Belarusian President Alyaksandr Lukashenka is due to visit Austria on November 11-12. It will be his first bilateral visit to the European Union since it dropped sanctions against him in 2016, as he strives to balance growing pressure from Moscow for integration with Russia, Bloomberg reports.
The visit comes a week before the Russian and Belarusian prime ministers hold talks in Moscow on integration “roadmaps” intended to bind the two countries’ economies more tightly together, the article reads. According to Bloomberg authors Boris Groendahl and Stepan Kravchenko, the EU has been trying to pry the former Soviet republic out of the shadow of the Kremlin by removing sanctions that included Lukashenka personally, when he freed political prisoners and helped mediate in the conflict between Ukraine and Russian-backed separatists.
The Belarusian authorities are also seeking to improve their relations with Western countries, but only to the level at which the thaw would not be a threat to Lukashenka’s rule, Ostrogorski centre analyst Ihar Hubarevich stresses.
Lukashenka might be showing off to make a point of his its independence, but Belarus is still deeply economically dependent on Russia, Bloomberg quotes political analyst Fyodor Lukyanov, who heads the Council on Foreign and Defense Policy, a research group that advises the Kremlin. According to him, there is no room for Belarus’ maneuver in the Union State project.
On November 12, the Belarusian leader is reported to hold talks with Austrian President Alexander Van der Bellen. The sides are expected to talk over the ways to further expand cooperation in trade, economy, investment and humanitarian affairs, and, in particauler, Belarus’ cooperation with the European Union, including within the EaP format. In Vienna, the Belarusian president will also meet with President of the National Council of Austria Wolfgang Sobotka and Chairman of the Austrian People’s Party Sebastian Kurz, state-run news agency BelTA reports.
In February 2016, in the wake of the latest presidential elections in Belarus, the European Union decided to lift its sanctions against Alyaksandr Lukashenka and 169 Belarusian officials cancelling the visa ban and assets freeze. So, the Belarusian leader has been free to come to any European city.
In September 2018, the Belarusian president was invited to Paris to take part in the events on the occasion of the 100th anniversary of the end of the First World War. However, Alyaksandr Lukashenka failed to show up at the celebrations; our country was represented by Mikhail Myasnikovich, Chairman of the Council of the Republic of Belarus.
In March 2019, Polish president Andrzej Duda issued invitations to the ceremonies marking the 80th anniversary of the outbreak of the Second World War to leaders of EU, NATO and the EaP countries, including Alyaksandr Lukashenka. But the Belarusian leader is unlikely to accept it as Russia’s Vladimir Putin was not invited to the event.
In May, the European Union invited Lukashenka to dinner to celebrate the tenth anniversary of the EaP initiative, but it was decided that Foreign Minister Uladzimir Makey would replace him. In 2017, the top Belarusian diplomat also visited the EaP Summit, where the Belarusian president had been invited.
In late July, Lukashenka told Latvia’s Foreign Minister Edgars Rinkevics that he was looking forward to seeing Riga.
In late October, the presidential press service confirmed the earlier reports about his intention to make visits to Austria and Latvia. Alyaksandr Lukashenka called it ‘opening the window to Europe’ and compared himself to Russian emperor Peter the Great.