Putting too much pressure on Belarus right now could backfire and lead to unforeseen consequences. It would appear that Russia understands that, and is therefore playing the long game on integration.
Not so long ago, Minsk scored foreign policy points by positioning itself as a force for regional stability; a counterbalance to an aggressive Russia. Today, Moscow’s unwillingness to get embroiled in conflicts with NATO at the whim of its ally could be the only factor exercising any restraint on Lukashenko.
If Moscow and the West manage to de-escalate their confrontation, Lukashenko’s main currency—his demonstrative anti-Western stance—will be devalued in the eyes of the Kremlin.
EU sanctions will not change Belarusian leader Lukashenko’s determination to cling to power, but they send an important signal. To avoid isolating ordinary citizens, the EU must combine sanctions with enhanced support for Belarusian civil society.
Russia is the only country that can truly influence the behavior of the Belarusian regime, so it’s only a matter of time before Western pressure is transferred from Minsk to Moscow.
It took the hijacking of a plane and the kidnapping of a journalist to shake Europe out of its complacency over Belarus. Beyond sanctions, the EU’s response should include supporting Belarusian society and reconsidering Nord Stream 2.
The Belarusian regime has backed itself into a corner, and is now scared to ease up the pressure, fearing that if angry people are given more freedom, there could be a repetition of last August’s sweeping protests.
Belarus’s weakened position has not altered its traditional interests—or Minsk’s readiness to defend them. This is becoming increasingly obvious as the Belarusian regime regains control over the situation at home.
Join us for a conversation featuring Vicki Birchfield, Erik Brattberg, Philip Breedlove, and Suzanne DiMaggio in conversation with Suzanne Kelly, with special remarks by Sam Nunn on on the path forward for the transatlantic alliance.
There are tough times ahead for U.S.-Belarusian relations. Reimposing sanctions will lead to a new stage of the diplomatic crisis and a further toughening of rhetoric.