Magazine article Europe-East

INTERVIEW WITH ALEXANDER MILINKEVICH,aBELARUSIAN OPPOSITION LEADER : "ECONOMIC SANCTIONS WOULD WEAKEN OUR SOVEREIGNTY"

Magazine article Europe-East

INTERVIEW WITH ALEXANDER MILINKEVICH,aBELARUSIAN OPPOSITION LEADER : "ECONOMIC SANCTIONS WOULD WEAKEN OUR SOVEREIGNTY"

Article excerpt

With the Eastern Partnership summit less than a month away - organised by the Polish EU Presidency, it will be held on 29-30 September in Warsaw - relations between the EU and Belarus are tense. One of the main leaders of the democratic opposition in this country, Alexander Milinkevich, analyses for Europolitics new neighbours the present-day situation in Belarus and suggests the position the Union should adopt towards the regime.

The Belarusian regime goes back and forth between a pro-Russian and a pro-European policy in terms of the interests at stake. What is your analysis of President Alexander Lukashenko's current position?

Lukashenko is a good tactician but a very bad strategist. His tactic for some time has been to threaten Moscow with drawing closer to Brussels and to threaten Brussels with drawing closer to Moscow. Historically, he has pursued a very pro-Russian policy, based on rhetoric on unification of the two countries. Since his relations with the Kremlin have worsened, he has attempted to engage in dialogue with the EU but he has lost all the economic advantages Russia offered his country.

The Belarusian economy is in a disastrous state today. There are no dollars, euros or Russian roubles in foreign exchange offices and citizens can no longer buy these "safe currencies". Inflation has reached 100% in a matter of months and people have become impoverished. Lukashenko's popularity has dropped by 50% since the last elections. So he is forced to look for solutions. He finds himself faced with three scenarios. First, handing over to Russia everything it has not yet bought - the best companies, gas infrastructures - and adopting the Russian rouble, as sought by Moscow. This would mean destroying our economic sovereignty. He does not want to take that path. The second scenario is that of isolation. I don't believe he will choose that route, even though he has threatened to shut off the country, if need be, which would have to fend for itself with its potato crops. That isn't very realistic. So his last alternative is to renew dialogue with the EU. This scenario gives the EU ways of pressuring the regime.

You say that EU policy towards Belarus has not always been effective. What do you mean by that?

The dialogue conducted so far between the EU and Minsk has not set enough conditions on the regime and has been based too much on proposals. The EU has told Minsk: "Become democratic and we will cooperate". So the Union opened its chequebook while Lukashenko staged a pretence of democracy. It has been nothing but a facade, however: he recognised our opposition movement, allowed the emergence of two independent newspapers and released eight political prisoners. At the same time, repression continues, there is very strong pressure on the media and there are no free elections.

In practical terms, what policy do you think the EU should adopt towards the regime? …

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