Belarus: Even Allies Start To Fear Moscow's Ambitions

Though Belarus is part of a Customs Union with Russia and Kazakhstan, it is cooling toward Moscow. As Minsk hosts Russia-Ukraine talks, much is at stake in the old Soviet orbit.

Putin and Lukashenko earlier this year.
Putin and Lukashenko earlier this year.
Mirosław Czech

MINSK — Amid growing tension between the Ukrainian military and pro-Russian separatists, presidents Petro Poroshenko and Vladimir Putin are meeting for a summit today in Minsk, Belarus, where top leaders from the European Union, the host country and Kazakhstan will mediate the talks.

As Poland's influence has waned since the beginning of the Ukrainian conflict, new regional players have stepped up on the political scene. Belarus and Kazakhstan, both in the Eurasian Customs Union with Russia, intend to weigh in on efforts to de-escalate the conflict in Eastern Europe.

Polish opposition leaders heavily criticized the absence of a Polish representative during the Aug. 17 talks in Berlin between the Russian, German, French and Ukrainian foreign ministers. But those who believe that Polish national interests are being harmed are wrong. If Putin agreed to continue negotiations with the French and Germans — as initiated in June during the D-Day commemoration in Normandy, France — it was only to buy some time. While discussing a possible ceasefire, he was fueling the Donbas rebels and looking for a pretext to send a regular army to eastern Ukraine.

Putin is well aware of the prevalent anti-American sentiment in Germany, and he counts on German political and economic elites eager to make a deal on ruling together over Europe. The U.S., on the other hand, is a thorn in his side, so he continues to try to drive a wedge between Americans and the EU.

But these attempts are futile. Germany won't consider breaking its alliance with the U.S., and Russia's actions in Ukraine have only strengthened NATO unity and resolve.

Matters don't look so bright on the other side either. Growing resistance in Ukraine and Western sanctions against Russia have encouraged Belarus to speak up. Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko orchestrated today's meeting, and his efforts have been applauded by European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso, German Chancellor Angela Merkel and U.S. Vice President Joe Biden.

Many layers of diplomacy

The summit in Minsk evolves around three main issues: Ukrainian ambitions to cooperate with the EU and its consequences for the Customs Union, energy security, and possible solutions for ending the ongoing conflict in eastern Ukraine.

Even though no breakthrough is expected in Minsk, the fact that Belarus and Kazakhstan are involved in the talks guarantees more constructive negotiations and less baring of teeth.

Russians fear that the accession of their neighbor to the EU would have fatal consequences on their economy. Brussels and Kiev have been trying to mitigate those apprehensions, but without success. European officials have even suggested creating a tax-free trade zone between the EU and the Eurasian Customs Union. The idea has been enthusiastically embraced in both Minsk and Astana, Kazakhstan's capital.

Lukashenko realizes that his country is a potential target of Russian expansion, a sign that Putin's faithful vassals feel threatened by Kremlin ambitions and by the doctrine that Russia believes gives it the right to intervene in territories inhabited by a Russian-speaking population.

Several recent decisions by the Belarus head of state demonstrate an estrangement in the Russian-speaking family. In April, Lukashenko disregarded a Russian boycott of Ukraine's post-Maidan government and met with Oleksandr Turchynov, who was then acting president of Ukraine. The Belarus president told his counterpart that Russia already had a plan of invasion on Ukraine in May 2013. Lukashenko's subsequent participation in the presidential inauguration of Petro Poroshenko and the introduction of a five-year prison sentence for Belarusians who join the separatists in Donbas are two other examples of Minsk distancing itself from Moscow.

Last week, Belarus lifted restrictions on commerce with Ukraine and offered its oil pipelines to provide its neighbor with oil supplies from the West. In addition, Belarus, like Kazakhstan, has imposed no food sanctions on the EU or U.S. like those in Russia.

Belarus and Kazakhstan advocate for a peaceful solution to the conflict in Eastern Ukraine. They are therefore supporting the diplomatic attempts of Poroshenko, but in a discrete manner. Lukashenko appears heartened that, despite EU sanctions against Belarus, three high-ranking EU politicians, including EU High Commissioner Catherine Ashton, are attending the talks in the country's capital city. It's a good opportunity to talk about reactivating EU-Belarus relations, which would further reduce the latter's dependency on Moscow.

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A Mother In Spain Denied Child Custody Because She Lives In Rural Area

A court in Spain usurps custody of the one-year-old boy living with his mother in the "deep" part of the Galicia region, forced to instead live with his father in the southern city of Marbella, which the judge says is "cosmopolitan" with good schools and medical care. Women's rights groups have taken up the mother's case.

A child in Galician countryside

Laure Gautherin

A Spanish court has ordered the withdrawal of a mother's custody of her one-year-old boy because she is living in the countryside in northwestern Spain, where the judge says the child won't have "opportunities for the proper development of his personality."

The case, reported Monday in La Voz de Galicia, has sparked outrage from a women's rights association but has also set off reactions from politicians of different stripes across the province of Galicia, defending the values of rural life.

Judge María Belén Ureña Carazo, of the family court of Marbella, a city on the southern coast of 141,000 people, has ordered the toddler to stay with father who lives in the city rather than with his mother because she was living in "deep Galicia" where the child would lack opportunities to "grow up in a happy environment."

Front page of La Voz de Galicia - October 25, 2021

Front page of La Voz de Galicia - Monday 25 October, 2021

La Voz de Galicia

Better in a "cosmopolitan" city?

The judge said Marbella, where the father lives, was a "cosmopolitan city" with "a good hospital" as well as "all kinds of schools" and thus provided a better environment for the child to thrive.

The mother has submitted a formal complaint to the General Council of the Judiciary that the family court magistrate had acted with "absolute contempt," her lawyer told La Voz de Galicia.

The mother quickly accumulated support from local politicians and civic organizations. The Clara Campoamor association described the judge's arguments as offensive, intolerable and typical of "an ignorant person who has not traveled much."

The Xunta de Galicia, the regional government, has addressed the case, saying that any place in Galicia meets the conditions to educate a minor. The Socialist party politician Pablo Arangüena tweeted that "it would not hurt part of the judiciary to spend a summer in Galicia."

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