Projects

2019 CUSUR CALENDAR
 
Upcoming Events 2019
US-UA Security Dialogue X
Washington, DC
February 28, 2019
 
UA HES Special Event:
Sobornist' at 100
Ukrainian Museum
May 4, 2019   
 
US-UA BNS Special Event
Washington DC
May 23, 2019
 
US-UA WG Yearly Summit VI
Washington, DC
June 13, 2019

US-UA Energy Dialogue VI
Kyiv, Ukraine
August 29, 2019 
 
UA HES Special Event:
UA-AM Community at 125
Princeton Club/NY
September 21, 2019 
 
UA QUEST RT XX
Washington, DC
October 10, 2019
 
UA HES Forum VII:
LT-PL-UA Relations
Chicago
November 9, 2019   
 

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CUSUR 2016 - Project I
US-UA “Working Group” Initiative

The US-Ukraine “Working Group” Initiative was launched in 2007 in order to secure an array of experts in "areas of interest” for CUSUR and its various forums/proceedings; at the same time, it was hoped that the ‘experts’ might agree to write a series of ‘occasional papers’ to identify “major issues” impacting on US-Ukrainian relations.
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CUSUR 2017 - Project II
Publication Efforts

Recognizing the urgent need to set up proper channels for the maximum circulation of the information/analysis CUSUR possessed or had at its disposal, the Center long focused on having ‘a publication presence’ of some form or another.
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CUSUR 2018 - Project III
DC Occasional Briefings Series

CUSUR did not turn its attention to having a DC presence until summer 2012. Borrowing space when the need arose (particularly for various forum steering committees meetings) from the American Foreign Policy Council, its longest abiding partner, seemed to suffice; an Acela ride from the Center’s NY office did the rest. If there was a concern, it was to open an office in Kyiv.
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Relations with Belarus - Belarus' Potential Promise

Ukraine's Quest for Mature Nation Statehood Roundtable X:
"Compelling Bilateral Relations"

Relations with Belarus - Belarus' Potential Promise

Orest Deychakiwsky

Featured remarks by Orest Deychakiwsky, CSCE Senior Staff Advisor, delivered at Ukraine's Quest for Mature Nation Statehood RT X: Compelling Bilateral Relations, held in Washington DC on Oct 21–22, 2009.


Several months ago, on June 30, a seven-member U.S. Congressional delegation led by Helsinki Commission Chairman Sen. Benjamin Cardin met with Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenka in Minsk.  It was the highest level meeting between the U.S. and Belarus in many years. During the visit, Lukashenka released an American prisoner on whose behalf the State Department and Commission had advocated for humanitarian consideration due to health concerns besides the fact that he had been convicted in a closed trial.  While welcoming the release, the Congressional delegation made clear to Lukashenka that the only way to meaningfully improve relations between the U.S. and Belarus is for his regime to increase political freedom and respect for human rights - i.e. to begin abiding with Belarus' freely undertaken OSCE and other international commitments.  I won't go into detail about the Lukashenka regime's record of repression or how Lukashenka has amassed power over the last 15 years as time does not permit and I suspect most of you are familiar with it.  Suffice it to say that Belarus has the worst democracy and human rights record of any country entirely located in Europe.

Lukashenka knew very well with whom he was meeting on that day, as the Helsinki Commission has been a strong critic of his regime holding public hearings and briefings, authoring resolutions, issuing statements, meeting with representatives of the opposition.  Among those present at the meeting was Helsinki Commissioner Rep. Chris Smith, sponsor of the Belarus Democracy Act (BDA) and Belarus Democracy Re-Authorization Act - legislation that passed both chambers of Congress overwhelmingly in 2004 and 2006.  The Belarusian regime, not surprisingly, can't abide this legislation as it includes language on targeted sanctions, a visa ban for high ranking officials, as well as assistance for democracy promotion and international broadcasting to Belarus. Various of these targeted sanctions have been implemented over the course of the last five years, including on the giant Belneftakhim gas and chemical conglomerate a company from which Lukashenka and his entourage reportedly personally benefit. 

Now, arguably because of these tougher sanctions, as well as an EU visa ban, Lukashenka released   political prisoners in August 2008 and allowed two independent newspapers access to state distribution systems -encouraging steps.  Shortly thereafter the U.S. temporarily suspended economic sanctions against two Belneftakhim subsidiaries.  The suspensions have been renewed several times, although the other Belneftakhim sanctions remain in place, as does the U.S.visa ban. President Obama has continued these policies [Last June, President Obama notified Congress of his intention to extend for another year his authority to impose sanctions on Belarus, representing continuity with the previous administration.]   In addition, the U.S. also has not stood in the way of IMF loans for Belarus, and I think this is an important signal that the U.S. is open to dialogue and engagement. Lukashenka himself acknowledged this in the June 30 meeting with Members of the Commission. 

So, have the Belarusians taken advantage of the openings offered by the U.S. willingness to begin the process of engagement (or, for that matter, EU steps such as lifting a visa ban on Belarusian officials - surprisingly, soon after the September 30, 2008 parliamentary elections which was strongly criticized by the OSCE and the EU- myself witnessed them as an OSCE observer)?  What have the Belarusians done?  The answer is not much.

Lukashenka's policies have remained largely unchanged in the last year. While very modest concessions were made to the political opposition and civil society that allowed them carry out some activities without harassment, repressive measures remained in place and continued to be enforced on a selective basis. No changes have yet been made to the legal framework that would indicate a substantive shift in government policy. No significant progress has thus far been made in the five areas of concern to the U.S and EU election legislation, media freedom, freedom of association, the situation of civil society and freedom of assembly.  Although just yesterday Lukashenka did say that Belarus will liberalize election laws in line with OSCE recommendations, which is a potentially promising development, if it actually happens.  Based on the past, I think a wait and see attitude on this is the prudent course of action...

