation of relations. Even if the Belarusian delegation takes part in the Vilnius Summit, there will be no significant breakthroughs in Belarus-EU relations.”
— Judy Dempsey (@Judy_Dempsey) October 21, 2013
— Ani Wandaryan (@GoldenTent) October 21, 2013
— Horia-Victor Lefter (@horia_victor) October 25, 2013
— Belarus Freedom News (@Belarus_2011) October 24, 2013
— Belarus Today (@Belarus_Today) October 25, 2013
Player 2: Belarus
Some may say that Belarus’ representation at the EaP summit will ultimately yield nothing–but tell that to Ulad Vialichka, member of the Coordination Committee of the National Platform of the Eastern Partnership Civil Society Forum (EaP CSF). According to Vialichka, Vilnius will offer a chance for Belarusian Civil Society to exercise their right to be heard, and “to put forth the stand of the Belarusan civil society and be heard. This is our main goal. Besides, we have a number of questions about the development of the Civil Society Forum as a part of Eastern Partnership program.”
Vialichka also argues that while progress in some sectors with Belarus and the EU may be difficult to identify–the growth of Belarusian civil society has shown promise since the advent of the EaP CSF:
“The work became more productive, and Belarusian organizations hold quite constructive talks on most topical issues, which are to be put forth as a common opinion shared by all organizations of civil society in Belarus. In this regard now I can say there is visible agreement in comparison with what he situation used to be before. And even if the progress is not that big, it permits to do further work.”
— dbg-online.org (@dbgonline) October 24, 2013
— Freedom House (@FreedomHouseDC) August 3, 2013
“Alexander Lukashenka, surprisingly, has reacted favourably to the European aspirations of Ukraine and has not joined in in Moscow’s economic war against Kyiv. Economic relations between Belarus and Ukraine are developing rapidly; trade over the last four years has grown 2.5 times.”
Astapenia further explains:
“Despite the reputation of being the Kremlin`s vassal, Lukashenka has been showing respect towards the European aspirations of Ukraine. Lukashenka called the Russian reaction to Ukraine’s signing of the Association Agreement too politicised and assured the Ukrainians that he does not see any issues in Ukraine’s movement towards cooperation with the European Union. Moreover, Lukashenka said that even if Ukraine joins NATO, it will change nothing in the relationship between the two countries.”
— Jake Turk (@randomdijit) October 24, 2013
Sparks Fly at Customs Union Summit: The presidents of Russia, Kazakhstan and Belarus sat down on October 24 in… http://t.co/LNTEGJSpjb
— EurasiaNet (@EurasiaNet) October 25, 2013