time for the EU to re-engage Belarus

European Council on Foreign Relations

 Press release 




With the situation in the East drastically changed by the Ukraine crisis, the EU should move from sanctions to re-engagement with neighbouring Belarus, according to a policy memo published today by the European Council on Foreign Relations.

In ‘From Sanctions to Summits: Belarus after the Ukraine Crisis’ the authors argue that over the last four years, the EU’s sanctions-based policy towards Belarus has been ineffective and even counterproductive. They believe Minsk is nervous about Russian aggression and has made cautious attempts to cultivate its own national identity, whilst Russia’s economic problems have diminished the Kremlin’s appeal for Belarus’s leadership. With the context dramatically reframed by the Ukraine crisis, the EU has now an opportunity to shift to a more constructive approach.

The authors Andrew Wilson and Yaraslau Kryvoi conclude that Belarus seems to be interested in exploring some kind of opening to the West, however, the EU needs to change its approach:

  • The EU needs to understand that the Belarusian leadership has no interest in far-reaching political reform.
  • The EU needs to decide whether or not to take up an implicit offer to act as a partner in strengthening the Belarusian state.
  • The EU needs to find a form of engagement that can reinforce Belarus’s independence, increase its openness to Western influence and promote a more independent civil society.

ECFR’s Andrew Wilson says: “This is different to the previous attempt at warming up relations in 2010. Then there was some small hope of domestic liberalisation. But Lukashenka has made it clear he will not allow any version of the Maidan in Belarus when elections are held later this year. So the West has to decide whether to back statehood and Lukashenka’s often strong hand, rather than unrealistic hopes of democratic breakthrough.”

ECFR’s Yaraslau Kryvoi: "This paper debunks a number of myths and explains why Belarusians do not want to make a choice between European or Eurasian integration, why a regime change in Belarus does not guarantee transition to democracy and what can the West do in Belarus already now to strengthen its statehood and stimulate demand for gradual changes from within."

To download a pdf of this publication, click here.


Andrew Wilson - andrew.wilson@ecfr.eu  - 0044-7 920421066

Yaraslau Kryvoi - kryvoi@gmail.com  @kryvoi

Sophia Pugsley – Sophia.pugsley@ecfr.eu @ECFRWiderEurope

ECFR Press Office - press@ecfr.eu  -   0044 207 227 68 80

For more information on our work on Wider Europe, visit the Wider Europe Programme page. Recent work:

Picture source: Okras, Wikimedia Commons

This paper, like all ECFR publications, represents the views of its authors, not the collective position of ECFR or its Council Members.

The European Council on Foreign Relations (ECFR) is the first pan-European think-tank. Launched in October 2007, its objective is to conduct research and promote informed debate across Europe on the development of coherent and effective European values based foreign policy. ECFR is an independent charity and funded from a variety of sources. For more details go to www.ecfr.eu/about/donors

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