EU-Belarus relations: Delicate ties under strain

25-04-2017

Belarus – a hesitant participant in the Eastern Partnership (EaP) and traditionally one of Russia's closest allies – has long tested the limits of the EU's policy projection. The main sticking point in EU-Belarus relations has been and still remains Minsk's reluctance to commit to democracy, as well as to political and civil rights. In the light of 'positive political developments' in relations between the European Union and Belarus – owing not least to the Belarusian authorities' release of six political prisoners in August 2015 – the Council lifted some restrictive measures on Belarus in February 2016, while extending others for a further year. The Ukraine crisis – during which Minsk hosted important ceasefire talks – appeared to spark a rethink in both Minsk and Brussels. Growing frictions with Moscow and the continued economic recession in Russia have put pressure on the social contract between Belarus's leadership and its citizens, increasing the incentives for Belarus to mend ties with the West, including the EU. However, Minsk's crackdown on recent protest waves have sparked criticism from the EU and rekindled concern over long-standing president Alexander Lukashenko's poor human rights record.

Belarus – a hesitant participant in the Eastern Partnership (EaP) and traditionally one of Russia's closest allies – has long tested the limits of the EU's policy projection. The main sticking point in EU-Belarus relations has been and still remains Minsk's reluctance to commit to democracy, as well as to political and civil rights. In the light of 'positive political developments' in relations between the European Union and Belarus – owing not least to the Belarusian authorities' release of six political prisoners in August 2015 – the Council lifted some restrictive measures on Belarus in February 2016, while extending others for a further year. The Ukraine crisis – during which Minsk hosted important ceasefire talks – appeared to spark a rethink in both Minsk and Brussels. Growing frictions with Moscow and the continued economic recession in Russia have put pressure on the social contract between Belarus's leadership and its citizens, increasing the incentives for Belarus to mend ties with the West, including the EU. However, Minsk's crackdown on recent protest waves have sparked criticism from the EU and rekindled concern over long-standing president Alexander Lukashenko's poor human rights record.