Belarusian pro-democracy activist Olga Kazulina told a Washington, D.C. audience today that President Alyaksandr Lukashenka's recent overtures to the West are part of an effort to "cheat and deceive" Europe and the United States.
"While it is true that Lukashenka is engaging in dialogue and trying to improve Belarus' relations with the West, he is doing so for personal gain and has no intention of making democratic reforms," said Kazulina, a member of the Social Democratic Party and daughter of former presidential candidate Alyaksandr Kazulin.
Kazulina said the way Lukashenka released three political prisoners in August can be seen as a sign of his real intentions.
"The fact that he released them in the late stages of the parliamentary election campaign meant they couldn't run for office or participate in the process," she said. "And they also didn't get the necessary paperwork to stay out of prison, which means Lukashenka can send them back to jail at any time in this ongoing game of blackmail he's playing with the West."
Kazulina spoke at the National Endowment for Democracy's (NED) Washington, D.C. office at the invitation of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty (RFE/RL), the International Republican Institute (IRI), and the NED. She was joined on the panel by Alyaksandr Klaskouski, a pro-Western journalist with the BelaPAN news agency.
"Democratic forces in Belarus fear that the regime's overtures to Europe and the U.S. are simply an excuse to take technology, loans, and investments from the West, while remaining firmly oriented towards Russia in the East," said Klaskouski. "At the end of the day, I doubt very much Lukashenka's undemocratic policies will change."
In September, Belarus' parliamentary elections were widely denounced
by western observers as undemocratic. Nevertheless, the European Union has followed through on pre-election pledges to loosen travel restrictions
on Belarusian government officials, including President Lukashenka. Over the past year, Belarus has taken steps to release political prisoners and says it wants improved relations with western countries. Critics point to Belarus' continued suppression of domestic criticism and Lukashenka's offer to reportedly host Russian missiles
on its territory as signs that his government is insincere in its efforts at rapprochement.About RFE/RL's Belarus Service
The Belarus Service
was established in 1954 as part of Radio Liberty's broadcasts to the former Soviet Union. With much of the independent media in Belarus silenced, the service remains one of the few media outlets accessible to Belarusians in their own language, providing timely, objective, and balanced information to residents of "Europe's last dictatorship."