Belarus and the USA: Is Rapprochement Possible?

Deputy Foreign Minister of Belarus holds meetings in Washington, experts discuss the degree of possible interaction between the two countries

Belarus is under increasing pressure from Moscow, which would like greater (up to a merger) integration of the two countries, and needs more attention – and understanding – from the West. This idea was the main one in the speeches of the participants of the “West and Belarus: Revealing Each Other” Roundtable, organized on November 21 in Washington by the Jamestown Foundation..
The fact that some new times are beginning in relations between Belarus and the United States was evidenced by the participation in the round table of Deputy Foreign Minister of Belarus Oleg Kravchenko, former Charge d’Affaires of Belarus in the United States..
As Voice of America reported, in September this year Minsk and Washington decided to restore interstate ties at the ambassadorial level after more than 11 years of “frozen” relations. In March 2008, following the imposition of sanctions by the United States in connection with human rights violations in Belarus, at the insistence of the Belarusian side, the number of employees of the US Embassy in Minsk was reduced. Belarusian Ambassador to the United States Mikhail Khvostov was recalled from Washington for consultations, and US Ambassador Karen Stewart left Minsk at the insistence of the Belarusian side. Since then, the diplomatic missions of the countries have been headed by chargé d’affaires.
Oleg Kravchenko: Suspension of sanctions is a step in the right direction
The diplomat from Minsk often disagreed with various assessments of American experts, in particular, with their opinion about the increased Russian pressure on Belarus and about serious violations of OSCE standards during the last parliamentary elections in his country, but at the same time he communicated quite amicably during the event. with colleagues from the United States – in particular, George Kent, Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for European and Eurasian Affairs.
In an interview with the Russian service of the Voice of America Oleg Kravchenko stated that Minsk is very pleased with the weakening of US sanctions against Belarus, and said that his government would like to achieve their complete lifting: “This is one of the main goals we are striving for, and I believe that we are gradually moving towards this. Even the recent decision to extend the suspension of sanctions from 12 to 18 months was a very positive decision, which we received very positively: the right step in the right direction. “.
The Deputy Foreign Minister of Belarus positively assesses the current level of cooperation between Minsk and Washington, especially if we compare this level with the times of ten years ago: “The depth of our conflict, returning in 2007-2008, was such that even the return to a normal state of affairs in our relations, the development Some additional areas of cooperation require efforts, and most importantly, political will on both sides. This political will on both sides now, it seems to me, is there “.
“There is cooperation between the Pentagon and the Ministry of Defense (Belarus – DG), which consists in teaching the Belarusian servicemen English, as well as in cooperation with our peacekeeping company. Naturally, the economic dialogue is very important – this is also happening now. On November 22, I will meet with a group of businessmen who are potentially interested in cooperation with Belarus, ”said Oleg Kravchenko.
Belarusian identity and Moscow pressure
Experts at the round table analyzed the possible depth of cooperation between Belarus and the West, the peculiarities of the national-state identity of the country, as well as options for how Minsk and Moscow can interact in the near future, and what opportunities are opening up for Western countries.

Belarus and the USA: Is Rapprochement Possible?
Belarus and the USA: Is Rapprochement Possible?

Professor at the University of Redford Grigory Ioffe, specialist in the field of social geography, said that the population of Belarus still for the most part considers the Soviet past of the country important, but “along with the Soviet or pro-Russian narrative, there is also a pro-Western one, which is explained by“ the attractiveness of the West, turbulence after the annexation of Crimea by Russia and the weakening of the Belarusian Soviet identity under the influence of today’s Russia “.
Belarusian political observer Artem Shraibman, who studied the possible development of relations between Belarus and Russia after 2030, believes that Moscow may well both increase pressure on Lukashenka and lose interest in close interaction with his regime. Much, according to the political scientist, will depend on the stability or instability of the Belarusian authorities in the next decade..
In an interview with the Russian service of Voice of America, Artem Shraibman says that Putin, most likely, will not pull Belarus to Russia by direct forceful methods: “There is no territory in Belarus that can be used as a springboard for hybrid aggression. Belarus will have to be seized completely: 10 million people, a fairly combat-ready army, which is not known how it will behave, you can run into tougher sanctions than with Ukraine, because this will be a much more obvious intervention. And then get hold of ten million people who need to be fed when Russia does not even have enough money for its pensioners? I’m not sure that Putin has a political goal on any horizon that would justify all these costs. “.
The expert is sure that the economic pressure, pushed to the limit, is also unlikely to help Moscow: “When we talk about the fact that Russia can cut off some markets, supplies of hydrocarbons, we must understand that all this, even in combination, will not force a person who values ​​his power most of all, surrender that power. He (Lukashenko – DG) would rather declare a default on these loans than agree to integrate Belarus into Russia ”.

Belarusian Opposition And Government Supporters Hold Rallies In Minsk Amid Postelection Tensions

Artem Shraibman also considers the version of the putsch organized by Russia through the power structures of Belarus, which could be bought out, unlikely: “It seems to me that the degree of penetration of Russian influence into the Belarusian power machine is very exaggerated. The Belarusian security forces, of course, are not a pro-Western people, and they are as pro-Russian as the majority of the Belarusian society, but I have no reason to believe that their “pro-Russian” in any way at least seriously outweighs their loyalty to Lukashenka. These people understand that if Russia comes – with the Russian business, with the Russian military, with the Russian oligarchs – no one guarantees their future the way Lukashenka guarantees it today ”.
“The Belarusian system of power departments is built in such a way that there are about 10 departments that monitor each other, constantly listen to each other, control each other, there are controllers over the controllers. Even starting a conversation about some kind of putsch is so scary that, I think, people will simply be afraid to risk what they have in order to arrange some kind of provocation with an unsecured outcome, to risk the safety of their families – because it is clear that will follow in case of failure of such an attempt “, – concludes Artem Shraibman.
Janusz Bugayski: if Belarus is absorbed by Russia, there will be no reforms

Belarus and the USA: Is Rapprochement Possible?

Senior Expert, Center for European Policy Analysis Janusz Bugayski (Janusz Bugajsky), who also participated in the Jamestown Foundation roundtable, is convinced that the West can temporarily turn a blind eye to the shortcomings of the Lukashenka regime in order to help him maintain sovereignty: “We would not want Belarus to repeat the fate of Ukraine, part of which Russia. And if this means that we must support Lukashenka’s efforts to preserve the country’s integrity – despite the fact that his regime is authoritarian – we must give him this support. We must prevent its failure, because it will mean partial or complete capture of Belarus by Russia ”.
“This does not mean that we should completely forget about the problems of democracy and human rights, but the approach to this should not be as straightforward as before. We, of course, should not provide Lukashenka with such a level of legitimacy that would allow him to rule for life. But by pulling it closer to the West, we are simultaneously trying to counterbalance this by introducing values ​​and institutions that will not arise in Belarus at all if it is swallowed up by Russia. In a simple way, Belarus still has the opportunity to turn into a democracy, remaining insubordinate to Putin’s Russia, but if Russia swallows it, it will never become a democracy, “Janusz Bugayski says in an interview with Voice of America..

  • Danila Galperovich

    Reporter for the Russian Service «Voices of America» in Moscow. Collaborates with «Voice of America» since 2012. For a long time he worked as a correspondent and presenter of programs in the Russian service of the BBC and «Radio Liberty». Specialization – international relations, politics and legislation, human rights.

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