Cablegate: Estonian Fm Visit to Belarus; Lukashenko Goes On (and On And
RR RUEHAG RUEHDBU RUEHFL RUEHKW RUEHLA RUEHNP RUEHROV RUEHSL RUEHSR
DE RUEHTL #0317/01 3031347
ZNY CCCCC ZZH
R 301347Z OCT 09
FM AMEMBASSY TALLINN
TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC 0195
INFO EUROPEAN POLITICAL COLLECTIVE
RUEHMO/AMEMBASSY MOSCOW 0040
RUEHVL/AMEMBASSY VILNIUS 0049
Friday, 30 October 2009, 13:47
C O N F I D E N T I A L SECTION 01 OF 03 TALLINN 000317
DEPT FOR EUR/UMB JOE WANG
VILNIUS FOR MINSK MICHAEL SCANLON
AMEMBASSY ANKARA PASS TO AMCONSUL ADANA
AMEMBASSY ASTANA PASS TO USOFFICE ALMATY
AMEMBASSY BERLIN PASS TO AMCONSUL DUSSELDORF
AMEMBASSY BERLIN PASS TO AMCONSUL LEIPZIG
AMEMBASSY BELGRADE PASS TO AMEMBASSY PODGORICA
AMEMBASSY HELSINKI PASS TO AMCONSUL ST PETERSBURG
AMEMBASSY ATHENS PASS TO AMCONSUL THESSALONIKI
AMEMBASSY MOSCOW PASS TO AMCONSUL VLADIVOSTOK
AMEMBASSY MOSCOW PASS TO AMCONSUL YEKATERINBURG
EO 12958 DECL: 2019/10/30
TAGS PREL, PGOV, BO, EN
SUBJECT: Estonian FM Visit to Belarus; Lukashenko Goes On (and On and
CLASSIFIED BY: Marc Nordberg, Political/Economic Chief; REASON: 1.4(B), (D)
Classified by CDA Karen Decker for Reasons 1.4 B and D.
1. (C) Summary: Pol Chief met with MFA Desk Officer for Belarus, Moldova, and Central Asia Risto Roos on October 28 for a read-out of Foreign Minister Urmas Paet’s October 20 - 21 visit to Minsk. Lukashenko, assuring Paet that Estonia was not his enemy, spent the bulk of their 90-minute meeting lashing out at Russia with claims that Minsk may be forced to recognize South Ossetia and Abkhazia this winter in order to get cheap gas from Russia, and that Russia had instigated the war in Georgia. Lukashenko was unrepentant on repression against civil society and has ordered his government to do nothing to please the EU before the November GAERC discusses lifting sanctions against Belarus. End summary.
2. (SBU) On October 20 - 21, FM Paet led a delegation of 30 Estonian business people (Estonia’s largest ever business delegation) to Minsk. While in Belarus, Paet upgraded Estonia’s Consulate to an Embassy, and separately met with Aleksandr Lukashenko, FM Sergey Martynov, and a group of Belarusan independent NGOs and opposition parties.
Lukashenko: “Estonia is Not Our Enemy,” But Maybe Russia Is
3. (C) Civil Society: Paet’s meeting with Lukashenko was scheduled to last 30 minutes, but went 90 minutes and only ended when Paet said he needed to catch his flight. Roos said Lukashenko’s office told him this was only the third time that a meeting with Lukashenko had gone longer than planned (the others being Javier Solana and Benito Ferrero-Waldner). In the meeting Paet raised complaints from civil society leaders that political parties were not allowed to register or freely operate, and that security forces were increasingly using violence against demonstrators. Lukashenko replied that he and several members of the opposition had once been allies who “drank vodka and womanized together.” However, these people had turned against him (Lukashenko) after he refused to give them promotions. Lukashenko told Paet that the opposition in Belarus would never unite, and only existed “to live off western grants.” Furthermore, Lukashenko claimed that he could halt the flow of grant money at any time, but that he saw no reason to do so, since the parties were “harmless.” Regarding civil society complaints of violence against them, Lukashenko stated the opposition should expect to get hurt when they attack the OMON (riot police). Lukashenko also claimed Belarus has no political prisoners, but that common crooks join the opposition after they are arrested in order to claim political persecution. Lukashenko added that he did not want to be president, but was only acting to help the Belarusan people. Lukashenko also repeated earlier claims that in the 2006 elections he actually received 93 percent of the vote, but reduced the final tally to 86 percent to make the vote more credible to the West.
4. (C) NATO: Lukashenko told Paet that, despite Estonia’s membership in the EU and NATO, he did not consider Estonia to be an enemy. Lukashenko also said that Latvia, Lithuania and Poland were not threats to Belarus, despite being NATO members. Paet argued that NATO should not be considered as an enemy, but according to Roos, Lukashenko did not buy it.
