THE European Union is set to provide cash for opposition parties in the former Soviet republic of Belarus.
Western leaders fear that president Alexander Lukashenko, widely regarded as Europe's last dictator, will attempt to influence next year's presidential election in order to stop pro-Western or pro-reform candidates taking power.
EU diplomats are considering direct funding to allow Belarus's opposition parties to compete with the pro-government campaign. If approved, it would mark a major shift in EU policy towards promoting democracy.
It would also mark a significant ramping up of pressure on the authorities in Minsk, but would risk antagonising Moscow. Russia has a close relationship with Belarus and is still smarting over what it sees as Western interference in Ukraine, which is looking to join the EU and Nato.
A document prepared by the EU policy unit says that the "Lukashenko regime is becoming increasingly repressive", pointing to the harassment of the opposition and of lobbyists for reform, and asks whether "direct/indirect opposition support" should be considered.
Brussels is also considering visa restrictions on Belarussian officials and the freezing of some of the country's overseas assets.
Based in London, we are an informal group dedicated to supporting democracy and human rights throughout
the former Soviet Union. Our aims are:
Informing the public about issues in this area that receive little coverage in the Western media.
Staging peaceful demonstrations and letter-writing campaigns in support of specific causes.
Supporting and publicising nonviolent pro-democracy groups throughout the region.
Encouraging European and American involvement.
Support the Belarusian cartoonists
Third Way, the Belarusian organisation whose members are being prosecuted for producing satirical cartoons about Lukashenka,
have set up a web page where you can make a donation via PayPal. The group urgently
need money for their legal defence and operating expenses. Please give what you can today! Read more
We are continuing to focus our efforts on the Belarusian prisoner of conscience Mikhail Marinich.
We are campaigning for him to receive proper medical treatment, to be permitted to see his family,
and ultimately to be released from prison pending a review of his case. You can help by distributing
our factsheets and letters.
Members of these groups have joined our blog to share their views and experiences.