Analysis: Polish pleas on Belarus falling on deaf ears

The EU and the US look unlikely to make any moves over Belarus. They are too preoccupied with their own internal problems.

The key moment in the situation unfolding in Belarus seems to have been Vladimir Putin’s recognition of the election result that the dictatorship produced. Once that happened Belarusian president Alexander Lukashenko moved swiftly to attack Poland, the Czech Republic and the UK for promoting the protests engulfing his country. And the West certainly got the message that Belarus matters to the Russian head of state. A big sign “keep off” was posted.

Over the last few months the Belarusian dictator had attempted to thaw relations with the West and the EU to counter pressure from Moscow. He hoped for economic deals from the EU, but now faced with an existential threat inside his own country he has backed Moscow again.

If in the coming days the events in Belarus spiral out of his control and the West imposes sanctions Lukashenko will have little choice but to offer Putin what the Russian leader wants, just in order to survive. This means that an informal sort of annexation could be realised by Moscow and be presented as some form of success to the public back home.

Neither the EU nor the US are prepared to offer a concrete vision for the future of Belarus. Deposing a dictatorship can be costly in terms of human lives and the economy. But the price for Belarusian society might be worth paying if there was a fast track to Europe and the West which was on offer.

But the EU is not ready to offer anything. President Macron wants another reset with Moscow. Chancellor Merkel has business interests such as Nord Stream 2 and her SPD partners are more sympathetic to Russia than the US. Britain is preoccupied with Brexit and Scotland.

Lukashenko knew what he was doing when on Monday he mentioned the risk of a Maidan in his country. Belarusians will remember what the Maidan cost the Ukrainians. Crimea, the Donbas and thousands of casualties. Seven years after the fall of Yanukovych Ukraine is poorer than Belarus and nowhere near gaining a road map to EU membership.

The pandemic has put all EU enlargement plans on ice. EU cohesion is already in question with the inequality between North and South, as well as conflicts over rule of law with Central Europeans and separatism in Spain and Belgium. There is therefore little chance that it would make an offer to Belarus that crossed the Russians.

Polish PM Mateusz Morawiecki appealed for a special EU summit in order to find a path to stop the violence in Belarus. Polish FM Jacek Czaputowicz hinted that Lukashenko might be encouraged to take advantage of Polish round table experiences from 1989 and Krzysztof Szczerski, the head of staff of the Polish President Andrzej Duda, explained that Poland did not want to see a wall constructed between the EU and Belarus. But their pleas are likely to fall on deaf ears.

It's not just because of the problems Poland has with the EU over the rule of law. During the Ukrainian crisis in 2014 Poland was governed by Donald Tusk, someone well liked in Brussels. But when it came to taking a seat at the table on the Ukrainian conflict Poland was missing. The West was not going to collapse the talks with Russia by insisting Poland participates.

There seems no chance of getting the West interested in finding a way of saving Belarusian statehood and protecting civil rights. The EU’s external affairs commissioner did not even bother to negotiate a position with all 27 member states, preferring to issue his own statement calling for an honest counting of the ballots cast in Belarus.

The world is now once again dividing into spheres of influence. Poland is a part of the western camp as it is part of NATO and the EU. Belarus is a part of the east and so it will remain for the foreseeable future. Geopolitics is back with a vengeance.