Backstage of thaw. Why West making concessions to Lukashenka?

Austria, the Netherlands – who’s next? EU countries, which have had distant relations with Belarus until quite recently, are opening diplomatic missions in the country. What has actually caused the warming? Why has the West turned a blind eye to March’s crackdown on the protests in Belarus? What will never be tolerated? Dutch diplomats who came to the opening of the diplomatic representation in Minsk have answered Belsat TV questions.

Two persons – a charge d’affaires and his assistant will work In the office which is part of Warsaw-based Embassy of the Netherlands. Belarus will remain the area of responsibility of the Dutch ambassador to Poland. Dutch visas will continue to be issued by the German Embassy to Belarus.

Symbolic significance

The decision to open a diplomatic representation was taken in 2015. According to diplomats, Minsk drew the attention of the European Union by offering to be a platform for the peace talks on Ukraine. After the Belarusian authorities agreed on a regular dialogue on human rights, the European Union as a whole and its individual members in particular, including the Netherlands, opted for raising the level of diplomatic relations.

The crackdown on social protests placed Europeans in a dilemma. However, they decided to continue the dialogue. They say that the dialogue has just begun, changes do not happen in one day or even one year. In their opinion, it is too early to make conclusions about the failure of the rapprochement strategy.

“If there is an escalation of problems, of course [we will take measures]. But not we are not facing such a situation. We are in the process of talks now; we have come here not to draw some lines which one must not cross,” Dutch Deputy Foreign Minister Yoka Brandt says.

Economic successor still limited

The Netherlands is a big investor in the Belarusian economy, but the case is one investment: Heineken purchased two Belarusian breweries. However, the reports that Belarus allegedly exported petroleum products worth of $1 bn to the Netherlands turned out to be a myth: the shipments only make a transit stop in the Dutch port of Rotterdam and do not remain in the Netherlands.

“Regular high-level contacts, regular newsbreaks in the West-Belarus relations promote the image of a more independent regional player than Minsk actually is,” political analyst Artsyom Shraibman believes.

The Dutch envoy to Poland and Belarus, who attended the opening, said off the record that diplomatic contacts were not enough to attract foreign investors. According to him, to create a friendly business environment, Belarus should establish the-rule-of-law system and guarantee its further existence.

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