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Bruce Jackson: Removing Lukashenka from visa ban is a mistake, both strategically and morally

Bruce Jackson: Removing Lukashenka from visa ban is a mistake, both strategically and morally

According to influential American expert Bruce Jackson, president of the Project on Transitional Democracies NGO, Europe started rapprochement and almost hugged “the last dictator of Europe” in response to Russia’s aggression against Georgia.

The expert told in an interview to DELFI.lt that a ground, suggested by supporters of normalisation of the relations with Lukashenka’s regime, including Poland and Lithuania, was very controversial and difficult to understand.

-- The US Administration included Lithuania into the Program of visa avoidance just before the parliamentary elections. Some analysts believe this contributed to the success of Lithuanian conservatives, the party leader on the elections results. Do you think the inter-relations exist?

-- There were six countries accepted into the visa waiver program (Lithuania, Estonia, Latvia, Slovakia, the Czech Republic and South Korea) so it is difficult to argue that the Lithuanian elections were any factor in this decision. President Bush has never made any secret that he wanted to extend visa waiver to America’s friends and allies, but it took this long for these six countries to meet the legal criteria set by the US Congress.

-- As is known, the Lithuanian conservatives are rather hard about Russia’s and Belarus’ regimes. What is your opinion about possible Vilnius foreign policy changes after parliamentary elections in Belarus and Lithuania.

- In the middle of a global financial crisis, an uncertain EU leadership and an angry and resentful Russia, it is hard to see how Parliamentary elections shift broader European foreign policy towards Russia. Unfortunately, the EU foreign ministers have already reversed policy on Belarus by removing Lukashenko and key figures in his regime from the EU visa ban. This was a mistake, both strategically and morally.

-- Recently, the EU made a number of steps to normalize the relations with Lukashenko’s regime. Some politicians, Lithuanian ones as well, consider the sanctions strategy had no success. Brussels, following Washington, suspended some sanctions, too. Is it possible to understand these solutions as Euro-Atlantic solidarity in relation to the “last European dictator”?

-Civil Society organizations in both Europe and the United States were and remain firmly opposed to the decision of the European Union to lift visa restrictions against President Lukashenko and his regime.

These officials are still on the US visa ban list. The rationale advanced by advocates of the normalization, among them Poland and Lithuania, were very difficult to understand and contradictory. The recent Belarus elections were neither free nor fair so “a Minsk spring” is not a viable explanation. The second argument was that Europe was responding to the Russian aggression in Georgia by embracing “the last dictatorship in Europe.” How criminal aggression is countered by befriending criminals is something the EU will have to explain in coming months. The final unspoken explanation is that both Poland and Lithuania believe that they can make money in Belarus which is a more important consideration than human rights and international justice.

-- What is your appreciation of the Polish-Swedish initiative on a new Eastern partnership program?

-The Eastern Partnership is a truly innovative and exciting initiative which coupled with the recent EU-Ukrainian Association marks a breakthrough in how the European Union engages with the new democracies of Europe’s East. After the Russo-Georgian war in August, the EU accelerated the development of the Eastern Partnership which now contains serious substance of visa liberalization, trade, and economic development and assistance. In event, the Eastern neighbors of Europe are being promoted out of the Neighborhood Policy into a partnership which includes broader and closer relations with Europe and the possibility of increasing integration over time. The Eastern Partnership is a major achievement in the formation of a common foreign and security policy and confirms that the European Union is finally capable of acting on the world stage with confidence.

-- Many observers are already tired of looking at political battles in the Ukraine. However the interest to the developments in this country is high both in the West and in the East. What is your opinion on the results of the upcoming elections in the Ukraine? What is the way they might influence the positioning of the country in the world?

- In general the political class of Ukraine is a complete failure in terms of delivering good government and prosperity to the Ukrainian voters. I suspect that the Ukrainian voters are as fed up with the endless and hopelessly selfish political warfare between the major personalities as outside observers have become. In Washington, the consensus is that all three political parties have discredited themselves and that the December elections will settle nothing. In my view, we cannot expect a change or clarification of Ukraine’s place in the world until new political parties emerge on Kyiv’s political scene with a more European sense of how politics is supposed to be conducted.

-- The Russian Black-Sea Fleet will leave Sevastopol in 2017, if the Ukraine does not prolong the marine base rent agreement, the Russian vice-premier Sergei Ivanov stated in an exclusive BBC interview. Do you believe he was sincere?

- I would certainly hope that Mr. Ivanov is sincere about fulfilling Russia’s legal obligations to go home if the lease is not renewed. That said, I think that there is still a chance even a probability that Russia and Ukraine will agree to an extension for economic rather than political reasons.

-- A NATO summit is to be held in December. Can we expect something critically important for the Alliance member-states and post-USSR countries as results of the summit?

- There is a NATO Ministerial in December which will review the status and progress of post-Soviet and Balkan aspirants. I do not expect any decisions at this Ministerial among other reasons because the US will be in the middle of a Presidential transition. All attention is now focused on the 60th Anniversary NATO Summit in Strasbourg on April 2-4, 2009. My hope is that the NATO Heads of State can make a definitive statement on Georgia, Ukraine, Macedonia, Montenegro, Serbia, Bosnia and even Kosovo. I think that there will be serious pressure to answer the questions which were left unresolved at the Bucharest NATO Summit and to offer a complementary NATO program to the Eastern Partnership and Ukraine Association offered by the EU.

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