This paper analyses the challenges to the current Belarus leadership presented by the expansion of the EU and NATO. Understanding the Belarus position is important because Belarus is an important transit country, despite the country’s self-imposed isolation. According to the paper, the level of relations between Belarus and the EU is lower than those between the EU and Ukraine and Russia. The author suggests that the relationship between Belarus, the EU, Russia and Ukraine are to a large degree determined by the following issues:
travel between Belarus and neighboring EU nations (Poland and Lithuania) is quite active
the Belarus economy relies heavily on oil, gas and the electricity it imports from Russia; at the same time, a large share of Russia’s gas exports to the EU is transited through Belarus (transit may reach 1 trillion cubic feet by 2005)
Belarus is an important trade partner with the Kaliningrad oblast, a Russian exclave that enjoys special relations with the EU
Belarus is a regional partner in the battle against organised crime and terrorism and heavily cooperates with Russia on security issues; at the same time, similar cooperation between Belarus and the EU is lacking
Belarus is an important transit country for illegal immigration into the EU because of its porous borders with Russia and Ukraine.
The paper notes that the Belarus-NATO relations had initially been warm but deteriorated after Lukashenko’s election in 1995. Since then, Belarus was opposed to the NATO expansion, while NATO itself often expressed severe criticism of Lukashenko’s human rights record. Also, Belarus failed to meet most of the obligations it undertook in 1995 while entering the Partnership for Peace program. According to the paper, president Lukashenko’s anti-NATO stance allowed Belarus to extract security and economic concessions from Russia. In recent years, however, this opportunity has diminished due to the increased cooperation between Russia and NATO on security issues, and because of Russia’s gradual acceptance of the NATO expansion. The paper concludes that the current Belarus leadership is not ready to accept the realities of post-Cold War Europe. In part this is manifested in the attempts by the Belarus leadership to establish contact with individual European institutions (such as OCSE or NATO) while remaining in a state of conflict with other institutions. According to the paper, Belarus is not adequately prepared to respond to the NATO and EU expansions.