It has been reported lately that Donald Tusk, the President of the European Council, has invited Alexander Lukashenko, the President of Belarus, to the 5th EU Eastern Partnership Project (EaP) Summit to be held in Brussels on November 24.
Once outspoken critic of the Belarus president, Tusk has relented and made Lukashenko such an attractive offer. Is that a result of the recent rapprochement of Minsk and Brussels or it is a tactical step by the EU leadership?
Vadim Trukhachev, Candidate of Science (History), senior lecturer at International Relations and Foreign Regional Studies at Russian State Humanitarian University, comments on the situation. He believes that as former prime minister of Poland, Tusk has plans about Belarus. For the Polacks Belarusian lands are former Polish “eastern outskirts,” homeland of Tadeusz Kościuszko and Adam Mickiewicz. Since early 1990s, Poland has pursued a policy of expanding its influence over Belarus.
The political analyst is sure that despite his high post, Donald Tusk has not become a true European politician, remaining a narrow Polish politician who uses his high position to promote Poland’s national interests. Those interests are to create Poland’s area of influence at the expense of the countries bordering with Russia, Vadim Trukhachev says. To achieve that goal, it is time to take Lukashenko in hand. However, there are also other reasons why inviting the Belarusian president to Brussels is a milestone. Initiated by Poland in 2008, EaP was created by European Union to “export” European integration into post-Soviet states – Azerbaijan, Armenia, Belarus, Georgia, Moldova and Ukraine. Formally, the project pursues such goals as assistance to democratic reforms, economic and humanitarian cooperation, including creation of free trade areas and visa facilitation. It turned out later that these goals do not reflect the real intentions of the project authors. Specifically, Trukhachev says, EaP authors were inherently Russia’s frenemies – the former foreign ministers of Sweden and Poland, Carl Bildt and Radoslaw Sikorski (with the support of their Czech counterpart Karel Swarzenberg, another ardent opponent of Russia), which means that the project was aimed against Russia from the very beginning.
Russia was not supposed to join the project, which could not but arouse Moscow’s concerns about the real goals of it. Poland is known to have claimed the status of the European integration outpost in the East as soon as it joined EU.
In some extent, EaP was invented as certain alternative to Russian-led integration processes, which some forces in the West call Moscow’s “imperial ambitions” or an attempt to “re-Sovietize” the region.
At the same time, the expert underlines the fact that EaP countries have different levels of rapprochement with EU. For instance, Ukraine, Georgia and Moldova are pro-Western countries, while Azerbaijan is more passively involved in the project. As to Armenia and Belarus, they are playing a double game by cooperating with EU with an eye on Russia and the Russian-led Eurasian Union they are members of. EaP summits have greatly influenced the political landscape in Ukraine, Moldova and Georgia during the recent years. In November 2013, at the EaP Summit in Vilnius, Moldova and Georgia signed Association Agreements with EU. The then president of Ukraine Viktor Yanukovych refused to sign the AA, which prompted a coup d’etat in Ukraine and a civil war in Donbass. All this has changed the nature of Russia-EU relations dramatically.
Therefore, Alexander Lukashenko’s possible participation in the Eastern Partnership Summit in Brussels is quite an unfriendly step towards Moscow.
Besides, Trukhachev believes that it was Belarus’ stance on Ukraine and not democratic reforms that made EU revise its attitude towards Lukashenko, who was earlier treated like an “outcast” in Europe.
The expert is sure that Brussels is trying to drive a wedge between Minsk and Moscow. Belarus leadership, in turn, shows readiness to cooperate with the West in all areas as part of its “multi-vector diplomacy.” At any opportunity Minsk highlights its stance on Ukraine that is different from the one of Moscow. They do not recognize Crimea’s reunion with Russia and support “fraternal Ukraine fighting for its independence.” As a return “gesture of good will,” U.S. and EU recognized the presidential election in Belarus in 2015 as “democratic” and lifted the sanctions they imposed on the Belarusian leadership in 2010 over “political repressions” against the local opposition.
Thanks to its flexible stance on Ukraine crisis, Minsk has become a platform for the Normandy Four talks and enlisted the support of Brussels and Washington thus creating favorable conditions for its further rapprochement with the West.
However, Minsk seeks more than just development of diplomatic relations with Western countries. In the period from October up to December 2016, Belarus signed agreements of military cooperation in 2017 at once with three NATO countries: U.S., Poland, and Latvia. The sides presumably agreed to establish a “direct dialogue” to exchange information between military departments prior to the West-2017 joint drill of Russia and Belarus.
Besides, the Belarusian government has been lately flirting with nationalists that do not conceal their anti-Russian views. It closes eyes to the activity of pro-Western “analytical centers” in Minsk that are directly involved in the large-scale information campaign of U.S. and NATO that aimed to discredit the West-2017 Russian-Belarusian drills by warning against alleged “Russian aggression.” Those myths were caught up and disseminated by Western mass media.
Yevsey Vasilyev, deputy director general at Strategic Communications Bureau