The recent presidential election in Belarus secured presidency for Alexander Lukashenko for the fifth term. Prior to the vote, the Belarusian regime released political prisoners, which the European Union took as a gesture of good will and is talking about suspending sanctions against Lukashenko and his officials. However, such optimism about change in Belarus is misguided, says political scientist Vytis Jurkonis of the Institute of International Relations and Political Science at Vilnius University.
Alexander Lukashenko
© Reuters/Scanpix

"Most politicians and foreign policy makers are desperately looking for a sign that Belarus is changing. Granted, political prisoners were released. Looking at a longer-term perspective, however, we know that it happened before, they [political prisoners] were released in 2010," Jurkonis told the LRT television. "Frankly, Lukashenko is trading hostages. We usually call such people terrorist."

Western observers say that the Belarusian election, which gave a 83.5-percent victory to the current president, cannot be considered free and fair. The authenticity of the results cannot be verified as, according to the opposition, only 30 members of some 70,000 in the vote counting commissions represented the opposition.

The fact that the vote was not preceded by a crackdown on Lukashenko's political opponents, as was the case in 2010, is largely to do with there being no significant protests to speak of, Jurkonis says.

"The situation in Belarus, unfortunately, hasn't changed. Those political prisoners were released one day, but there's no guarantee they won't be arrested in November. Human rights violations, restrictions on freedoms remain in place. The opposition is completely marginalized, there's no independent media to speak of, it's very restricted, and civil society is pushed underground," Jurkonis says.

As to the claims that Western benevolence is largely a reward for Lukashenko taking a somewhat neutral stance in the EU's stand-off with Russia over Ukraine, Jurkonis says it would be wrong to assume that Belarus is abandoning its alliance with Moscow.

"I am surprised when people and our foreign policy makers talk about Minsk allegedly not recognizing the annexation of Crimea. Look at the UN General Assembly vote - [Belarus] voted against Ukraine's territorial integrity. In the Riga [Eastern Partnership] summit in May, Armenia and Belarus blocked Crimea's inclusion into the resolution." Moreover, he adds, Belarus continues hosting Russia's military bases and wargames. Belarus is "a partner which is in a military alliance with the Kremlin" and it would be wrong to forget that, Jurkonis insists.

Vytis Jurkonis
Vytis Jurkonis
© DELFI / Tomas Vinickas

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