Vytis Jurkonis: Eastern Partnership is not Eurasian Union, no one is forced if there’s no interest

Vytis Jurkonis
DELFI / Tomas Vinickas

Among them, the statement that Latvia expects to see the highest representation of Belarus at the Eastern Partnership Summit in Riga in May 2015. As well as the idea that this initiative should be reviewed encompassing the interests of all the participants.

What was the Latvian message to the official Minsk? What is the reason behind Latvian expectations to see Belarus represented by the highest rank officials?

Political scientist Vytis Jurkonis (Lithuania) is sharing his opinion with “Belarus Partisan”.

Brussels in the name of the State Secretary of the Latvian MFA noted the expectation to see the highest representation of Belarus at the Eastern Partnership Summit in Riga in May 2015. How to decode this message?

The pragmatic policy of Latvia regarding Belarus was never a secret. And the message is crystal clear so there’s no need to decode anything. That’s another PR opportunity for Belarusian authorities, while content wise this message doesn’t mean anything yet.

What are the conditions for [Belarusian President Alexander] Lukashenko to show up at the Eastern Partnership Summit in Riga?

Do you have any signal that Lukashenko is anxious to go to the Riga Summit? The issue of Lukashenko’s participation or absence at the Summit is completely of the secondary manner. It is much more important to understand what kind of Belarus Brussels and most of all ordinary Belarusians want to see. Unfortunately, currently neither of them do have an answer to that.

That is one of the reasons why official Minsk is able to manipulate and deceive others with the tiny tricks. One day it would be the alleged “derusification”, the other so called “prevention of the green men”. In the context of the tragic events in Ukraine, some officials and journalists would take even the small things or, to be exact, the imitation of it as some sort of a break-through.

What is the role of political prisoners in the EU-Belarus relations?

Everybody knows – the release of all political prisoners is the key issue for the EU. There are 5 political prisoners left in Belarus. The release of the political prisoners could substantially change the situation, but doesn’t that sound like a trade of hostages? Who would guarantee that Belarusian regime is not taking another hostages once others are released? What about the demand to rehabilitate all the political prisoners?

Yes, political prisoners remain to be a central issue of the EU, however there’s already an upcoming package of the “horror stories” for the West. For instance, the Kremlin propaganda would be gradually raising the issue of the rise of the alleged Belarusian nationalism. The Presidential race would again be an occasion for the old stories and claims as if opposition candidates are the project of the Kremlin, etc.

Belarusian authorities will certainly keep up the noise to bypass the issue of the political prisoners. The tactics of Minsk do remind the one of the Kremlin’s attempting to show the West as a weak and unprincipled partner. That is also a convenient signal for the internal audience – what could one expect from the EU, if it makes concessions even on their key issues.

The issue of political prisoners is not directly related to the visa free regime though. What are the chances of Belarus to go ahead with the visa liberalisation process with the EU?

The visa liberalisation process will be on the agenda either way. But make no mistake – what was the outcome of the small border traffic? Lukashenko could have signed this already, but haven’t done it. That only means that the leader of this country is not interested to see more Belarusians visiting Europe.

What are the possible scenarios of reforming Eastern Partnership?

This initiative is at the stage of survival at the moment. Eastern Partnership, especially in Ukraine, is under huge attack, but no one seems to be backing off. For instance, the Minister of Foreign Affairs of Lithuania recently noted that Eastern Partnership has a bright future.

We can argue about different scenarios, but the main principle of exchange (more for more) would hardly change. This relates not only to Belarus, but to Azerbaijan as well, where the human rights are probably at the biggest risk at the moment. Thus said, if some countries are not interested to cooperate, nobody would force them to. Eastern Partnership is not the Eurasian Union.

What is the “individual interest” of official Minsk in the Eastern Partnership?

Legitimation and a nice picture for internal audience as well as economic benefits. In other words – pure pragmatism. The last component is especially important as Kremlin’s ability to finance the loyal partners becomes more limited.

“We have to limit our politically ambitious aims and try to realistically work on the agenda of a wider issues,” noted the State Secretary of the Latvian Foreign Ministry Andrejs Pildegovičs. Does it mean that the EU accepted the conditions of official Minsk: economic cooperation without politics?

Minsk is in no place to put any conditions to the EU. Belarusian authorities can play with the naive or ignorant politicians, but it has no power to demand anything not only because of its size, but most of all because it is hardly an independent player.

Moreover, economic cooperation between Belarus and EU has never stopped even once the restrictive measures were introduced. Pildegovičs knows better than any other that after December 19 2010 the Belarusian exports to Latvia have increased more than three times and Latvia reached the top4 outrun only by Russia, Ukraine and the Netherlands. Therefore this particular quote is rather similar to and rather convenient for Lukashenko’s narrative.


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