TALLINN, Estonia — Belarus’ authoritarian president invited Hungary’s prime minister to visit his country, which faces increasing isolation due to the government’s relentless crackdown on dissent and support for Russia’s war with Ukraine.
President Alexander Lukashenko invited Prime Minister Viktor Orban to meet Hungarian Foreign Minister Peter Szijjarto, who arrived in Belarus earlier this week. Lukashenko said he was ready “for a dialogue with European countries” and invited Orban “to discuss serious issues”.
Orban’s press chief, Bertalan Havasi, said the prime minister would consider the invitation when he returns from the European Union summit in Brussels.
Belarus has been under a barrage of Western sanctions since 2020, when Lukashenko won his sixth term in an election that the West and the opposition denounced as rigged.
The vote sparked an unprecedented wave of mass protests, to which Lukashenko’s government and law enforcement responded by arresting more than 35,000 people and violently beating thousands.
The country’s isolation increased after Russia used its longtime and dependent ally Belarus as a base to send troops and missiles to Ukraine in 2022.
Lukashenko recently called for a normalization of Belarus’s relations with EU member countries. Hungary is the only EU country that still talks with Belarus and can act as an intermediary between Minsk and the 27-nation bloc, which has imposed sanctions on dozens of Belarusian officials.
Szijjarto previously visited Belarus in February, becoming the first senior European official to do so after 2020.
Belarusian opposition leader Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya criticized Szijjarto for his two trips to Minsk and called on the EU to strengthen sanctions against Lukashnko’s government as long as some 1,500 political prisoners remain behind bars. Among them, Ales Bialiatski, winner of the 2022 Nobel Peace Prize, eminent human rights defender.
“It goes against European Union policy for a European minister to address a dictator accused of involvement in war crimes, the kidnapping of Ukrainian children and terror against his own people ” Tsikhanouskaya told the Associated Press.
Political analysts believe Lukashenko is trying to reduce his dependence on the Kremlin.
“Lukachenko is somehow trying to balance his complete dependence on the Kremlin and will seize every opportunity, including the extravagant leaders of Hungary and other Western politicians ready to speak in Minsk on Lukashenko’s terms,” said Valery Karbalevich, an independent Belarusian political analyst.
This most recent initiative comes at a time when relations between Belarus and China have significantly “cooled”, Karbalevich said, pointing out that Lukashenko was not invited to this year’s Belt and Road Forum in Beijing.
“Belarus ceases to be a gateway to Europe for China and an attractive transit country, which is why Minsk is once again trying to unblock its relations with the West,” the analyst said .