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Belarus

Europe Set To Bring Belarus In From The Cold

Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko
Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko
Galine Dudina and Mikhail Korostikov

MINSK — Belarus's President Alexander Lukashenko has been dubbed "Europe's Last Dictator," and ties between Brussels and Minsk have been virtually frozen since a new series of sanctions were imposed in 2010.

But now, it appears, Lukashenko and his country will be welcomed back into the continent's fold as the European Union is set to lift sanctions, sources tell Kommersant. The measures had been imposed against Belarus in several stages from 2006 to 2010, with the toughest measures following a crackdown on mass protests after presidential elections in 2010.

But at Monday's regular meeting of EU foreign ministry chiefs in Brussels, the sanctions are set to be eased, including travel bans on Lukashenko and other top officials, sources say. The human rights situation in the country, however, will continue to be monitored.

Diplomatic sources say that the decision will require the agreement of all EU members. Lithuanian Foreign Minister Linas Linkevicius told Kommersant: "From what I hear, and judging by what all the countries taking part think, the sanctions will not be extended."

The move will include the lifting of visa bans and an unfreezing of assets of 170 Belarusian citizens, including President Lukashenko.

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Victory Square in Minsk, Belarus — Photo: Mikkalai

Last October, there was an easing of restrictions against three Belarusian companies, BelTechExport, Beltech Holding and Spetspriborservice, following the release of political prisoners and Minsk's mediating role in the Ukrainian settlement.

Kirill Koktysh, a political scientist with the Moscow Institute of International Relations (MGIMO) told Kommersant: "They will ease sanctions now quietly rather than later so they don't turn it into a high profile event."

Koktysh noted that Lukashenko has long been accused of being authoritarian. "But compared with what is happening in Ukraine, he is a mild option," he said. "It is impossible for European leaders to save face before their voters, condemning Belarus as an authoritarian country, while at the same time seeing what kind of democracy there is in Ukraine. The level of everyday violence in Belarus is much lower."

Koktysh also pointed out that the Belarus capital was where negotiations over the Ukraine crisis took place, and Minsk is a city where all the European leaders, including Angela Merkel and Francois Hollande, came to shake Lukashenko's hand.

However, even if approved by the EU, the lifting of the sanctions will have its limits, as there will still be four people left on the list, suspected of involvement in the disappearance of opposition politicians in 1999 and 2000. Meanwhile, the United States is expected to continue to impose sanctions against Minsk.

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FOCUS: Russia-Ukraine War

Wagner's MIA Convicts: Where Do Deserting Russian Mercenaries Go?

Tens of thousands of Russian prisoners who've been recruited by the Wagner Group mercenary outfit have escaped from the frontlines after volunteering in exchange for freedom. Some appear to be seeking political asylum in Europe thanks to a "cleared" criminal record.

Picture of a soldier wearing the Wagner Group Logo on their uniform.

Soldier wearing the paramilitary Wagner Group Logo on their uniform.

Source: Sky over Ukraine via Facebook
Anna Akage

Of the about 50,000 Russian convicts who signed up to fight in Ukraine with the Wagner Group, just 10,000 are reportedly still at the front. An unknown number have been killed in action — but among those would-be casualties are also a certain number of coffins that are actually empty.

To hide the number of soldiers who have deserted or defected to Ukraine, Wagner boss Yevgeny Prigozhin is reportedly adding them to the lists of the dead and missing.

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Some Wagner fighters have surrendered through the Ukrainian government's "I Want To Live" hotline, says Olga Romanova, director and founder of the Russia Behind Bars foundation.

"Relatives of the convicts enlisted in the Wagner Group are not allowed to open the coffins," explains Romanova.

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