Alyaksandr Lukashenka was there two years ago. Now Svyatlana Tsikhanouskaya has met with the President and Chancellor of Austria. The main question raised in Vienna, where the OSCE headquarters is located, is whether a negotiating platform with the Lukashenka regime will be launched and who will become a mediator in the talks. What will Svyatlana Tsikhanouskaya bring from Vienna besides beautiful photos?
Austrian authorities have recently shaken hands with Lukashenka, and now they welcome the leader of the Belarusian protests Svyatlana Tsikhanouskaya. The purpose of Tsikhanouskaya’s second visit to Vienna is to force Lukashenka’s regime to sit down at the negotiating table, as well as to repeat at the headquarters of the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe that this organisation can become a platform for negotiations.
But what if these hopes are vain? Svyatlana Tsikhanouskaya is meeting with Sebastian Kurz, the Prime Minister of Austria, for the second time already.
Franak Vyachorka, Svyatlana Tsikhanouskaya’s adviser on international affairs:
“He was one of the first to express support for the democratic protest. He spoke in support of new elections as a solution to the crisis. He, together with the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, initiated pressure on the regime at the EU level.”
Hopes are not only for Austria but also for other OSCE members.
“The participation of the British OSCE mission in organizing the negotiation process was also discussed. It was the United Kingdom that initiated the OSCE Moscow Mechanism, thanks to which 16 other countries joined the process. The United Kingdom has also organized an international platform to record the regime’s crimes,” Vyachorka said.
An international conference initiated by the OSCE missions to discuss ways out of the crisis in Belarus could be the result of this visit.
Alexander Schalenberg, Minister of Foreign Affairs of Austria:
“We had a constructive dialogue. We are very disappointed that there is no progress in resolving the Belarusian issue. We continue to witness civil drama. We discussed the adoption of the next package of EU sanctions at the next Council of Foreign Ministers in May, as well as the involvement of experts from the Venice Commission on constitutional reform.
Answering a question from Belsat, the Foreign Minister stressed out that the OSCE should be the platform for negotiations in the first place, and Austria would promote such an initiative and would not even rule out the participation of Moscow, but ‘without details so far’.
Austrian media analyst Josef Gaffl believes that it is not so much diplomacy that can help solve the Belarusian issue, but the fact that only officials with executive powers will sit at the negotiating table:
“Tsikhanouskaya’s team needs to stop walking in a circle. We heard similar statements during the previous visit. The organisation of the round table should remain in the hands of the Coordinating Council – involving international mediators, of course. But such negotiations must define red lines for the regime, which it cannot cross. And negotiations should be held, even if Lukashenka is not ready for it.”
Renewed protests or another election mobilization can push Lukashenka to such negotiations.
Andrey Yahorau, analyst at the Center for European Transformation:
“Protests are only one of the driving factors in the situation. As autumn has shown, the protests alone do not force anything. A situation that demonstrates the volatility of the political regime is usually an electoral situation. If there is anything to be expected in the resumption of negotiations, it is autumn and the situation with local elections.”
What can sober the regime up and force the release of political prisoners is new sanctions and the cessation of investment. Austria is among the top countries doing business in Belarus. Tsikhanouskaya’s team held informal meetings with Austrian companies to discuss the economic impact on the regime. The Belarusian diaspora has prepared the ground for these talks.
Iryna Pyarvoykina, Belarusian activist, Austria:
“We have started to communicate very actively in Austria with A1 company which is responsible for shutting down the Internet in Belarus. We have started negotiations with Raiffeisenbank, a strong investor in Belarus. We raise curiosity and provide alternative information that Austrian companies do not have. And in addition to the financial interests of these companies, there are some moral codes.
The Austrian Foreign Minister assured that the Federal Government plans to talk to the affected Austrian companies, but this does not mean that the state will interfere in the economy. After all, if the Austrian business leaves Belarus, Russia can take advantage of it.
Austrian deputies also voiced the question of geopolitical orientation to Svyatlana Tsikhanouskaya.
“The question of the future foreign policy of Belarus: what will be the meaningful position on NATO, neutrality, relations with the ‘big brother’?”
And here, obviously, Svyatlana Tsikhanouskaya lacked diplomatic experience. After all, the answer was standard: our task is to hold democratic elections, and then the Belarusians will decide whether to be with the East, the West, the South or the North. It would be better, though, if she answered that we were ready to study the experience of Austria’s neutrality. Moreover, the Belarusian Constitution enshrines the striving of our state to neutrality.
At the final press conference, Tsikhanouskaya assured that she believed the new presidential elections would take place in autumn.
Anastasiya Ilyina for Belsat TV news show PraSviet (World and Us); news item was aired on April 29, 2021
Photo collage: Stefano Costantino / MEGA / The Mega Agency / Forum; Tadas Kazakeviżius / NI Profile / Forum.