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Belarus Opposition Leaders Hail U.S. Senators' Tough Stance On Lukashenka

Belarus President Alyaksandr Lukashenka is projected on a large screen as he delivers a speech to mark Independence Day in Minsk on July 3.
Belarus President Alyaksandr Lukashenka is projected on a large screen as he delivers a speech to mark Independence Day in Minsk on July 3.
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By Ales Dashchinsky and Richard Solash
Leading opposition figures in Belarus have solidly endorsed an initiative by a bipartisan group of U.S. senators urging the Obama administration not to back an international bailout plan for Minsk.

Six U.S. senators sent a letter to U.S. Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner on August 1 urging him to ensure that the requested loan "is not awarded and to personally voice U.S. opposition to IMF [International Monetary Fund] support for Belarus at this time."

Facing a daunting economic crisis, the government of Belarusian President Alyaksandr Lukashenka has asked the IMF for an additional $8 billion in stabilization funding, following the receipt of $3 billion from the Russia-led Eurasian Economic Community earlier this year.

The senators -- Republicans Mark Kirk (Illinois) and John McCain (Arizona); Democrats Richard Durbin (Illinois), Benjamin Cardin (Maryland), and Jeanne Shaheen (New Hampshire); and independent Joseph Lieberman (Connecticut) -- said additional lending "would only subsidize Lukashenka's continued illegitimate and repressive regime and would not advance real economic reforms." They also called for expanded sanction against a number of state-owned Belarusian firms.

Wasted Money?

Leaders of the Belarusian political opposition told RFE/RL's Belarus Service that the senators' analysis of the situation is correct and that any funding issued to Minsk at present would only be wasted in the absence of a commitment to economic reform.


Syarhey Haydukevich, a former presidential candidate and leader of the Liberal-Democratic Party, told RFE/RL that the people of Belarus would not benefit from any IMF support.

"The main thing is that now we are a quietly falling into an abyss. And such loans -- inasmuch as nothing is changing in the economy, no one is being fired, there are only fairytales -- so taking loans now would be simple suicide," Haydukevich said. "Thank you to the senators for understanding this."

Likewise, former presidential candidate Uladzimir Nyaklyaeu welcomed any Western pressure aimed at securing the release of political prisoners, saying it is "our moral and civic duty" to "secure the release of political prisoners."

"And we can only welcome any steps on the part of the international community that can help us in this -- including the most forceful steps," Nyaklyaeu said. "I am not saying Belarus should not be given loans. I am saying that loans should be given sensibly. A loan when there are political prisoners or when there are no real reforms -- or, as the American senators say, there are not even any signs of reforms -- will not help the people of Belarus. It would only help the regime, which would use the money itself. The loan would only be used to support the regime. They would use it for themselves. And half of the money would be stolen."

Trans-Atlantic View(s)

The letter notes that despite U.S. objections, a 2009 IMF loan to Belarus was processed because the United States and the European Union "did not stand united."

Former U.S. Ambassador to Belarus David Swartz, however, told RFE/RL that gaps between Washington and Brussels on Belarus have shrunk in response to Lukashenka's postelection crackdown:

"Up until about, I would say, the end of 2009 or the beginning of 2010, there was a certain gap, you might say, between U.S. and European perceptions about where Belarus was going," Swartz said. "The Europeans tended to think that, as I see it, there was scope for inducing Lukashenka to behave better. And the United States was doubtful about that. And therefore there was, to some extent at least, a divergence of opinion between Brussels and Washington, so to speak, about how to deal with Belarus."

Swartz added that the senators' letter sends a strong signal to Lukashenka that his past practice of using such differences to his advantage will not work this time. The senators also note, for example, that the European Investment Bank (EIB) and the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development (EBRD) have denied loans to Minsk in recent weeks.

Peter Doran, a senior policy analyst with the Center for European Policy Analysis in Washington, expressed a similar opinion.

"I think the key part and the timing of this letter is important because it is attempting to galvanize the trans-Atlantic cooperation that we've seen since the December presidential election [in Belarus]," Doran told RFE/RL. "It is trying to galvanize that spirit and sort of coordinate a unified European and United States position regarding bailouts, regarding financial assistance and to send the opposition a message that the Western world really finds Lukashenka's regime unpalatable and would like to see it go."

Into Russia's Arms?

But some analysts wonder if an IMF refusal will merely force Lukashenka closer into Russia's orbit. Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin said on August 1 that the union of Russia and Belarus "is possible and very desirable."

Another former Belarusian presidential candidate, Ryhor Kastusiou, said he believes Lukashenka's government might be keeping such an option open.

"He [Putin] wants to quickly achieve his goal -- the unification of Belarus and Russia -- and he has already stated this openly," Kastusiou said. "The worst thing is that not all the politicians in Belarus understand the danger; many are closing their eyes to it. But it is obvious that there must be a statement from Belarusian politicians in response to such assaults from the Russian side, and we must take steps to defend our country from incorporation into Russia."

