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European values or business as usual towards Lukashenko?

On February 22, new sanctions against the Lukashenko regime are expected to be considered by the EU Council in relation to the situation in Belarus and the involvement of the regime in Russian aggression against Ukraine. What decisions should be expected?

This issue is of high importance, because for several weeks on the eve of the adoption of new restrictive measures, the exemptions for Belarusian potash, which is subject to EU sanctions since 2021, have been actively discussed. There are also US sanctions against the Belarusian Potash Company. Simultaneously, Lithuania has banned the transit of Belarusian potash through its territory and closed the possibility for Lukashenko’s regime to use the port of Klaipeda at national level.

Thus, the main export industry of the Lukashenko regime faced huge problems due to the 50-percent fall in potash export and the 60-percent fall in its production in Belarus. It is not surprising that all the efforts of the regime’s lobbyists are directed at lifting these sanctions.

The first serious attempt was made last spring through the mediation of UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres. At that time Lukashenko hoped to have the potash sanctions lifted in exchange for the transit of Ukrainian grain through Belarus. However, official Kyiv rejected Lukashenko’s "services," which is absolutely no wonder after all. The Belarusian dictator is a key ally of Russia and an accomplice in the war unleashed against Ukraine.

In February 2022, Russia began the invasion of the Kyiv region exactly from the territory of Belarus. It was specifically Lukashenko’s assistance that enabled the "Buchan massacre" to have happened (the mass murder of civilians in the Kyiv region, a de facto genocide, the footage of which shocked the entire civilized world). Lukashenko provided the Russian troops with full access to the necessary infrastructure and let them through the Belarusian-Ukrainian border.

Certainly, the Russian offensive on Kyiv eventually failed, but this did not change the behavior of Lukashenko, who throughout the war continued to provide Russia with all the necessary logistical, infrastructural and medical support. Ukraine was subjected to about 800 missile strikes from the territory of Belarus. Lukashenko decommissioned and handed over to Russia a huge amount of military equipment and ammunition. Belarus' industry today has actually been placed on a war-footing and serves the Russian military-industrial complex. And here, in Belarus, at incessant military exercises, the Russian military is training and forming shock troops together with the Belarusian military.

The only "merit" attributed to Lukashenko is that the Belarusian army has not yet crossed the border and entered the war against Ukraine directly. And it seems that he is actively trying to use this "merit" again in order to achieve the much-needed exemptions for potassium in the new package of EU sanctions…

In order to weaken the sanctions, the regime’s lobbyists are once again launching the old "rumpus" called "Lukashenko is the guarantor of Belarus' independence". Amid the war, they are trying to sell this story under the guise of "Lukashenko's resistance to the Kremlin’s pressure". Allegedly, Lukashenko can "escape from the arms of the Kremlin" and guarantee that his army will not enter the war on the ground if the pressure on him is stopped, sanctions against him are eased, and he gets "room to maneuver".

At the same time, they completely forget that the first truly tough sanctions, including sanctions against Belarusian potassium, were introduced long before the start of the war. Even the massive repression and terror that Lukashenko unleashed after he lost the elections in 2020 did not immediately prompt the West to act harshly. Furthermore, Lukashenko simply could not have committed the subsequent crimes like the forced landing of a Ryanair plane and the migration crisis on the borders with the EU.

However, Lukashenko did all steps toward sanctions absolutely consciously. Just as he consciously deepened integration with Russia during all the 30 years of his rule, concluding one agreement after another creating the so-called Union State, dreaming to head it one day, and thus threatening the sovereignty of Belarus. Definitely, Lukashenko dreamed of the Kremlin from his first days in power in Belarus.

No sanctions ever pushed him to surrender more and more of Belarus’s sovereignty to Russia, time after time, with each new agreement. This is a myth invented by his own political technologists and diplomats, created only in order to allow Lukashenko to escape from sanctions time after time and to continue to stay in power and trade Belarusian sovereignty.

And even more, no sanctions have pushed the dictator to open the border to the Russian army and help it invade Ukraine at the end of joint military exercises with Russia in 2022. Or does anyone believe that otherwise Russia would fight its way to Ukraine in Belarus? Whether it would fight with the Belarusian army? No. Without the voluntary consent and full cooperation of the Lukashenko regime, the invasion from the Belarusian bridgehead simply would not have happened. Or maybe there would have been no invasion at all.

The narrative about "Lukashenko resisting the Kremlin" is thoroughly false. And even more false is the narrative that the Lukashenko regime should be lifted or at least weakened in order to "tear it away from Russia".

