The European Union must take part of the blame for Ukraine’s current political and economic turmoil, Foreign Minister Uladzimir Makey said in an interview with the Czech Republic’s newspaper Lidove Noviny.
Referring to last November’s Eastern Partnership summit in Vilnius, Mr Makey said that he saw EU leaders criticize Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych for “being torn between the East and the West.” According to the Belarusian minister, some EU heads of state warned Mr Yanukovych that Kyiv should not expect financial aid from the 28-nation bloc.
Mr Makey defended the Ukrainian president’s decision to seek closer ties with Russia to save Ukraine’s crumbling economy amid the lack of assistance from the EU. “After that the EU changed its mind and started urgently offering some measures of support while simultaneously stoking the sentiments of people who had taken to the streets for anti-government protests,” he said.
The Belarusian minister stressed that the EU, the United States and the International Monetary Fund had promised extensive financial aid to Ukraine only after the ousting of Mr Yanukovych.
He suggested that the EU should not have told Kyiv to choose between the West and Russia as its integration priorities.
Ukraine and NATO
Belarus would welcome Ukraine’s accession to the Customs Union but acknowledges the country’s right to decide independently on which bloc to join, said Mr Makey. At the same time, he said, Minsk views Ukraine’s possible accession to NATO as “unacceptable.” “That would lead to even bigger unwelcome consequences,” he warned.
Belarus not ready to consider joining the EU
Speaking about the Eastern Partnership, Mr Makey noted that Minsk was interested to take part in the program and viewed it as a tool of improving its relations with the European Union. However, he added, Belarus is not ready to consider joining the EU at present.
“The EU believes that today everyone should and is ready to rush to join the organization, while the EU will be choosing how and with whom it will build some relations. But we won’t be rushing [to join the EU] because we see that there are plenty of problems in the EU,” he stressed.
“If we saw that this is indeed an attractive idea for us, we may rush [to join the EU], but only after weighing up very carefully all pros and cons and calculating all consequences.”
The minister noted that Belarus wanted to conduct a multi-vector foreign policy. “We have always believed that we should have normal relations with the European Union,” he said. “Last year our trade with Russia was 49 percent of [Belarus’] total trade volume, while trade with the European Union was 27 percent. A few years ago the proportions were virtually identical. Things have gotten worse as a result of [EU] sanctions, some other actions.”
Belarus wants to have normal relations both with the EU and Russia because “that pays specific dividends to a specific person,” according to Mr Makey. “We should look to ensure that people live normally, that the situation in the country is normal. That’s why we are interested in having normal relations both with the East and the West,” he said.
Belarus ‘demonized’ by EU media
Mr Makey accused the 28-nation bloc’s media of hushing up Belarus’ successes and magnifying its problems out of proportion. “In other countries no one pays attention to such problems,” he said.
Mr Makey noted that relations between Belarus and the Czech Republic were hindered by the fact that the latter toed the EU line in relations with Minsk. He condemned the EU’s sanctions against Belarusian government officials and other individuals as absurd. “They have targeted people who have nothing to do with the very content of elections,” he said, noting that the EU had blacklisted 10 journalists “for expressing their opinion,” as well as members of election commissions and judges.
“I believe that if we speak about the independence of the judiciary and media we should stick to this principle the whole way. The inclusion of journalists, judges in the sanctions list undermines the fundamental principles of the very democracy that the European Union is constantly telling us about,” said the minister.
Emigre opposition activists as large stumbling block
Mr Makey also added that the Czech government’s practice of granting asylum to Belarusian opposition politicians influences relations between Minsk and Prague. “You have granted them asylum, we have taken note of that. Although, of course, I want to say frankly that it influences the climate of our relations.”
The Belarusian authorities do not accept the European Union’s “open and undisguised” support for Belarusian opposition forces, according to Mr Makey. In particular, he said, opposition organizations in Belarus receive financial aid from EU countries, including the Czech Republic. “We are flatly opposed to that, we will fight that in every kind of way and, of course, that will have an effect on the atmosphere of our relations,” said the minister.
www.belsat.eu/en, via BelaPAN