Viewing cable 05VILNIUS1093

05VILNIUS10932005-10-12 14:14:00 2011-08-30 01:44:00 CONFIDENTIAL Embassy Vilnius
This record is a partial extract of the original cable. The full text of the original cable is not available.
C O N F I D E N T I A L SECTION 01 OF 03 VILNIUS 001093 
E.O. 12958: DECL: 10/11/2015 
REF: MINSK 1205 
Classified By: Embassy Minsk Pol-Econ Chief Derrick Hogan for reasons 1 
.4 (b) and (d). 
¶1.  (C) Summary:  The congressional delegation led by 
Congressman Jim Kolbe expressed unwavering commitment to a 
diverse group of Belarusian opposition leaders and pledged 
its continued support for democratic change in Belarus.  Two 
U.S. NGOs, the International Republican Institute and the 
National Democratic Institute, organized the October 10 
meeting.  The Belarusian delegation, which comprised leaders 
of the 10  democratic coalition, independent media, and human 
rights NGOs, strongly encouraged the congressional delegation 
to increase U.S. financial assistance to Belarusian 
democratic forces, particularly in the area of print media. 
The Belarusian opposition leaders were cautiously optimistic 
about the prospects for democratic change in the near future, 
with the 2006 presidential elections serving as the 
catalyzing event.  End Summary. 
¶2.  (SBU) The local representatives of NDI and IRI organized 
a meeting on October 10 for CODEL Kolbe to express continued 
U.S. support for the Belarusian opposition movement and to 
discuss prospects for democratic reform in the country. 
U.S. Participants 
-- Congressman Kolbe (R-AZ) 
-- Congressman Sabo (D-MN) 
-- Congressman Carter (R-TX) 
-- Congressman Moran (D-VA) 
-- Congressman Rehberg (R-MT) 
-- Congressman Shimkus (R-IL) 
-- Trygve Olson, local representative of U.S. NGO IRI 
-- David Hamilton, local representative of U.S. NGO NDI 
-- Ambassador Mull 
Belarusian Participants 
-- Anatoly Lebedko, head of the opposition United Civic Party 
-- Sergey Kalyakin, head of pro-democracy Belarusian Party of 
-- Svetlana Zavadskaya, wife of disappeared journalist and 
co-founder of NGO We Remember 
-- Victor Karnienko, head of human rights NGO Civil 
-- Petr Martsev, general manager of independent newspaper BDG 
-- Yuras Hubarevich, youth leader in Belarusian Popular Front 
-- Valentina Sviatskaya, leader in BPF 
U.S. Ready and Willing to Help 
¶3.  (C) Congressman Kolbe congratulated the members of the 
Belarusian opposition for their courage, bravery, and 
commitment to democratic change in Belarus.  He also 
congratulated those members representing the 10  democratic 
coalition for a successful democratic convention October 1-2 
in Minsk (reftel).  Kolbe noted the democratic convention 
represented an important step forward in the consolidation of 
democratic forces ahead of the 2006 presidential elections. 
He also thanked IRI and NDI for facilitating the unification 
of opposition forces and stressed the United States was 
committed to providing the necessary support to the 
opposition.  Congressman Shimkus added the Belarusian leaders 
should take full advantage of the meeting to articulate the 
areas where the USG can provide more financial support for 
the opposition, pointing out that several congressmen present 
in the meeting sit on the U.S. House Appropriations 
Best Approach to Lukashenko: Engagement or Isolation? 
--------------------------------------------- -------- 
¶4.  (C) Congressman Shimkus asked Belarusian civil society 
leaders about how to support democratic change in Belarus. 
Lebedko, runner-up candidate in the October 1-2 democratic 
congress, emphatically stated that engagement with Lukashenko 
is the wrong approach.  He argued that the Belarusian 
president will use any attempt by the West to mend ties with 
his government to his own advantage.  Independent newspaper 
general manager Martsev supported Lebedko's views.  Martsev 
noted that continued discussions over whether engagement is 
the correct strategy imply there is still some doubt about 
the existence of a dictatorship in Belarus.  According to 
Martsev, such discussions should cease because the issue is 
clear, "there is a real dictatorship in Belarus." 