Who of the lobbyists of this idea can confidently declare that Lukashenko will not continue to use the resources received from the easing of sanctions to service the Russian military-industrial complex? Who guarantees that the "Belarusan offshore" will not work for Russia and for the war? And even more so, who will guarantee that the Lukashenko regime "freed" from sanctions will remove Russian troops and military facilities from Belarus? The answer, obviously, is no one. Because as long as the Lukashenko regime exists, it will never happen.

But let us fantasize. Does Lukashenko really want to break away from Russia and get Belarus out of the sanctions? All the cards are in his hands right now:

  1. An end to repressions and the release of all Belarusians convicted on politically motivated sentences.

  2. Termination of complicity in the war and the logistical, infrastructural, production and other support of the military aggressor Russia.

  3. Withdrawal of all Russian troops and military facilities from Belarus, termination of joint exercises and training of Russian troops on the territory of Belarus. The arguments about the treaties it has with Russia do not stand up to criticism here. Any treaties that run counter to the state interests can and should simply be suspended.

  4. Holding new, free and transparent elections without Lukashenko's candidacy under supervision of the OSCE mission and independent observers.

Lukashenko, as "guarantor of sovereignty" can do all this even tomorrow, if he is such. And no preconditions in the form of removal of sanctions are required for this. The removal of sanctions can and should be a consequence of the implementation of these measures, but not vice versa.

The invalidity of the "guarantor of sovereignty" narrative is obvious. The lobbyists for easing and lifting sanctions against the Lukashenko regime certainly understand this. That is why today pursuing the hope of achieving exemptions for Belarusian potash (which is the key export resource of the Lukashenko regime), they are trying to dilute one false narrative with another. Namely the thesis about the "threat to food security".

But it has nothing to do with reality. For the tenth month in a row, the average value of the world food price index has been falling, and there are no signs of it beginning to rise. World prices of one of the key crops, wheat, have also fallen for the third month in a row.

Maybe fertilizer prices are going up? No. Someone will try to speculate on wholesale prices. But they are not an indicator, just quotes that haven’t been updated in a long time. But if we look at retail prices for agricultural producers, cleared of speculators then we see that the average retail price of potash has been falling since late October 2021.

It’s a fact that Lukashenko’s potassium won’t save any starving people, won’t save anyone’s lives. But it can take them away. Because paying for Belarusan potassium equals paying Lukashenko for repression, murder and terror against Belarusians. Paying for Belarussian potassium is the same as paying Lukashenko and the Kremlin for the war against Ukraine.

Who in his right mind could be interested in this? The obvious answer is only those whose interests coincide with those of Lukashenko.

The first and main interested party is Russia. Lukashenko’s regime completely secures its interests in Belarus, but in the conditions of the current sanctions it is costing Russia a lot of money. Therefore, freeing up a huge amount of money for its existence by lifting the sanctions on Potash is a great solution for the Kremlin.

And it is even more important for the Kremlin to prevent the harmonization of sanctions against Russia and the Lukashenko regime for aggression against Ukraine. If this happens, it would close the "Belarus window" for Russia, through which it receives the goods it needs, which it cannot get directly because of the sanctions against it. And first of all, these are dual-use products, electronics, and other goods and technologies needed by the Russian military-industrial complex.

Thus, we come to a simple conclusion: the lobbyists working to ease sanctions on the Lukashenko regime work not only and not so much for him as for Russia itself.

And today we can say that despite all the falsity and inconsistency of their arguments, the lobbyists act quite effectively. Just days before the expected decision of the Council of the European Union on new sanctions against Lukashenko’s regime, the question of the exemptions for Belarusian potash is still pending.

It turns out that there are interested parties for the application of such exemptions on the western side as well. It is necessary to say about it directly that among the member states of the European Union there are those whose business interests coincide with the interests of Lukashenko’s regime, with the interests of the Kremlin. Those, who by all means, want to return to business as usual with Lukashenko and with Russia, too. Those who are actually ready to help both aggressors financially and give them more resources to continue the war against Ukraine.

And that means challenging all the European values that the European Union declares. The values that underlie it. After all, when Putin and Lukashenko get what they want, they will not stop at Ukraine, but they will start destroying United Europe even more actively from within at the expense of the Europeans themselves.

The moment of truth is coming. The moment when the EU will give a direct answer to the simple question, what is more important for it today: European values and the future of Europe or business as usual with dictators and military aggressors?

Lukashenko’s potassium is a weapon. But it depends on the EU decision to whom it will be directed: the dictator and war criminal or to Belarusians, Ukrainians and all Europeans in general.


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