A recent opinion poll in Belarus found that 31 percent of respondents favor unification with Russia, while 48 percent oppose it. The same poll found that 45 percent favor joining the European Union, while 32 percent oppose.

In an e-mailed statement to RFE/RL, Senator Lieberman said: "We need to stand firmly on the side of the Belarusian people, whose courage and perseverance have been an inspiration to all of us in Congress, and ratchet up the pressure on Lukashenka."

RFE/RL Belarus correspondent Valer Kalinousky contributed to this story from Minsk and RFE/RL correspondent Robert Coalson contributed from Prague
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Comment Sorting
Comments
     
by: andrei from: usa
August 03, 2011 19:32
When America eventually falls. It will no longer be able to stick its head in other countries business. America needs to fix its own problems before getting involved in others. This is how the Roman Empire fell.
In Response

by: Super Spy
August 04, 2011 11:46
It will fall eventually but Mother Russia will fall first.
In Response

by: andrei from: USA
August 04, 2011 13:38
The difference is Russia can be rebuilt. America can not . When America is done it's done. It is because society is so split.
In Response

by: Super Spy
August 04, 2011 15:48
Yeah, just like the USSR.
In Response

by: Andrei from: USA
August 04, 2011 21:03
Your just a jealous America who knows America is heading for a dead end. Putin is the only one preventing Russia from moving forward. He is stuck in a USSR imperialist mindset.

by: Dzmitry from: Paris, France
August 03, 2011 23:06
The United States has less than 5 percent of the world's population. But it has almost a quarter of the world's prisoners. (Source: New York Times) Furthermore, people have been arrested simply for dancing at monument sites in Washington DC.

The United States ranks in the top 10 of countries which carry out the death penalty. (Source: Amnesty International)

The U.S. poverty rate as at a 15-year high. 43.6 million people classified as poor; that is one in seven Americans. (Source: U.S. Government Census Bureau)

The total debt of the US with interest stands at $54 trillions dollars. That is $176,051 per citizen.

Should U.S. Senators be hailed for anything? Their "tough stance" is hollow and born from their own ignorance and arrogance. They have no moral authority to be preaching to anyone about anything.


In Response

by: Super Spy
August 04, 2011 11:49
"The United States has less than 5 percent of the world's population. But it has almost a quarter of the world's prisoners."
Effective executive power. You steal you go to prison.

Majority of Russians steal (source: NYTimes including corruption of the higher echelon) only tiny amount goes to prison.

by: Andrei from: USA
August 05, 2011 02:50
What is Lieberman gonna do? Send US troops to Belarus?

by: eric d from: IF Idaho USA
August 06, 2011 22:05
As Belarussian presidential candidate Neklayev says, the Belarussian opposition welcomes anyone in the international community who offers assistance against the tyranny & terror of the Lukashenko regime & the KGB. The Belarussian KGB & the Lukashenko regime have betaten & jailed (interrogated & tortured etc... the 5 or 6 presidential candidates from the previous (fraudulent) election & after show trials sentenced them to long prison terms. The Vladimir Putin government & the Russian FSB, after a brief spell of whining about Russian citizens jailed by the KGB, have switched lines & now support the Lukashenko regime. If US Senators & the US State Dept. care enough about Belarus (for whatever reasons...) to offer support to Belarussian political dissidents imprisoned beaten tortutred etc. by the Lukashenko regime, they are to be commended (whatever their failures & hypocrisy on other scores...). Certainly, the USA is far from a perfect democracy & has civil & human rights abuses & crimes of its own to deal with (the White House "war on terror," the CIA "targeted assassinations," US military "indefinite detention" of "suspected terrorists"... And of course, capital punishment & the false imprisonment of innocent people.) But that's no excuse for attacking US Senators & the State Dept, when they finally do something right, for once... Is it?
In Response

by: belarus expat from: canada
August 09, 2011 19:34
Well said, hope some of the posters complaining about current US problems can realize that this about helping a repressed population. It's a refreshing change from partisan politics that are typically played in Washington.

by: Yuri from: Dallas, Texas
August 07, 2011 16:59
BelaRus and its people are suffering under Lukashenko and his band of thugs. Free elections have been denied and people are arrested for ANY form of protest even simple clapping of hands on the street is not tolerated and results in beating and arrest.
Economics is the weapon to use against Lukashenko particularly denial of loans.Lukashenko and his thugs have ruined the country by stealing all the GDP what little there is and auctioning off remaining treasures of BelaRus to line his own pockets. Those loans would NOT help the people but would just go into the pockets of that decrepit regime.
The people of BelaRus MUST be supported in this endeavor to rid the country of this dictator. The US Senate as well as the House of Representatives indeed the western world should not feed Lukashenko. I am ethnic BelaRus as is my wife, have visited frequently and a lot of my family still lives in BelaRus - barely.
Russia should not support Lukashenko either as a free and democratic BelaRus would benefit the economic interests of Russia also.
Long Live a FREE BelaRus!

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