The European Union together with international financial institutions is willing to offer Belarus a large amount of financial aid in exchange for releasing and rehabilitating political prisoners and holding elections that meet the standards of the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE). The amount of financial aid could reach nine billion euros, which looks absolutely mind-boggling, what with all the fiscal instability in the Eurozone and the global economic crisis. What’s more, the EU is not demanding that Lukashenko step down from his post.
At the Warsaw Summit bringing together the 27 members of the EU and six partner countries formerly part of the Soviet Union, Polish Prime Minister Donald Tusk announced to journalists, “We are making it clear to Belarus: it has the chance to receive significant aid to modernise the country, but such aid can be given only to a democratic state”. Tusk spoke of the possibility that international organisations, including the European Investment Bank, European Bank for Reconstruction and Development and the International Monetary Fund, would provide Belarus with grants and loans totalling up to 9 billion USD to stabilise the national currency and loosen up visa regulations. The very same money, he believes, could be used for the country’s much needed overhaul of its democratic values.
Tusk stressed, “We have informed the Belarusian authorities of what the conditions are: first and foremost, providing complete amnesty and rehabilitation for the country’s political prisoners, hold negotiations with the opposition and conduct parliamentary elections that meet the standards of the OSCE. We for the first time ever are seeing how the EU is coming together decisively to offer Belarus aid in exchange for real change. This is not a radical change but rather the least of what any European would expect.
So there it is: the Warsaw Summit was used to make a proxy offer to Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko to come to the bargaining table. But it is hard to say just how realistic this is. A lot of subjectiveness is involved and there isn’t enough actual money to go around. International financial institutions also need to be convinced, while the EU has a tight budget. The fact, nonetheless, of there now being political bargaining going on, is obvious.
The bargaining was able to enliven the otherwise sullen summit, which gave out a declaration in the spirit of “little was achieved, including this and that, however…”. The project was supposed to draw the line on the European Union’s expansion for the long run and pacify Europeans, while at the same time giving countries already knocking at the EU’s door an alternative option for integration without actually joining the EU. That’s not to say that the addressees and the beneficiaries were exactly happy with this, since they wanted to become fully legitimate EU member-states right away. They did, however, accept the summit’s alternative.
The project proposal was made to the most “European” countries, in the geographical sense of the word, of the former Soviet Union: Azerbaijan, Armenia, Belarus, Georgia, Moldavia, Russia and Ukraine.
Russian turned down the proposal right off the bat; the Kremlin did not agree with a nuclear (and oil-and-gas) power being in the same group with someone... The Europeans, big-time aficionados of Russian natural gas, thought this phrasing to be convincing and agreed with Moscow to build special relations. Therefore, the project has six countries left, while Russia is left with jealousy.
The Eastern Partnership proposal, to put it in layman’s terms, presents the following forumula: democratic and market reforms in exchange for money, visa and trade preferences. The six former-Soviet republics have been promised money from the allied budget for 2012 and 2013, as well as the founding of a free-trade zone, similar to what unites the EU with Iceland, Norway and Switzerland, at an undetermined time in the future.
Despite the superficial courtesy and politically correct gestures, the EU’s chief member states, including France, Germany and the Netherlands, are staunchly against any EU-expansion projects eastward. The French take pains to systematically block any phrasing at summits and ministerial meetings that label these six neighbors to the east as “European countries”. What initially was ambiguity has morphed into clear resistance.
Europe doesn’t have any illusions about Azerbaijan and Armenia. It is not that the path to European values is much too long, but rather the local elite simply does not show any interest in them. Baku and Yerevan’s obligations to lead their countries to “extensive and stable democracy” are seen in Brussels as wishful thinking. Armenian authorities are throwing participants of anti-government protests behind bars and intimidating journalists. The country’s per capita GDP is lower than Angola’s, while at the same time its parliamentarians pull up to work in sport-utility vehicles like a 100,000 dollar Porsche Cayennes. Azerbaijan, an oil-rich nation, remains the Aliyev clan’s personal fiefdom, with, as Europe states, hundreds of political prisoners.
The EU wants to influence settling the Nagorno-Karabakh War, one that has paralysedthe South-Caucasus Region, but it has not been able to do much thus far; the conflicts in Georgia (Abkhazia and South Ossetia) are proving even more difficult. Any attempt to end the War of Transnistria, which, besides Moldova and others, Russia is responsible for, has hit a dead end. In other words, there are hurdles in the way of even the most diligent followers of the Eastern Partnership: Georgia and Moldova. And democracy in these two countries is not exactly taking off.
Ukraineand Belarus, absolutely vital for the Eastern Partnership project, delivered the main and already expected blow to the Warsaw Summit. Belarus boycotted the summit’s second day, while Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych held tense talks regarding the trial of Yulia Tymoshenko. The EU discerns the trial not as the due process of law, but rather the opposition’s slaughter.
Lukashenko is among a number of other high-ranking Belarusian bureaucrats put on the EU’s black list, which prohibits them from entering any of the member-states; they ended up on the list for repressing the opposition and rigging elections. The Warsaw Summit’s organiser, Polish Prime Minister Donald Tusk, sent an invitation to Belarusian Minister of Foreign Affairs Sergei Martynov, who was intentionally left of the black list. He, however, did not make the trip to Warsaw, and the country’s ambassador was instructed to represent Belarus. The ambassador was at the summit’s opening, but the Polish government did not invite him to the working dinner with other heads of state: the rules would not allow otherwise. As a result, Lukashenko was offended, saw this as humiliating for the Belarusian state and ordered to boycott the summit.
Anything else was hard to expect, with the draft declaration of the summit having many unflattering words about the Belarusian regime. Most interesting of all, the six former Soviet republics at the meeting came out in support of Belarus, with Viktor Yanukovych and, as strange as it may sound, Mikheil Saakashvili, being the most vocal supporters. The principle of non-intervention in internal affairs brings the post-Soviet elite together, with each trying on Lukashenko suit.
The EU leaders at the Warsaw Summit who met with the Belarusian opposition and family members of political prisoners, demanded “the immediate release and rehabilitation” of all political prisoners in Belarus. Angela Merkel spoke with Lukashenko’s opponents three times longer than was planned for. Germany is the main source of financing for projects in the six former Soviet republics in the Eastern Partnership. The EU has earmarked 1.9 billion euros for these six countries for 2010 to 2013 for fighting corruption and building modern infrastructure. Lukashenko is frantically searching to scratch up a quick 3 billion to save the country’s economy from total collapse.
Herman van Rompuy, the president of the European Council, Jose Manuel Barroso, the head of the European Commission, Angela Merkel, the chancellor of Germany, and other EU leaders tried to convince Viktor Yanukovych to free Yulia Tymoshenko and throw out her trial. Ukraine wants to integrate with Europe, but European legislation does not have an article that the former Ukrainian prime minister is being tried for. Van Rompuy, Merkel and Tusk see the Ukrainian authorities as using the due process of law for political gain and as trying to wipe out a political opponent. EU civil servants have said that the EU could call off the signing of an agreement, scheduled for December, on the association between it and Ukraine, should Tymoshenko be sentenced to jail.
The Eastern Partnership project had little to show for on its anniversary, although neither its initiators nor partners are looking to shut it down. All in all, it provides an alternative to post-Soviet states’ slipping further into stagnation. Europe in the foreseeablefuture is still a very attractive option.