Belarus. Belarus’s relations with Moscow intensified during the year. From New Year, Belarus and Kazakhstan were included in the Russian-led Eurasian Economic Union (EEU), which then also got Armenia and Kazakhstan as members. But the collaboration was subjected to severe pressure. Belarus felt that the Kremlin sought to create an image of an alternative EU, a political project, while Belarus was interested in increased trade. Instead, Kiev learned that the Belarusian trade was lost on cooperation. Due to the low oil prices and the deteriorating Russian economic situation, the problems increased. In the first half of 2015, Belarus’s trade with other countries in the Union fell by a third.
According to COUNTRYAAH, Minsk is the capital of Belarus which is located in Eastern Europe. President Aljaksandr Lukashenka stated with address to Moscow that he wanted to strengthen Belarusian relations to the west. Lukashenka called on the Kremlin to end the war in eastern Ukraine and made it clear that Belarus did not want to be withdrawn on the Russian side to the west. He threatened with Belarus’s exit from the economic union if given promises were not kept. When the President of China visited Belarus during the year, Kiev was promised a loan of about $ 7 billion, and at the end of the year, Belarus decided to apply for a loan from the International Monetary Fund (IMF) of $ 3 billion.
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When President of the Russian Federation Vladimir Putin declared that he wanted to see a Russian air base in Belarus, he received no reaction from Minsk. There is a military cooperation agreement on joint protection of the external borders, but Lukashenka was pending against Russian attempts to bind Belarus security policy in the Russian sphere of power. The Belarusian Foreign Minister said later in the year that Belarus saw no need for a Russian air base in the country.
Lukashenka tried to balance a militarily more aggressive Russian Federation, the war-affected neighboring Ukraine and the EU. In April, he said in an interview that the United States should play a key role in Ukraine’s reconstruction. He explained that Belarus would never become the “north-western province” of the Russian Federation, despite the fact that Russian politicians, according to Lukashenka, have imperialist ambitions and see Belarus as a province. In an interview with Bloomberg News Agency, Lukashenka also said with an irony directed at Putin that he himself was no longer Europe’s last dictator.
During the year, the UN Human Rights Council criticized Belarus for holding political prisoners, not abolishing the death penalty and not holding free elections. The imprisoned former presidential candidate Mikola Statkevich was moved in the spring to a prison with a tougher regime. Five activists were sentenced to short prison sentences after demonstrating for attention to dead democracy activists in Ukraine, including a Belarusian citizen. A website criticizing the anniversary celebration of World War II victory was stopped by the authorities.
But then thawed relations between Belarus and the EU. In early August, the EU eased the sanctions against Belarusian politicians and officials, with 24 people being excluded from the list without giving any reasons. A few weeks later, the Belarusian regime released six imprisoned opposition politicians, including Mikola Statkevich. It happened a day after the registration of candidates for the fall presidential election ceased. Amnesty looked like a clear attempt by Lukashenka to improve relations with the EU in a time of economic and security political pressure in the region. The EU welcomed the release as an important step towards better relations.
Just before Belarus would hold presidential elections in October, it was announced that the Belarusian author Svetlana Aleksijevich was awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature of the Year. She belongs to the cultural workers who openly criticize the regime and have no public platform but instead a popular popularity. In a comment before the presidential election, the award-winner labeled Lukashenka as unreliable and a “soft” dictator. She noted that Lukashenka was expected to win no matter how the people voted.
In Minsk, about a thousand people managed to conduct a protest march demanding free and fair elections without the police intervening. But when it was rumored that the EU was planning to lift its sanctions against Lukashenka after the election came criticism from the newly released opposition leader Mikola Statkevich. He accused the EU of standing with a murderer in that case. Statkevich called for election boycott. Since he had not been released until the registration period expired, he could not stand as a candidate himself. When Statkevich, as well as another former presidential candidate Vladimir Nekliyev and opposition politician Anatol Ljabedzka held political meetings, even though they were not given permission, they were fined. Among the approved four presidential candidates – including Lukashenka – there were opposition politician and Social Democrat Tatsiana Karatkevich,
According to official data, Lukashenka received 83.5% of the vote and Karatkevich 4.4%. Both the opposition and the OSCE election observers rejected the election. It did not meet democratic requirements, according to the OSCE. Opposition politician Vladimir Nekliyev called the election “a spectacle”.
Despite opposition from the opposition, the EU decided temporarily to lift most of the sanctions against the Belarussian regime, including Lukashenka personally, for four months. This meant that 170 people escaped travel bans and frozen assets. This also applied to some companies and authorities. According to the EU, the release of the political prisoners, reportedly the last remaining ones, was crucial to lifting the sanctions. The EU planned to follow developments in Belarus and evaluate it after four months. However, some parts of the EU sanctions remained, including the arms embargo on Belarus.