The European Union (EU) is emerging as the biggest crony of China in Eastern Europe. The intergovernmental bloc who is usually eager to sanction political leaders whom it deems dictatorial is now giving a free pass to the Belarus President, Alexander Lukashenko. The Belarus President is facing serious allegations of rigging the recent polls in his country. Yet, the EU seems unlikely to announce any sanctions against the Lukashenko regime.
The decision of EU to not impose any sanctions on Belarus is seemingly an attempt to help China to gain influence in the former Soviet country at the expense of Russia. Lukashenko seems to share a very good relationship with the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) and if the EU was to sanction the incumbent regime, then it would tantamount to bringing down a Beijing-backed dictator in Belarus.
Belarus itself is a Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS) country. The CIS was formed after the Soviet disintegration in 1991 and headquartered in Minsk, Belarus. It is a regional intergovernmental organisation, including nine members and additional two founding non-members. The CIS countries, being former Soviet Republics, including Belarus, are supposed to be very close to Moscow.
However, of late, Belarus has warmed up to China at the cost of Russia. Last year, Minsk secured a loan of 500 million US dollars from the China Development Bank. Minsk had then come up with a rather unfriendly message for Russia, which had earlier reneged on the promise of a 600 million US dollars loan to Belarus.
The Belarusian Finance Minister Maksim Yermalovich said, “We do not consider the loan of the government of the Russian Federation as a source of funding and, in fact, are not negotiating on this loan.” He added, “We have not provided any requests to the Russian side. We do not expect to receive the Russian loan.”
Moreover, Belarus President Lukashenko himself keeps criticising Russia. Before the latest elections, Lukashenko even accused Russia of interfering in the Belarusian poll process.
33 alleged Russian mercenaries were detained in Minsk on July 29, whom the Belarus authorities accuse of being associated with Wagner, a private military company controlled by the Kremlin. Minsk alleged that the mercenaries of Russia were deployed to destabilise the Eastern European country ahead of elections.
Anyway, Lukashenko has secured 80.23 per cent of the official vote, giving him a sixth term in power in Belarus. On the other hand, the Opposition candidate Svetlana Tikhanovskaya, who has now fled to Lithuania, secured only 9.9 per cent of the official vote. Tikhanovskaya alleged that the election had been rigged and has implied security threat to her children after fleeing to Lithuania.
Within Belarus, there is a lot of anger on the streets. Tikhanovskaya had managed to draw massive crowds at her rallies in the run-up to the Presidential polls. Now, protests and demonstrations have broken out across several cities in Belarus, while the Lukashenko has also started to crack down on the protesters. The demonstrations themselves impeach the creditworthiness of the Belarusian poll results.
As such, China is the biggest beneficiary of Lukashenko’s return to power for a sixth straight term in Belarus. China considers the Belarusian President as an important ally for its BRI ambitions in the region and therefore it doesn’t come as a surprise that the CCP General Secretary, Xi Jinping has congratulated Lukashenko on his “re-election“.
In such circumstances, the EU’s reluctance to sanction the Lukashenko regime clearly suggests that the Brussels-based organisation wants to do a favour to China. Within the EU, there have been demands to sanction on the Belarusian dictator, but all such demands are falling on deaf ears.
Polish MEP Robert Biedroń, Chairman of the European Parliament’s Belarus delegation said, “We should introduce sanctions on Belarusian officials responsible for grave violations of human rights and fundamental rights.” He added, “There must be a price that Lukashenko is paying for his violations of human rights and fundamental freedoms. Without this price paid by Lukashenko, nothing will change in Belarus.”
The EU lifted most of the sanctions on the Lukashenko regime in 2016, arguing that “significant, even if limited” steps were taken in the right direction after the release of some political prisoners. Even in the backdrop of ongoing protests and police crackdown across Belarus, the EU has remained unmoved.
The European Union’s general hypocrisy is telling here. Since the Russian annexation of Crimea in the year 2014, a Germany-led EU has been trying to find ways to impose as many sanctions on Russia as possible. But when it comes to taking on a pro-China dictator, the EU simply backs out.
The EU, which is being controlled by its de facto leader- Angela Merkel, is using sanctions over lack of democracy as a necessary tool to safeguard Chinese interests in Eastern Europe. And therefore, the EU has chosen to look the other way while a pro-China dictator clamps down on fundamental freedoms and blatantly violates human rights in Belarus.