Belarus withdrew from the Eastern Partnership summit Sep 30, which is being held in Warsaw at the initiative of Poland. The Belarusian delegation said it was leaving the summit due to "discrimination," though the more likely reason is that many of the summits EU participants met with the Belarusian opposition while denouncing the government for its democratic and human rights issues. Belarus' withdrawal is a reminder that Poland has a long way to go in achieving concrete results via the Eastern Partnership (LINK), but an offer made by Polish PM Tusk that links financial assistance from the IMF to reforms in Belarus shows that Poland hasn't completely given up on the country just yet.
Belarus' prospects vis a vis the Eastern Partnership side were already weak (LINK) even before the summit began. Due to sanctions enacted by the EU on Belarus earlier this year over a disputed election and subsequent crackdown on opposition protestors, Lukashenko is on an EU travel ban and was therefore not allowed to attend the summit. In his place, Belarus sent its ambassador to Poland after Belarusian FM Sergei Martynau refused his invitation, and the ambassador was not allowed to participate in several events due to his lower rank (every other representative from the EP member states was the country's president or top leader). In reaction, Belarus's Foreign Ministry released a statement that "participation is not possible as a partnership cannot be based on discrimination."
But the more important reason was the attitude towards the Belarusian opposition (LINK) - several leading European figures, including German Chancellor Angela Merkel, Polish Prime Minister Donald Tusk, and EU President Heramn Von Rumpoy all met with several Belarusian opposition leaders during the summit and denounced the government's treatment of them. Tusk urged the Belarusian government to "release all political prisoners", while Merkel said "things are going backwards in Belarus." It is such actions that were likely the real reason behind Belarus' withdrawal from the Summit. Such actions do not reflect well on Poland - which has its reputation pinned to the Eastern Partnership (LINK), and on the other hand are well received in Russia (LINK), which has its own designs for Belarus.
However, this does not mean that Belarus is distancing itself from the Eastern Partnership completely. As of this writing, Minsk has not left the initiative altogether and the EP's leaders have not indicated they plan on ejecting Belarus from the grouping. Indeed, Tusk stated at the summit that the IMF and the European Investment Bank (EIB) could give Belarus $9 billion in economic assistance if the Belarusian government commits to making "wide-reacihng democratic reforms." It was also said that Lukashenko's ouster was not a pre-condition for such assistance.
While Poland has offered financial assistance to Belarus in exchange for reforms before (these offers were snubbed by Lukashenko - LINK), it is notable that Tusk is now linking this directly to a potential IMF loan. Belarus has had difficulties getting access to IMF funds, something which Poland knows Belarus could desperately use and Warsaw is therefore trying to use it as leverage. Though Tusk's offer will likely not work in getting Luksashenko to change his ways in the near term, it will be worth watching closely as the country continues to experience serious financial problems and finds itself increasingly isolated from the west, both politically and economically.