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5. (C) EU: Lukashenko also told Paet stated that the EU’s “ridiculous sanctions” had not weakened Belarus. In fact, Lukashenko told Paet he had specifically ordered his government, “to do nothing to please the EU” before the EU discusses extending sanctions at the November GAERC. Lukashenko argued that he prefers Belarus to be independent, and was particularly upset that the EU has not given him credit for any reforms or for his non-recognition of South Ossetia and Abkhazia. He claimed that Ukraine undertook numerous reforms to “please” the EU and NATO, but that now Ukraine is no nearer membership in either organization and is in economic and political ruin. Lukashenko added that the EU, “can sleep soundly at night,” because Belarus protects the EU’s border from illegal immigrants. He lamented that the EU does not give Belarus any credit for this.
6. (C) Iraq, Iran and Venezuela: Lukashenko claimed to Paet that Saddam Hussein called him in early 2003, asking Lukashenko to negotiate peace with the United States. Lukashenko claimed Hussein was prepared to offer gas at half price, and had argued that Iraq had no ties to al-Qaeda nor any WMD. Lukashenko also claimed that Belarus was forced to seek friendship with Venezuela and Iran to lessen Belarus’ energy dependence on Russia. Those countries help Belarus as much as they can, but Lukashenko lamented that his country is still dependent on Russia.
7. (C) Russia: Roos told us that Lukashenko maintained an anti-Russian tone throughout the meeting. Lukashenko said he hoped Finland, Sweden and Denmark refuse to give permission to build the Nordstream pipeline. Lukashenko would prefer to see Yamal II (crossing Belarus) built, arguing it would cost one-tenth the price. Lukashenko also claimed he would likely be forced to recognize South Ossetia and Abkhazia this winter in order to get cheaper energy from Russia. He also complained that Russian media is full of falsifications. On Georgia, Lukashenko claimed Russia had planned the war years in advance and tricked Saakashvili into acting, and told Paet Saakashvili had invited him to Georgia. Lukashenko was considering accepting this invitation, but had not yet done so since he did not want to annoy the Kremlin.
Beleaguered Civil Society
8. (C) Paet met with NGO and political party representatives, who said the level of repression they face has worsened over the past six months. They reported that it has gotten even harder to get permission to demonstrate, that security services are more frequently using force to break up unsanctioned demonstrations, and that activists face violence more often after being arrested. The civil society group accused Russia of propping up Lukashenko with cheap oil and gas, and claimed Russia is trying to “Russify” Belarus as it pushes Minsk into accepting a union state.
FM Martynov Defends Status Quo
9. (C) Paet presented the civil society complaints to FM Martynov, who argued that Belarus was reforming, but that reform takes time.
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Martynov claimed there was a debate within the GOB between a faction that is pro-reform, and others that want to halt reforms since the EU has not positively responded. Martynov reiterated Lukashenko’s complaints that Belarus has not been properly thanked for refusing to recognize South Ossetia, and has not gotten any credit from the EU for decreasing its use of the death penalty. Martynov then accused the EU of double standards, since sanctions are being lifted against Uzbekistan but not against Belarus. Martynov also said that Belarus would upgrade its Consulate in Tallinn to an Embassy in six to nine months, and that the GOB wants to create an inter-governmental commission with Estonia to discuss payment of pensions, social issues, tourism, and cultural issues.
10. (C) Comment: The GOE is an active supporter of democratic reform in Belarus, even if Belarus is not one of Estonia’s main foreign policy priorities (which are Afghanistan, Georgia, Ukraine and Moldova). The Estonian MFA is providing 115,045 Euro in scholarships to thirteen Belarusan students removed from university for political reasons, and in 2008 gave 28,761 Euro to the European Humanities University for scholarships (EHU is a private Belarusan university currently operating in Vilnius). In recent years Estonia has granted political asylum to several young Belarusan pro-democracy activists, such as Pavel Morozow of the Third Way NGO. Estonia’s Charge in Minsk told Pol Chief before his assignment that he intends to push hard for democratic transition in Minsk. Given Estonia’s own transition experience, and the fact that Estonia is not an “enemy” of Belarus, the GOE’s modest support and efforts could have some traction. We are actively engaged with the GOE on ways we can maximize support to Belarus’ democratic opposition, and have made some useful connections (at least for us) to link up Embassies in Tallinn and Minsk with the Estonian Foreign Ministry and now, the Estonian Embassy in Minsk. We hope to be able to reinforce our national efforts to promote change in Belarus by triangulating, where we can, our assistance. DECKER