EU

The 2009 visit of Javier Solana, the EU’s High Representative for a Common Foreign and Security Policy, pointed to a short-term end to Belarus’ isolation and a warming of relations with the EU. Solana met with government officials and opposition figures. The leader of the opposition “For Freedom” movement, Alyaksandr Milinkevich, publicly termed the visit a great chance for the country and called for the continuation of the dialogue. Previously, senior representatives of the Council of Europe had visited Minsk.

By 2009 an EU-Belarus political dialogue had been established, a human rights dialogue had been launched, technical cooperation had increased, and Belarus was actively participating in the EU’s Eastern Partnership Program .

EU Sanctions after 2010 Elections

By early 2011, however, the EU (together with the U.S.) had added new sanctions on Belarus in response to the violent crackdown on protests following the December 2010 presidential election.  The EU Foreign Affairs Council banned Lukashenko and 150 other officials from traveling to the EU, and extended a list of those hit by an EU assets freeze.

2011 Eastern Partnership Summit Flap

The EU opted not to invite Lukashenko to attend the 2011 Eastern Partnership Summit as part of its sanctions on Belarus. In response, Belarus' foreign minister refused to attend and the Belarus delegation eventually departed claiming "discrimination" (because it was not allowed to attend events meant for heads of state/government). Perhaps more likely, Belarus authorities were miffed that senior EU leaders were demonstratively meeting with opposition figures and criticizing government behavior. Belarus reportedly did not respond positively to a nine billion Euro EU proposal of assistance in return for democratization.

Withdrawal of EU Ambassadors

EU ambassadors were temporarily withdrawn from Belarus in 2012, after Minsk expelled all Swedish diplomats in Minsk in response to a Swedish advertising agency's air-drop of teddy bears.

Belarus at 2013 EU Eastern Partnership Summit

Belarus was invited to the 2013 EU Eastern Partnership Summit at Vilnius, and was represented by Foreign Minister Uladzimir Makei. He was interpreted as taking a somewhat conciliatory position, calling for a common economic space from Lisbon to Vladivostok. Belarus also resumed visa simplification talks with the EU.

West's policy dilemma

The West's approach to Belarus has fluctuated between whether to seek democratization as its policy priority and apply carrots and sticks to this objective, or to accept that the Lukashenko regime is not going to go away soon and so engage the Belarus elite and seek opportunities for limited, but realistic cooperation.