In good news for the repressed people of Belarus, EU pledges €3bn in funding if it transitions to democracy.
The EU says it will provide Belarus with €3bn ($3.6bn) through grants and loans if the country “changes course”, as the bloc seeks to ramp up internal pressure on the president, Alexander Lukashenko, who has ruled Belarus since 1994.
Ursula von der Leyen, the European Commission president, came close to an all-out call for regime change as she made the pledge of funds in return for a “transition” to democracy. “Our messages are twofold. To the people of Belarus: we see and hear your desire for change, for democracy, and for a bright future,” she said. “And to the Belarusian authorities: no amount of repression, brutality or coercion will bring any legitimacy to your authoritarian regime."
“So far, you have blatantly ignored the democratic choice of the Belarusian people. It is time to change course. When - and we believe it is a case of when, not if - Belarus starts its peaceful democratic transition, the EU will be there to accompany it.”
The offer is part of a carrot and stick strategy to force a change of approach or leadership in Belarus. This week EU leaders agreed on a raft of new economic sanctions in response to the arrest and holding in Belarus of the opposition journalist Raman Pratasevich and his Russian girlfriend, Sofia Sapega.
Pratasevich and Sapega were arrested after a Ryanair flight, on which they were travelling from Athens to Vilnius, was forced to land in Minsk due to false claims of a bomb being onboard, reports the Guardian. In kidnapping a civilian airliner to silence a political opponent, Lukashenko has effectively taken his terror from the domestic to the international stage, and forced the EU to try to get to grips with his threat.
The sanctions, the details of which are yet to be announced, are in addition to asset freezes and visa bans imposed on more than 80 Belarus officials, including Lukashenko and his son Victor, relating to the crackdown on peaceful protests against last August’s rigged presidential election result.
It would be good news if Lukashenko’s air piracy against the EU be his last act of state terrorism and that, soon, his dictatorship is replaced by a benign democracy.
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