Despite facing condemnation and sanctions from Western nations over its crackdown on opposition protests after a disputed election, Belarus is not isolated on the international stage, the country’s most senior diplomat has said.
In an interview with Moscow’s RBK news network on Monday, Foreign Minister Vladimir Makei rejected the idea that all of the country’s allies, bar Russia, abandoned it since the start of the demonstrations. “I do not agree that we are left with Russia alone, and we have no other contacts in the foreign policy sphere,” he said.
“We have maintained normal relations with countries in our long-range arc, such as China, Pakistan and others.” Even in the face of economic sanctions from the EU and the US, Makei said, “our foreign trade turnover, on the contrary, has increased during this time… There are about ten countries with which our trade has increased over the past year, despite the pandemic, and despite the political nuances.”
According to him, the short-term prospects of better ties between Belarus and the West are poor, because the EU “unequivocally calls for sanctions pressure on our country at the suggestion of those fugitive opponents of the authorities who are now traveling around European cities and villages.” However, in the future, Makei claimed, “the realization will come that Belarus is of great importance for the European Union as well.”
Svetlana Tikhanovskaya, who stood against the country’s long-time leader Alexander Lukashenko in the presidential election in August last year, has been campaigning for Brussels to put more pressure on Belarus. The opposition, and many international observers, say that the vote was rigged in Lukashenko’s favor and tens of thousands have since taken to the streets to demand a fresh poll.
Having fled to Lithuania shortly after the outbreak of unrest, Tikhanovskaya has sought support from EU nations to force Lukashenko out of office. In November, she announced a plan to designate the country’s top law enforcement agencies as “terrorist organizations.”
Under the proposals, Belarus’ specialist riot police, the OMON, and the Main Directorate for Combating Organized Crime and Corruption would face personal sanctions for their involvement in the crackdown on opposition activists. The move was backed by Dutch Minister of Foreign Affairs Stefan Blok, who said he would support the initiative.
Lukashenko has said that he will step back from the presidency and call an “open” election, but only once unrest has died down. “My main condition for leaving power is peace and order in the country and no protests,” the embattled leader said in a speech to the country’s legislative assembly last week. He had previously insisted that it would be a mistake for him to hand over power before a new constitution is in place. He has since claimed that the draft document would be “ready within a year.”
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