Publication: Monitor Volume: 5 Issue: 86

United States Ambassador Daniel Speckhard arrived in Minsk yesterday after an eleven-month absence. The United States, European Union (EU) countries and other pro-Western states had recalled their ambassadors in June 1998 after President Alyaksandr Lukashenka had, in violation of international conventions, evicted the diplomats from their residences and seized those premises. The EU countries subsequently bowed to that seizure and sent their ambassadors back to Minsk in January 1999. The United States did not, persisting instead in its intransigent defense of the international conventions which guarantee the immunity of diplomatic premises. Washington thus faced the classical Cold War dilemma of either upholding principle while forfeiting presence, or choosing flexibility for the sake of maintaining an effective presence in a country faced by totalitarian or external takeover.

Belarusan opposition groups and some Western human rights organizations recently recommended that Washington send its ambassador back to Belarus, both to improve direct communications with the opposition and because of the worrying developments in the country and in Russia-Belarus relations. On his arrival yesterday, Speckhard stated that he would stay for one week and meet with government officials–though not with Lukashenka–and with both opposition leaders and ordinary citizens to discuss current political developments. Speckhard was cited as expressing support for the opposition’s intention to express its views by conducting an alternative presidential election on May 16, in accordance with the 1994 constitution rescinded by Lukashenka. The ambassador’s one-week stay seems a prelude to a more permanent return (Itar-Tass, NTV, AP, May 3).