The Kremlin on Monday hosted controversial Belarussian leader Alexander
Lukashenko for talks about deeper economic integration amid growing calls for
tougher sanctions against Belarus for the execution of 2 convicted bombers.
Lukashenko took part in a summit of the Eurasian Economic Community, which
Prime Minister and President-elect Vladimir Putin wants to develop into a union
of former Soviet states that would rival the European Union.
Belarussian Deputy Prime Minister Sergei Rumas said after the talks that
participants had agreed on working out concrete steps to counter any sanctions.
“All sides agree that no group of states should put pressure on any member
state,” Rumas was quoted as saying by Interfax.
EU officials talked of introducing broader economic sanctions against Minsk
because of the executions of Vladislav Kovalyov and Dmitry Konovalov, who were
convicted of carrying out a bomb attack in the Minsk metro that killed 15
people and wounded more than 300 in April 2010.
Belarussian state television said over the weekend that the 2 had been
executed, prompting horror and outrage in the West.
Germany’s Frankfurter Rundschau newspaper called Lukashenko a “merciless
barbarian” in an editorial published Monday.
Human rights activists say that the trial against the two had raised suspicion
about their guilt. The doubts were fueled by a Belarussian High Court decision
in January ordering the destruction of all material evidence against them.
Critics also said the seemingly hurried execution could be part of an official
“An opinion has also been expressed that the death sentence was executed so
fast because the 2 men knew something about the real organizers of the
terrorist attack,” Estonian lawmaker Andres Herkel said on his website.
Jacek Protasiewicz, a Polish member of the European Parliament, said the
27-country union would probably slap new sanctions against Minsk and withdraw
its ambassadors permanently from Belarus, leaving its diplomatic relations at
“Lukashenko’s tragic, shocking and incomprehensible decision showed that he is
not interested in cooperation with the West,” Protasiewicz told Polish radio
station RMF FM, the Naviny.by website reported.
Last month, the EU recalled its ambassadors from Belarus after Minsk kicked out
the Polish and EU envoys in retaliation for Brussels’ decision to ostracize
more Belarussian officials.
Dubbed “Europe’s last dictator,” Lukashenko has seen his ties with the West
worsen dramatically since his December 2010 re-election.
He launched a violent crackdown on opposition activists who complained about
Brussels has so far focused on sanctions against individual officials but is
facing louder demands for extending the penalties further.
Dmitry Uss, who ran against Lukashenko in the election and was arrested along
with most other candidates after the vote, called for tougher European
“I beg you to show wisdom, toughness and decisiveness and impose economic
sanctions against Belarus in order to save the country from further decline,”
he wrote in an open letter to EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton, the
Belapan news agency reported.
The European Parliament said in a resolution last week that the EU should
impose broad economic sanctions.
Europe is Belarus’ major trade partner after Russia, and the country sells
large quantities of potash, petroleum products and oil to several EU members.
Moscow has already signaled that it would not approve of sanctions against
“We won’t allow any harm to our Belarussian colleagues,” deputy Prime Minister
Dmitry Rogozin said last week.
Most experts agreed Monday that both Lukashenko and Moscow will continue to
ignore Western public opinion.
“It can’t get much worse than it is right now,” Belarussian analyst and
opposition politician Yaroslav Romanchuk said.
He said outrage about the death sentence is not shared by most people in
Belarus and that the backlash could actually boost Lukashenko’s popularity.
“He will just say that he is not bowing to outside interference,” Romanchuk
He added that economic sanctions would likely miss their mark because Minsk
could easily circumvent them by redirecting exports through Russia.
Konstantin Zatulin, a former United Russia State Duma deputy who heads the
influential Commonwealth of Independent States Institute think tank, said
Moscow would not and should not change tack.
“Russia and Belarus have lived over hundreds of years together through wars and
revolutions. We won’t change relations just because of an execution,” he said.
Zatulin scoffed at Western criticism of Belarus, which he said is too narrow
because it considers only the death penalty and economic difficulties, both of
which can be found elsewhere.
“What about the death penalty in the United States?” he asked, adding that
Belarus’ financial troubles were less severe than those of Greece.
Others pointed out that the latest spat with Europe would only boost Russia’s
influence over its western neighbor.
“The more isolated Lukashenko is from the rest of the world, the more dependent
he is on Moscow,” political commentator Konstantin Eggert said on Kommersant
(source: St. Petersburg Times Russia)