EU seeks joint position on Belarus

The EU leaders are discussing the situation in Belarus and the mass protests rocking the country at an emergency summit today. Shortly before the video conference began, Russian President Vladimir Putin warned against foreign intervention in Belarus. What can the EU do to defuse the tensions in the country?

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Deutsche Welle (RO) /

The free world must stand up to Russia

The EU heads of state and government must decide on decisive action, demands Deutsche Welle Romania:

“The pious wishes of the EU won't be enough to solve the crisis. Nor will vague and cautious appeals for non-violence such as those made by Angela Merkel. ... The greatest insolence is that it was Putin who explained to Merkel, rather than the other way around, that interference in Belarus was unacceptable and could trigger an escalation. Such play-acting is unworthy of the heroism of the people of Belarus. ... But is the liberal world capable of anything more than just covering its nakedness with a fig leaf? Will it manage to adopt not only sanctions aimed at Belarusian officials, but also new sanctions against Russia, should Putin intervene as he did in Crimea?”

Wiener Zeitung (AT) /

Don't turn this into a power game

In the Wiener Zeitung, conflict researcher Christoph Bilban warns against interpreting the situation in Belarus as an East-West conflict:

“Russian President Vladimir Putin's reaction to the calls for help from Minsk at the weekend was a clear - albeit coded - refusal: no help, except in the event of a military attack by foreign forces. ... But at the same time the voices of European politicians and intellectuals who (are trying to) link the Belarusian democracy movement with a pro-Western orientation of the country in their discourse are growing louder. The people are not interested in whether they belong to the West or the East, but in co-determination, fundamental freedoms and a better future. ... ... Turning the ongoing power struggle in Minsk into a geopolitical power game is not advisable either for European states (or the US) or for Russia.”

Radio Kommersant FM (RU) /

Moscow should organise the transition

Not the EU but Russia should pave the way for a change of government in Belarus Radio Kommersant FM argues:

“The most important thing now is to prevent a scenario of violence and a splitting up of the army and state organs into supporters and opponents of the outgoing head of state, so that this former Soviet republic, which was one the most peaceful, is not driven into civil war. A 'road map' must be prepared to overcome the crisis before it's too late. Moscow can play a decisive role as a guarantor to ensure that the agreements between the outgoing state power and those parts of society which are protesting are adhered to. Belarus is too important for Russia to leave the situation to resolve itself and to permit a person who is desperately clinging to power and has lost all sense of reality to bring about a disaster.”

De Standaard (BE) /

Carefully poke this hornets' nest

The EU can no longer look the other way in the Belarus crisis, warns De Standaard:

“Can Brussels help the opposition unseat dictator Alexander Lukashenko? And if so, exactly how? How many precautionary measures must be taken to avoid ruffling Russian President Vladimir Putin's feathers? ... And what roles are Nato and the US playing in the background? ... Belarus is in danger of becoming a complicated hornets' nest that requires a very cautious approach. But the situation has now escalated to such an extent that it is difficult to justify a continuation of Lukashenko's regime. The task of the EU leaders is difficult, but the European values clearly specify the direction: promote democracy and prevent bloodshed. Looking the other way is not an option.”

Der Standard (AT) /

Time is running out

Der Standard calls on the opposition to exercise caution and the EU to act quickly:

“The Belarusian opposition, which has been entirely peaceful up to now, must not provide any excuse for the dictators in Minsk and Moscow to intervene because of a 'conspiracy with the West'. ... The EU has no way of helping the democratic opposition directly. ... It should demand new elections with international observers and enact painful sanctions. Time is running out because the dynamic of the protests against a weakened ruler capable of anything could trigger disastrous consequences, even a bloodbath, at any time.”

Delfi (LT) /

No more passivity!

Too many states have merely voiced criticism and appeals, Delfi criticises:

“Germany, France, the UK and even the US have condemned the brutality, but have not followed up with action. The EU has stood by lethargically, and Ukraine has gone into hiding. ... There are actually many levers the West could pull. Lukashenko's cronies are laundering his money in the financial centres of the West and enjoying holidays in Western spas (Austria is particularly popular). It wouldn't even be an exaggeration to freeze or confiscate his assets in the West - on the contrary: that would finally put an end to the era of shameful inaction. It is too late to repair the damage that occurred in the past as a result of passivity. But it is not too late to take action now.”

Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung (DE) /

The EU can help Putin out of this dilemma

The EU does indeed have an opportunity to help achieve a peaceful change of government, the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung believes:

“The starting point for the EU is that from the Kremlin's perspective there are only bad options. The latter must weigh what would imply greater dangers and costs: keeping Lukashenko in power or permitting a successful revolution in the country that is its closest ally. The EU certainly has leverage on this assessment - namely not only by warning against intervention, but also by seeking a way out. Such an initiative must be backed by sufficient political clout. That is why it is good that the EU is now holding an emergency summit on Belarus.”

Il Manifesto (IT) /

No one really wants to do a thing

The EU's interest in Belarus is limited, Il Manifesto says:

“Belarus is a transit country for Russian pipelines. This guarantees Minsk energy supplies below the market price. In return, Belarus exports dairy products, goods transport equipment and shoes to the Russian Federation. Products that are virtually impossible to export to the Western market because of their standards and quality. Despite the fact that the EU Parliament yesterday declared Lukashenko a 'persona non grata' and called for power to be handed over to Tikhanovskaya, the EU does not seem overly keen to help a poor country with an indebted industrial sector and a public opinion that can't be described as anti-Russian.”