¶5.  (C) Lebedko stressed throughout the meeting that the 
international community should adopt a tougher position 
vis-a-vis Lukashenko and even encouraged the United States to 
pressure the EU to apply economic sanctions against the 
Lukashenko regime.  The UCP leader noted that limiting or 
cutting off trade between the EU and Belarus would seriously 
affect the stability of Lukashenko's regime, although Lebedko 
acknowledged several EU member states would also be adversely 
affected by such a strategy. 
Lack of Access to Independent Information Key Impediment 
--------------------------------------------- ----------- 
¶6.  (C) All members of the Belarusian delegation noted that 
the regime's tight control over media access represented the 
most serious obstacle to democratic change in Belarus. 
Martsev reminded the congressional delegation that the 
Lukashenko regime has established absolute control over 
television and radio media, and has taken drastic steps to 
eliminate independent print media.  According to Martsev, 
only six national and 20 regional independent newspapers 
currently exist in Belarus, and excessive GOB fines and 
restrictions are forcing these remaining newspapers to shut 
down or reduce operations.   Consequently, most Belarusians 
possess little information about the opposition, and the 
information they do possess has largely come from state media 
But Print Media, Not External Broadcasting, Is the Answer 
--------------------------------------------- ------------ 
¶7.  (C) When asked about the possibility of broadcasting 
independent information about Belarus into the country from 
neighboring countries, the Belarusian civil society activists 
expressed serious doubt that such initiatives would be 
fruitful in the short term.  Kalyakin, pro-democracy 
Communist leader and likely campaign manager for 10 
coalition presidential candidate Alexander Milinkevich, 
maintained that television and radio projects should be 
pursued only after the 2006 elections.  He argued that 
external broadcasting requires huge sums of financial and 
technical resources and, equally important, there was 
insufficient time for external broadcasting to have a real 
impact on the elections. 
¶8.  (C) Kalyakin and others encouraged the congressmen to 
channel more resources to supporting independent print media. 
 The communist leader emphasized increasing U.S. direct 
assistance to independent newspapers and providing the 
opposition with the resources to purchase printing machines 
and printing paper.  The printing equipment would allow the 
10  coalition to print flyers and bulletins that would be 
used in the door-to-door voter outreach campaign. 
Rigged Elections to Serve As Catalyst for Change 
--------------------------------------------- --- 
¶9.  (C) Kolbe asked for an assessment of the possibility for 
transparent elections in Belarus and the prospects for a 
victory by an opposition candidate in the elections. 
Kalaykin and Lebedko noted it was highly unlikely the 
upcoming presidential elections would meet international 
standards.  That said, the Belarusians stressed their focus 
is on reaching out to the voters in a door-to-door campaign, 
familiarizing the electorate with the opposition platform and 
convincing voters to vote for democratic change.  Lebedko was 
optimistic the opposition could persuade voters to join their 
camp.  He noted that recent opinion polls in Belarus indicate 
65 percent of the population is in favor of democratic change 
and 17 percent said they are "ready to defend their vote" in 
the event domestic and international observers detected mass 
fraud in the elections. 
¶10.  (C) Karnienko, NGO leader and close advisor to 10 
coalition candidate Milinkevich, agreed with the opinion poll 
data, but stressed it remained unclear whether those in favor 
of democratic change are willing to vote for the opposition 
candidate.  Karnienko believes the popular rejection of 
rigged presidential elections in 2006 will largely be a 
function of the extent to which the opposition is successful 
in galvanizing popular resentment against Lukashenko prior to 
the elections. 
¶11.  (C) The Belarusian opposition leaders provided the U.S. 
congressmen a cautiously optimistic assessment of the 
prospects for democratic change in Belarus.  The 
pro-democracy activists presented a clear message that unity 
of forces in the opposition camp, strong voter support, and 
continued U.S. and EU assistance are the necessary 
ingredients for Lukashenko's removal from power.  The 
political and ideological diversity represented in the 
Belarusian delegation only served to reinforce that message. 
¶12.  (U) Congressman Kolbe did not have an opportunity to 
clear on this cable.