The violent crackdown on opposition groups following Sunday’s disputed re-election in Belarus effectively ends the European Union’s attempt to engage Alyaksandr Lukashenka’s regime.
The EU hoped to seduce Minsk away from Moscow and promote a long-term strategy of liberalization by offering a version of the EU’s gravity model of democratization – offering considerable financial assistance in exchange for gradual political reform.
There are two reasons why Europe “blew its chance to change the Belarus dynamic,” writes one analyst.
Firstly, Russia seduced Minsk back into the authoritarian fold with the inducement of an expanded Russia-Belarus-Kazakhstan economic union.
Secondly, the characteristic “unilateralism, grandstanding and incoherence” of EU foreign policy towards Minsk confirmed that “European states must either act deliberately and in concert – or resign themselves to individual irrelevance and collective failure.”
With the EU’s engagement strategy in shreds and its European Neighborhood Policy compromised, should the EU try to “Francoize” the regime?
“A political opening is unlikely, but the Belarussian economic model cannot survive,” writes Andrew Wilson, an analyst with the European Council on Foreign Relations. “As with Spain under Franco, Belarus’ economy will change before Lukashenko does, laying the basis for rapid development once he is gone.”