USA and Belarus ready to restore relations at the level of ambassadors
After an 11-year hiatus, Washington and Minsk agree to increase the level of bilateral relations
Minsk and Washington agreed to restore diplomatic relations between the countries at the level of ambassadors. This became known following the visit of US Deputy Secretary of State for Political Affairs David Hale to Belarus, which ended on September 17..
After the US imposed sanctions against the petrochemical companies of Belarus in 2008, Belarus recalled its ambassador Mikhail Khvostov and invited US Ambassador Karen Stewart to leave Minsk. Since then, the missions in Washington and Minsk were headed by chargé d’affaires, and the diplomatic staff of the embassies was reduced on parity terms to 5 employees. Thus, the period of frozen ties that has lasted for more than 11 years is coming to an end. According to Hale, this is a historic moment in Belarusian-American relations..
«I am pleased to take part in the announcement of readiness for an exchange of ambassadors as the next step to normalize our relations.», – he said.
In addition, David Hale stated that the United States does not force Minsk to choose between West and East, and confirmed that the United States remains a firm supporter of supporting the sovereignty and independence of Belarus.».
For his part, President of Belarus Alexander Lukashenko also expressed his readiness to develop bilateral contacts.
«As for our relations with you, you are very well aware and aware that this is not the only signal that we send to the US leadership about the normalization of relations.», – he told an American diplomat.
Despite the outlined easing of restrictions, which followed the mediation efforts of Belarus in the settlement of the conflict in Donbass, the situation continues to be complicated by the sanctions imposed in 2006 by the George W. Bush administration against the Belarusian leadership and a number of officials..
Washington is ready to discuss further steps to weaken the sanctions regime, but expects Belarus to move forward in the area of human rights and democracy, David Hale emphasized..
It is too early to speak about the date of the American ambassador’s arrival in Minsk. A candidate for this post must first pass Senate approval.
Commentary from politicians
Belarusian opposition politician Anatoly Lebedko was among the civil society delegation with which the US Undersecretary of State also met. The politician believes that Washington sent a diplomatic mission with a fairly clear message.
In short, it is as follows: the United States has an interest in Belarus, he added in a comment for the Russian service «Voices of America: «This should be assessed as a positive factor, because the republic, which falls out of the international agenda, is doomed to big problems and difficulties. Now the ball is in the Belarusian half. And what is very important – improvement in relations is due to a number of circumstances».
The process will not start automatically, Anatoly Lebedko stressed: «First, progress is needed with regard to elections, rights and freedoms of citizens. And all the members of the American delegation with which we met spoke about this. The lifting of sanctions is directly linked to this progress».
To the Belarusian oppositionist, such a combination seems to be correct: «In simple, accessible language, Washington states: "morning chairs –money in the evening". And Lukashenka, of course, at least in relations with the Europeans, imposes his own agenda: "money in the morning and money in the evening". Even if, perhaps, not in the volumes that he wants. The political agenda has shrunk very much here. Therefore, here I would still note the different strategies of Washington and Brussels.».
In the opinion of Anatoly Lebedko, a diplomatic mission with an ambassador and an increase in the number of diplomats from 5 to 30 – it is not only a quantitative indicator – quantity in such a situation should turn into quality: «Our American interlocutors emphasized that this step was taken to solve the main task – democratization of Belarus. Therefore, so far everything looks quite optimistic.».
This does not mean that the sanctions will be quickly lifted: first, Lukashenka must show the world something significant, the politician summed up.
Leader of the unregistered Belarusian Social Democratic Party (Narodnaya Gromada), former presidential candidate of the Republic of Belarus Nikolay Statkevich much more skeptical. He does not think that the situation in relations between Belarus and the United States will significantly improve.
«Because Lukashenka will never allow the counting of votes in elections, will not allow the opposition to be widely represented in precinct election commissions, and will not allow observers to follow the process of counting ballots, – explained the ex-presidential candidate in a comment to the Russian service «Voices of America». – He also will not give up preliminary voting, that is, completely closed from observers, when it is formally believed that approximately 35% of the voters are voting, and 95-99% they allegedly give preference to representatives of the authorities or Lukashenka».
Lukashenka will never move away from this practice, says Mikola Statkevich: «If sociologists talk about more than 80% of Belarusians who want changes, then during my personal meetings in the provinces – and I often go there – they always correct me and say: no, 95%. I admit that now Lukashenka’s supporters in Belarus are still somewhere else, except, of course, supporters by position, but they are hiding very well. It is a backward spiral of silence. They are afraid to show their support to the incumbent publicly because of fears that angry fellow citizens might do something to them.».
Lukashenka will not agree to accept democratic indulgences in such a situation, the politician is convinced: «The main thing for the West right now is probably not to get worse. And worse comes when society begins to resist. Then the government reacts with all the foolishness and strength. Obviously, everything will depend on the Belarusians themselves – whether they will show readiness to get rid of Lukashenka. Because his main achievement over the years – he managed to convince people that he cannot be removed».
If people have even a little hope, and they come out to mass protests, the authorities will react, do not look at any America, and then strengthening ties between countries will again become impossible, Nikolai Statkevich concluded..