Belarus has withdrawn today (30 September) from the EU's 'Eastern Partnership' initiative, aimed at developing closer relations with the countries of Europe's east, denouncing "unprecedented discrimination" and a "substitution" of the principles on which it was built two years ago.
Polish Prime Minister Donald Tusk announced during opening talks on the second day of the Eastern Partnership (EaP) summit in Warsaw that the Belarus delegation "is absent."
The Belarusian Ministry of Foreign Affairs published a statement in which it deplored that just ahead of the summit, its Polish organisers had undertaken "unprecedented discriminatory measures" against Belarus.
"They refused to issue an invitation to the head of the Belarus government. As a consequence, the head of delegation appointed by the Republic of Belarus was limited in participating in the Summit's programme," the statement reads.
From the outset, it has been clear that Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko, known as 'Europe's last dictator', was not going to be invited among his peers from the other EaP countries: Ukraine, Moldova, Georgia, Armenia and Azerbaijan. Instead, the Polish EU Presidency invited the foreign minister Serhiy Martynau.
But just before the summit, Minsk said it would be represented by its ambassador to Warsaw, and not by Martynau.
"Partnership cannot be based on discrimination," the statement goes further, warning that any decisions taken by the Summit without the participation of Belarus would be "illegitimate".
But the real reason for the snub may be the fact that Polish Prime Minister Donald Tusk and Council President Herman Van Romuy held meetings with the Belarus opposition at a civil society conference held in the sidelines of the EaP summit.
In a statement published on the EU Presidency website, Tusk stated that that no concessions or gestures would be possible until all political prisoners in Belarus were freed. Van Rompuy made a similar declaration.
"We cannot become involved in aid to Belarus without seeing clear progress in respect for human rights in that country, and that means the immediate release and rehabilitation of all political prisoners as well as the start of genuine political dialogue with the opposition," he stated.
As regards the Eastern Partnership Summit, Tusk said that the EU was striving to draw its participating countries closer to Europe. "The Partnership has turned out to be an effective project indeed," he summed up.