The Future of Democracy in Belarus: Europe’s Next Challenge
The situation in Belarus today needs increased attention from the entire international community, American political analysts believe
Peaceful protests against the regime of Alexander Lukashenko, which not only refuse to engage in dialogue with the opposition, but also intensify the level of repression in the country, have been continuing in Belarus for more than three months..
After the news of the death of 31-year-old Roman Bondarenko, who died last week in a Minsk hospital as a result of what the demonstrators said was brutally beaten by the security forces, protests were held in different cities of Belarus. According to the testimony of witnesses, the young man went out into the Minsk courtyard to defend the ribbons with opposition symbols being filmed by unknown people in civilian clothes and in masks. During the conflict, the young man was taken away in an unknown direction. The Belarusian authorities deny their involvement, stressing that Roman Bondarenko died as a result of a conflict with people in civilian clothes. However, according to a number of media outlets, Belarusian security officials often act in civilian clothes, trying to hide their affiliation with state structures..
New protests in Belarus were again brutally suppressed by the authorities, and hundreds of participants were detained, including some media representatives..
The actions of the Belarusian authorities caused outrage in both the United States and Europe. US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo once again called on the Belarusian authorities to stop the escalation of violence against peaceful demonstrators and release political prisoners. “The United States supports those who remain detained and missing, those who have been killed, and those who continue to peacefully assert their right to choose their leaders in free and fair elections,” the head of the State Department said in a statement Thursday..
The head of European diplomacy, Josep Borrell, through his spokesman said that the European Union may impose new sanctions against the Belarusian authorities. The EU Foreign Ministry noted that the tragic death of Roman Bondarenko was the result of the actions of the Belarusian authorities, which not only "directly and brutally suppressed their own population, but also created an environment in which such illegal violent actions can take place.".
Despite the condemning statements from the United States and the European Union, and the imposition of personal sanctions against some Belarusian officials, Western countries, as well as the international community as a whole, should take more decisive actions in support of democratic development in Belarus, American experts say..
Kenneth Yalowitz: West can do more to support Belarus despite limited influence
Former US Ambassador to Belarus and Kenneth Yalowitz (Kennan Institute) researcher expects the new US administration to take a tougher stance than the current one towards the Lukashenka regime. However, White House policies may remain relatively restrained..
“My guess is that Biden is likely to be more open to additional sanctions against Lukashenka, and he wants to work more closely [on Belarus] with European allies,” the former ambassador said in an interview with the Voice of America Russian Service. The Biden administration may also increase pressure on Moscow to stop supporting Lukashenko, but will avoid a serious level of confrontation with the Kremlin, Kenneth Yalowitz said..
“Biden is likely to increase the pressure, and I think Putin understands that. […] But I think that Biden will not turn this [Belarusian issue] into a confrontation between the United States and Russia, ”he says..
“If there are any changes in US-Russian relations, then I think it will take the new administration some time to think over its strategy towards Russia,” the former ambassador adds. – In any case, the new administration will be very much focused on internal issues. We have a lot of internal problems that need to be addressed. So, I do not expect a radical change in policy towards Belarus, but I expect more statements in support of the opposition and the use of sanctions ”.
According to Kenneth Yalowitz, the European Union should also provide more decisive support to Belarus. The fact that it took the Europeans almost two months after the start of the protests and their brutal suppression to agree on the first round of personal sanctions speaks of the diplomatic weakness of the political bloc. Europe should act as a united front against the Lukashenka regime, the former diplomat emphasizes. At the same time, he admits that in any case, the influence of Western countries is limited..
“The West can certainly do more in terms of helping the opposition and developing a common position that clearly demonstrates support for democracy. I think the US hasn't done enough under the current administration, and we need to do a lot more. This may not solve the problem, but it will certainly force us to stand up for our principles more clearly, ”says Kenneth Yalowitz..
“But Western forces will not intervene militarily. Therefore, there are limits to what the West as a whole can do, "he adds..
Jonathan Katz: Pressure on Lukashenka should grow from the international community
Senior researcher at the German Marshall Fund Jonathan Katz (German Marhsall Fund) notes that amid the distraction of the United States and Europe by its internal problems, the Lukashenka regime is intensifying repression against protesters and the situation in the country has reached a turning point..
“We have already seen more than twenty thousand people who have been detained, but over the past week there has been a surge in the use of repressive measures,” says Jonathan Katz in an interview with the Russian Service of the Voice of America. "I think this is causing many people in both Washington and Europe to become increasingly worried that we might see an extremely unfavorable turn of events.".
At the same time, the expert notes, pressure on the Lukashenka regime should grow not only from the United States and Europe, but also from the international community as a whole: “Lukashenka's criminal activities should be brought to justice. Repression and violence on his part should be a challenge not only for Europe and the United States. So, we have the format of the Moscow Mechanism in the OSCE, which is one of the platforms where it is necessary to solve this problem. " Also, the expert adds, the situation in Belarus should be raised in such international organizations as the UN..
As for the United States, the attention of many is drawn to what the policy of the new Joe Biden administration will be, but the situation in Belarus has reached a critical state today. Therefore, it is necessary to call for decisive action for the current head of the White House, stresses Jonathan Katz: “We are dealing with a particularly difficult period of time, being between the new and the incumbent presidents. But the situation [in Belarus] requires full attention from the United States today. ".
“I hope the current administration takes steps and demonstrates leadership,” he adds..
According to the expert, the European Union should also act faster and more decisively, while the EU member states can provide support to Belarus on an individual basis: “What we do not see is the participation at a high level not only of EU officials themselves, which, in my opinion, it is important, but also the leaders of the EU member states who have significant influence ".
At the same time, the EU member states can provide support to Belarus not only in the political arena, but also in the form of programs of assistance to the Belarusian civil society, including victims of repression. Washington also needs to actively develop such a program plan, adds Jonathan Katz..
The West should unite diplomatic efforts and resources in support of democratic development in Belarus, regardless of Russia's calculations, the expert emphasizes..
Journalist «Voices of America». Prior to that, she worked for international non-governmental organizations in Washington and London, in the Russian-language version of the Estonian daily newspaper “Postimees” and as a spokesman for the Estonian Ministry of Internal Affairs. Interests – international relations, politics, economic