Belarusian authorities rescind Baltic prime ministers' visit

From left, Lithuanian Prime Minister Saulius Skvernelis, Jüri Ratas, and Krisjanis Karins, Latvian premier, near Tartu Friday.
From left, Lithuanian Prime Minister Saulius Skvernelis, Jüri Ratas, and Krisjanis Karins, Latvian premier, near Tartu Friday. Source: Social Media

The prime ministers of Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania, along with their respective foreign ministers, were prepared to fly to Minsk, Belarus, to meet with state authorities and opposition leaders, but the office of President Alexander Lukashenko and the local Ministry of Foreign Affairs did not think the visit possible.

Prime ministers Jüri Ratas, Arturs Karinš (Latvia) and Saulius Skvernelis (Lithuania) were prepared to fly to Minsk after the local elections on August 9, resulting in Alexander Lukashenko retaining power for his sixth term as president. The elections and accusations of election fraud led to large-scale protests across Belarus, still active today.

Security forces have used violence to suppress protests and many opposition figures have been jailed already.

On August 20, Estonian Minister of Foreign Affairs Urmas Reinsalu called Belarusian Minister of Foreign Affairs Vladimir Makei to explain Estonia's decision to not recognize election results, noting that political dialogue in Belarus would lead to a compromise regarding new and fair elections. Reinsalu also called on authorities to free detained protesters and to stop using violence to supress peaceful protests.

In addition, Reinsalu touched base with the prime and foreign ministers of the Baltic states regarding a visit to Belarus. Contact was also made with the Office of Belarusian Prime Minister Siarhiej Rumas.

Estonian Prime Minister Jüri Ratas told ERR: "Yes, my proposal was to take three Baltic prime ministers and three Baltic foreign ministers [for a visit to Belarus]."

Ratas said the Baltic states hold a "special due diligence obligation" toward Belarus, as he also stated at Thursday's government press conference.

He later explained: "Estonia is one of those who initially established the EU's Eastern Partnership policy (EaP) and has kept it on the table and in addition, Belarus is in our region.

"We were in contact with Belarus' foreign ministry and the Office of the Prime Minister. We received a similar response as other EU leaders have - no contact is desired," Ratas said.

Belarus' leadership has held contact with the European Union and the union's heads throughout the pre-election and post-election process and has also rescinded all contacts Europe has tried to make. They have also ruled out new elections.

One of Estonia's foreign communications experts said Belarus' negative response was to be expected.

An experienced diplomat told ERR privately: "They know the governments of the Baltics are opposed to Lukashenko and in favor of internationally observed elections, already confirmed by a joint statement made by Baltic prime ministers on August 15. A visit from Ratas and his Baltic counterparts would have been a clear statement of support for the opposition.

"In addition, authorities are trying to avoid a situation where their internal crisis would turn into an international issue. Therefore, they do not want to see or hear from any external intermediaries, especially from the West," they concluded.

Was the negative response a disappointment to Ratas?

He noted: "Can not call it a disappointment. But I do not think it is the correct way for Belarus - to avoid all international communication and contact, to try to solve the situation. That is the exact communication needed there today."

The collection of Baltic ministers wished to speak to either the prime or foreign ministers of Belarus, also the public. But Lukashenko?

Ratas said: "We did not express that desire. It was not in our plans."

Elections in Belarus

Following the presidential elections in Belarus on August 9, mass protests have taken place in Minsk and other cities, as well as internationally, with protesters calling for new and fair elections after long-time president Alexander Lukashenko secured his sixth term.

It is widely believed that opposition candidate Svetlana Tikhanovskaya won the election and that the recent elections were rigged in favor of Lukashenko.

An exit poll conducted in Tallinn and 25 major cities in Europe showed large-scale support for the opposition candidate among Belarusians living in Estonia, further legitimizing suspicions of vote-rigging.

The Estonian government has said it does not recognize the results of the elections which have been denounced as neither free nor fair by the international community. Estonia has called for new elections to be held.

Estonia and the other Baltic states have stood in support of new and fair elections in Belarus, raising the issue to the United Nations Security Council, agreeing on sanctions for Belarusian officials responsible and more.

On August 15, Prime Minister Jüri Ratas (Center) joined his Lithuanian and Latvian counterparts in calling for new, free and fair presidential elections in Belarus.

International protest has also followed a crackdown on demonstrators in Belarus by that country's security forces. The Baltic states formed a solidarity chain in support of Belarus on August 23. Hundreds of people also gathered in Tallinn.


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Editor: Kristjan Kallaste

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