Belarus to allow visa-free entry for 80 countries

The President of Belarus Alexander Lukashenko plays hockey, 7 January. His team defeated Finland in the final match of the 13th Christmas Amateur Ice Hockey Tournament. [President of Belarus]

Belarus will allow visa-free entry for citizens of 80 countries, including the United States and members of the European Union, for visits of up to five days, according to a presidential decree signed yesterday (9 January).

The decree comes as the former Soviet republic is seeking to improve its image in the West and rely less on ally Russia.

With eye on West, Belarus holds slightly freer election

Lawmakers loyal to hardline Belarussian President Alexander Lukashenko retained power in an election yesterday (11 September), but the opposition’s win of a seat for the first time in 20 years could help the ex-Soviet nation further improve ties with the West.

The relaxed visa rules will apply to visitors who arrive in Belarus by airplane. They will come into force a month after their official publication.

Belarussian President Alexander Lukashenko, who once described himself as the “last dictator in Europe”, helped improve his image in the West by acting as an intermediary during the Ukraine conflict.

The EU imposed economic sanctions on Russia over that conflict in 2014.

Relations between Minsk and the West have warmed since recession-hit Belarus held a peaceful presidential election in October 2015.

Lukashenko wins election as Belarus' ties with West improve

Belarussian President Alexander Lukashenko won a fifth term in office by a landslide on Sunday (11 October) in an election that could see an easing of relations with the West and raise questions about his ties to Vladimir Putin’s Russia.

The release of political prisoners and Lukashenko’s role in hosting Ukraine-Russia peace talks also eased international criticism of the veteran leader, who the United States once said ran Europe’s last dictatorship.

The European Union ended five years of sanctions against Belarus last February, while the United States has relaxed some of its restrictions on Minsk and said the authorities’ handling of Sunday’s vote will factor into an upcoming sanctions review.

EU ends Belarus sanctions

The European Union on Thursday (25 February) formally lifted nearly all of its sanctions against Belarus, including President Alexander Lukashenko, citing improvements in the country’s human rights record.

The West has pushed for democratic change in Belarus but has been shifting its approach to engage rather than isolate, as well as to counter what it sees as a newly aggressive Russia.

In spite of its close relations with Moscow, Belarus hasn’t recognised the annexation of Crimea.

But opposition leaders warn that Lukashenko is fooling the West, and that no real democratisation in the country has happened.

Belarus opposition activist: Lukashenko is fooling the West, like Ceausescu

The President of Belarus, Alexander Lukashenko, is fooling the EU, like Romanian dictator Nicolae Ceau?escu did during the Cold War, Ales Bialiatski told EURACTIV in an exclusive interview.

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