Supposed "liberalization" in the area of media freedom has been described as "one step forward - two steps back"  There had been some easing of pressure on journalists, although that seems to have been reversed, too, in the last month, when journalists have been forcibly prevented from filming demonstrations. The registration of some public organizations continues to be denied.  There has been  increased use of excessive police force against demonstrators in the last few months - the latest example of which we saw just last week in Minsk,  involuntary conscription of democratic youth activists.  Thus far this year, according to the human rights organization Viasna, 424 people are known to have been detained and brought to administrative responsibility on political grounds thus far this year. 

Why do I spend time talking about human rights and democracy?  Because it's quite clear that for the U.S. they are critical in relations with Belarus.  And I believe they are even for the EU, despite being downplayed by some Europeans.

Now, the geo-political considerations are understood, including by the United States.  It's understood, to varying degrees, how Lukashenka tries to play Russia against the EU.  Clearly, Lukashenka's relations with Russia are quite problematic.   Russia, after all, has put considerable economic pressure on Belarus in the last few years, especially in the energy realm, and seems to want to take over Belarus' economic assets.  Lukashenka has at times distanced himself from the Kremlin, for instance, thus far not recognizing South Ossetia and Abkhazia.  But I believe the West cannot wrest away Belarus from Russia because the current regime (i.e. Lukashenka) is constitutionally/psychologically incapable of major change with respect to democratic and economic reform, with the caveat that given the serious current economic situation in Belarus, events may force him to liberalize the economy to a certain extent.  The bottom line: Lukashenka fears losing power.  So any improvements in relations are going to be limited by Lukashenka's inability and unwillingness to change in any substantial way.  Let me cite a concrete example:  in his meeting with our Congressional delegation, where he was extremely defensive about Belarus' human rights and democracy record, Lukashenka said that the U.S. should lift all of its sanctions first, after which he'll make progress on human rights/democracy issues.  We, of course, say just the reverse - it's up to him to show he's serious by making some human rights/democracy  progress.  

So, it's best to have limited expectations.  Having said that, though, I believe one can work around the margins and improve relations - especially Belarus' neighbors such as Ukraine - on issues of common concern - border, trade, energy, transportation, consular issues and Foreign Minister Poroshenko was just in Belarus to discuss these. Belarus' neighbors have interests in advancing bilateral cooperation in some basic areas irrespective of whether they like the political system of Belarus or not.  And, for Ukraine, there are very close historic, linguistic, family and cultural ties with Belarus.  But that should not obscure the fact that for the last 15 years, Ukraine and Belarus have gone in very different directions.  And very importantly, Ukraine, while engaging in a practical way with the Belarusian government, should also maintain close contacts with the democratic opposition and Belarusian civil society and Ukrainian officials should, too, encourage the development of human rights and democracy in Belarus. I think it's very positive that Ukrainian NGOs have a good record of support for their Belarusian brothers and sisters (eg Lviv picket last week on behalf of Belarusian political prisoners).

Furthermore, despite the Lukashenka regime's discouraging record, the U.S. and EU should continue to be open to and seek ways to improve relations when even incremental progress is made on the Belarusian side and respond in kind - in a calibrated, measured way. (eg if we see these election reforms he promised yesterday are real, we should respond).  At the same time, what's essential is that the U.S. continue its strong support for those struggling for a more democratic, more European future in Belarus - both civil society/NGOs and democratic political opposition parties -- and this is certainly something that the US Congress has a long track record in supporting, as do US NGOs such as IRI, NDI, NED etc.

To conclude, a Belarus rooted in Europe, one which respects human rights, democracy, the rule of law is the best guarantee of Belarus' independence and well-being. And finally, Belarus' European future ultimately lies with those in Belarusian society - the democratic opposition, NGOs, or independent media -fighting for freedom, and this is something the West, including Ukraine, should not lose sight of.

 

Past Highlight Events

RT XVII Items of Note
Highlights from Ukraine's Quest for Mature Nation Statehood RT XVII: Ukraine & Religious Freedom, held in Washington, DC on Oct. 27, 2016
 
UA HES SE: UA 25th B-Day
Highlights from UA HES Special Event: 'Commemorating the 25th Anniversary of the Modern Ukrainian State', held at the NY Princeton Club on Sept. 17, 2016
 
US-UA WG YS IV Highlights
Highlights from US-UA WG Yearly Summit IV: Providing Ukraine with an Annual Report Card, held at the University Club in Washington, DC on June 16, 2016
 
US-UA SD VII Items of Note
Highlights from US-Ukraine Security Dialogue VII held on February 25, 2016 in Washington DC
 
UA HES SE: WW2 Legacy
Highlights from the UA Historical Encounters Special Event: 'Contested Ground': The Legacy of WW2 in Eastern Europe, held in Edmonton on October 23-24, 2015
 
Holodomor SE Highlights
Highlights from the UA Historical Encounters Special Event: Taking Measure of the Holodomor, held at the Princeton Club of NY on November 5-6, 2013
 
US-UA SD III Items of Note
Highlights from US-Ukraine Security Dialogue III held on May 19, 2012 in Chicago, IL

  • Former UA Foreign Minister Volodymyr Ohryzko's keynote
 
UEAF Forum VI Highlights
Highlights from UEAF Forum VI, held in Ottawa, Canada on March 7-8, 2012
 
RT XII Items of Note
Highlights from Ukraine's Quest for Mature Nation Statehood RT XII: PL-UA & TR-UA, held in Washington, DC on Oct 19–20, 2011
 
US-UA ED III Items of Note
Highlights from US-Ukraine Energy Dialogue III, held in Washington DC
on April 15-16, 2008
 
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