Belarus crisis: should one negotiate with dictators?

The dramatic situation on the Belarusian-Polish border appears to be easing somewhat. Belarus has provided shelter for some of the migrants suffering from hunger and freezing temperatures. Precisely what role phone calls between Chancellor Merkel and Belarusian ruler Lukashenka and between French President Macron and his Russian counterpart Putin played in this is unclear. Europe's press is divided over the merits of this telephone diplomacy.

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Polityka (PL) /

A big mistake

Polityka is sceptical about Merkel's efforts:

“The Chancellor's initiative was seen less as a betrayal than as a serious mistake in Poland, especially in the ruling camp. As the first Western head of state to establish such close contact with Lukashenka, Merkel let slip that Europe is beginning to give in to his blackmail. We're no longer far from recognising the dictator and treating him as a partner. Moreover one gets the impression that the great powers are acting in concert, as the crisis on the borders of Lithuania, Latvia and Poland is being negotiated without these countries' participation by the governments of Germany, the United States and Russia, among others.”

Die Welt (DE) /

Any other approach would be irresponsible

The daily Die Welt cannot understand why some accuse Merkel of having recognised Lukashenka as a legitimate leader with her calls:

“The accusation may be true in the eyes of stubborn ethicists, but this moralising foreign policy always runs the risk of ending in the triumph of goodwill over the laws of reason. Lukashenka has to be recognised de facto (not de jure!) when he is about to overrun the EU's external border or even start a war. Anyone who does not try to defuse a crisis of this magnitude by all means possible without giving in may be true to their convictions, but they are acting profoundly irresponsibly.”

Der Standard (AT) /

Up to Berlin and Paris to fix things again

Merkel and Macron are clearly the ones defining EU foreign policy, Der Standard comments:

“Humanitarian aid has priority. ... It's thanks to German Chancellor Angela Merkel and French President Emmanuel Macron that this principle has been successfully enforced. She lobbied Lukashenka over the phone, even though the EU does not recognise him as president because of the electoral fraud in 2020. He talked to Russian President Vladimir Putin, who then issued an order to Lukashenka. This is how joint European realpolitik works in foreign and security policy. ... Again and again, it is left to Berlin and Paris to sort things out. ... Lukashenka has neither been recognised nor valorised, as has been claimed. He buckled, under pressure from Putin.”

Lietuvos rytas (LT) /

No legitimation but no progress either

The German Chancellor's initiative was not worth the effort, says Lietuvos rytas:

“Of course Lukashenka exploited this occasion for his propaganda, but it is directed at the Belarusians. ... Does it mean that Germany has recognised the regime as legitimate? Clearly not. Merkel's conversation with him essentially changes nothing. Perhaps she wanted to give him the chance to save political face with this dialogue. ... Either way, so far we can see no practical benefit from this conversation. On the contrary - shortly afterwards a large group of migrants stormed the Polish border and an official was injured. The dictator of Belarus will probably increase his pressure on the EU to negotiate with him and abolish the sanctions.”