The Situation in Belarus
Assistant Secretary, Bureau of European and Eurasian Affairs
QUESTION: What options are there open to the United States in particular as far as the situation in Belarus is concerned?
ASSISTANT SECRETARY GORDON: We’re looking at all of our options. Let me first say we’re very concerned about the situation and the fate of the presidential candidates and others who have been detained, and we have made clear to the authorities in Minsk that we hold them responsible for the health and well-being of those individuals.
In terms of a policy response, the United States already has some significant sanctions and visa bans and asset freezes on certain individuals in Belarus and we’re looking at strengthening or widening those. Much will depend on what Belarus does in the coming days, particularly with regard to the detainees.
QUESTION: Those kind of bans that you’ve had in place don’t seem to have changed President Lukashenko’s way of working.
ASSISTANT SECRETARY GORDON: We will need to make very clear to him that business as usual cannot go on so long as these people are detained and we would be obliged to consider them political prisoners, which actually led to some easing of the sanctions that we had on Belarus that we are looking at reimposing if there’s not change in the coming days. I would also note we are working very closely with the European Union which I think has even more levers at its disposal in terms of preventing Mr. Lukashenko and others from traveling to Europe. They’re working on the Eastern partnership that Belarus was interested in, financial freezes. So working together, democracy assistance which is another thing that the United States and the European Union work on together, I think we can send the message that if there’s not change in behavior very quickly there will be consequences for Belarus.
QUESTION: There will be no carrots dangled, there will be simply a statement, a request if you like, to release those presidential candidates who are still being held?
ASSISTANT SECRETARY GORDON: As I say, we’ve made very clear the consequences if they are not released. In terms of carrots, Belarus has known for some time what it needs to do in order to have the better relationship with the West that we think it needs and that its leaders have said they want. So there is a carrot in that sense, and they know what they need to do in order to have those benefits. If not, they will be both isolated and dependent on Russia in a way that it is our understanding they’re not interested in.
QUESTION: When you think of Belarus, when you’re working on what to do, do you consider it a European country?
ASSISTANT SECRETARY GORDON: Yes. Belarus is absolutely a European country.
QUESTION: Does that change how you go about dealing with the country? Is there a different set of standards than perhaps Central Asian countries in terms of the post-Soviet state?
ASSISTANT SECRETARY GORDON: I don’t want to get into categorizing standards, but there is a European set of values and democratic practices that we expect Belarus to meet if it wants to be part of that Europe. Over the past 20 years a number of other countries have moved in that direction in ways that have vastly benefited their people, Europe as a whole, and the relationship with the United States. Belarus, sadly, has been lagging behind. There were some signs that it was moving in the right direction over the past couple of years and we underscored to Belarus what positive future it could have if it continued to --
QUESTION: Can it have a positive future with President Lukashenko at the helm?
ASSISTANT SECRETARY GORDON: That remains to be seen. The events of the past few weeks suggest that it is looking very difficult, and certainly what happened in December was a major step backward. But the door is open. The better relationship is there. He knows what he needs to do in order to have it. And that’s what we expect very soon.
QUESTION: Thanks very much.