Minister for Foreign Affairs Alexander Stubb (Nat. Coalition Party) had to explain his visit Belarus during Parliamentary question time on Thursday, and give an accounting of statements that he made while in Minsk.
MP Markku Laukkanen (Centre) asked about a remark made by the country’s autocratic leader, President Alexandr Lukashenko, who was inspired by Stubb’s friendly comments to declare that Belarus would be willing to make him Chairman for life of the Organisation of Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE).
Stubb visited Belarus this week in his capacity as OSCE Chairman.
Laukkanen asked if Stubb has supported Lukashenko’s policy line, or if he ws trying to mollify Russia, which has criticised Stubb’s performance in OSCE matters.
Stubb insisted that his basic message in Belarus was that the recent elections in the country were neither free nor honest. He also says that the told the country’s government that the death penalty needs to be lifted, and that parties, the media, and non-governmental organisations need to be given more freedom.
As for suggestions that he was trying to placate Russia, Stubb said that it is “terribly hard to sign on” to such a notion.
Stubb noted that Belarus has let OSCE observers into the country. In addition, election campaigning is slightly more open than before. Belarus has also freed all three people from prison who were considered political prisoners.
The Finnish Foreign Minister also noted that the OSCE has decided not to try to isolate Belarus, but rather to engage in “conditional cooperation” with the country.
Stubb also said that there are about 20 minutes worth of video material from his discussions with Lukashenko. He said that when he started criticising the country’s treatment of the opposition, and the existence of the death penalty, the TV cameras were immediately removed.
Left Alliance MP Jaakko Laakso expressed the view that Stubb may have changed his policy on Belarus right after the United States made a smiliar move. He voiced the suspicion that Stubb would have brought a message to the country of a dismantling of sanctions, after being told to do so by the United States.
Stubb denied discussing the issue of sanctions against Belarus with the US administration. However, he added that Belarus had been discussed with the foreign ministers of the European Union. He said that there ar eno plans by the EU ministers to propose a lifting of the sanctions.