Reversing Course on Belarus
E.U. policy toward Belarus is in tatters. Two years of engagement with Alexander Lukashenko’s regime, direct cooperation in the framework of the European Union’s Eastern Partnership program, and gentle pressure to allow some space for democrats in the country came to naught on Dec. 19, when the police crushed a courageous mass protest against fraudulent elections. Independent media and nongovernmental organizations were raided and hundreds of campaigners for democracy thrown in jail, where they must fear brutal treatment and harsh sentences. It was a grim day — for the democratic opposition of Belarus, but also for Europe’s much-vaunted soft power.
European policy makers were caught completely off guard. Many of those who watched the crackdown from afar in shock and dismay had worked hard (together with some of their Belarussian counterparts), and had invested personal credibility in a reset with Belarus. Their sense of personal outrage resonates from the forceful condemnation published by the foreign ministers of Sweden, the Czech Republic, Poland and Germany. Still, official statements say little about what the E.U. should now do in response. What is needed is a reset of the reset — a complete reversal.