Belarus. In February, imprisoned opposition leader
Aljaksandr Kozulin went hungry to attend his wife's funeral.
The EU and the US called on Belarus to respond to Kozulin's
wishes and to release all political prisoners. The
authorities released Kozulin for three days, but when some
opposition activists were released for good he was not among
them. Kozulin was sentenced to 5.5 years for organizing
protests against President Aljaksandr Lukashenka's
In March, Belarus called on the US ambassador to leave
the country. It was dissatisfied with the US economic and
political sanctions, mainly against the Belarusian oil
company Belneftechim. The US was called on to further reduce
its embassy staff and the embassy was accused of operating a
network of spies in Belarus.
After repeated energy conflicts with Russia, the
relationship with the big neighbor was worse than for a long
time. In the war between Russia and Georgia in August, a
Belarusian silence followed, which Moscow criticized.
Although Lukashenka then met with the new Russian President
Dmitry Medvedev that Russia acted "wisely" in the war
against Georgia, but after that Minsk took measures
suggesting that the regime sought to improve relations with
Countryaah reports, Lukashenka released both regime critic Alexander Kozulin
and two other political prisoners, Sergei Parsykevich and
Andrej Kim. The British ambassador to Minsk explained that
Belarus no longer had any political prisoners. The United
States lifted the sanctions against the oil company
Belneftechim for six months, which was welcomed by Belarus.
In September, parliamentary elections were held in an
atmosphere of some expectation of a more open political
climate. Hundreds of opposition candidates were allowed to
stand. But after the election, foreign observers could see
that the election was not democratic, although there were
slight improvements. According to the official result, the
opposition did not take a single mandate in Parliament.
Opposition leader Anatoly Lebedko described the election
result as "unfair and illegitimate", and Aljaksandr Kozulin
described the election as the regime spit "face to face".
Exile politicians believed that before the election,
Lukashenka only tried to persuade the West in order to make
Moscow jealous and thus make the Kremlin make concessions,
especially with regard to the increased gas prices.
Despite the rejection of the elections, the EU in October
invited Belarusian Foreign Minister Sergei Martinov to meet
colleagues in the EU countries. It was the first time since
the sanctions were introduced after the 2006 election fraud.
Afterwards, Brussels declared that President Lukashenka and
several of his employees were welcome to the EU again. For
six months, their entry ban would be lifted, and then the
requirements for democratic improvements would be evaluated.
In November, a conference in London on investment in
Belarus was held, a sign that the country's isolation was
breaking. Prime Minister Syarhey Sidorski presented a list
of about 600 companies that would be privatized, as well as
plans for simplified business rules and tax reform.
This autumn's financial crisis forced Belarus to ask both
Russia and the International Monetary Fund (IMF) for help.
Russia pledged US $ 2 billion in two-year loans, and in
December the IMF pledged $ 2.5 billion. The assistance from
the IMF came with conditions for tightening the public wage
budget and cuts in central government spending.
The IMF made conditions on reforms. Lukashenka explained
that his government planned major reforms to liberalize the
economy and reduce the bureaucracy.