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Russia-Ukraine War: 7 European Foreign Ministers Meet Zelensky in Kyiv

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A high Belarusian official who led a failed try and thaw diplomatic relations between the nation’s Kremlin-allied authorities and the West died all of the sudden over the weekend, state media and authorities companies in Belarus stated, amid rising hypothesis over his nation’s involvement within the struggle in neighboring Ukraine.

The official, Vladimir Makei, had served 10 years because the international minister of Belarus, a key geopolitical battleground between Russia and the West. State media reported on Saturday that Mr. Makei had died on the age of 64, with out mentioning the reason for his demise.

The muted response from officers and the state-controlled media contrasted with Mr. Makei’s standing as one of the outstanding Belarusian officers in trendy instances and one of many longest-serving high allies of the nation’s authoritarian president, Aleksandr Lukashenko.

The shortage of particulars, whereas common underneath Mr. Lukashenko’s secretive regime, has fueled a flurry of hypothesis amongst media commentators over the reason for Mr. Makei’s demise.

As international minister, Mr. Makei led his nation’s outreach to the West, which Mr. Lukashenko had tried enjoying off in opposition to Russia in a bid to take care of political energy at house.

Valery Sakhashchyk, a former Belarusian army officer now serving as an adviser on protection to the exiled opposition chief, Svetlana Tikhanovskaya, informed Ukrainian radio on Monday that Mr. Makei had been “deformed” by his years of service in Mr. Lukashenko’s regime, however had nonetheless been “undoubtedly some form of bridge with the West.”

Overseas diplomats who had labored with Mr. Makei through the years remembered him as one of many few senior Belarusian officers who may interact in civil conversations with Western leaders whereas conserving Mr. Lukashenko’s belief.

“Makei was a member of an interior circle of Lukashenko from the very starting, first as chief of employees and later because the international minister,” stated Vygaudas Usackas, the previous international minister of Lithuania, Belarus’ neighbor to the west. “However he was additionally making an attempt to stroll a positive line by way of conserving choices and doorways open to speak to the European Union and the West on the whole till the final second.”

A reserve colonel within the military who was fluent in English and German, Mr. Makei was useful to Mr. Lukashenko for his capability to maneuver between nationalist hard-liners and worldwide diplomatic circles, based on Pavel Slunkin, a Belarusian political analyst who labored underneath Mr. Makei within the international ministry.

Mr. Makei figured prominently in a February 2020 go to from Mike Pompeo, then the U.S. secretary of state, throughout which the 2 nations agreed to trade ambassadors and in addition mentioned the export of oil to Belarus from the US and its allies. However the thaw in relations with Washington ended abruptly six months later, when Mr. Lukashenko, backed by Moscow, used brutal power to finish protests by a whole bunch of 1000’s of individuals in Minsk and different Belarusian cities after an election that protesters and worldwide our bodies, together with the European Union, known as fraudulent.

Western sanctions in response to Mr. Lukashenko’s crackdown made Belarus more and more reliant on Russia and a key ally to President Vladimir V. Putin, who used Belarus as a staging floor for his invasion of Ukraine in February.

The Russian army has additionally used Belarusian territory to coach troops and deal with injured fighters, provide its forces in Ukraine and launch strikes on Ukrainian cities, elevating fears amongst many in Belarus that their nation might be regularly transferring towards direct confrontation with a southern neighbor.

Moscow has been pressuring Mr. Lukashenko to get extra concerned within the faltering army marketing campaign subsequent door. Mr. Makei had been scheduled to satisfy his Russian counterpart, Sergey V. Lavrov, later this week.

Mr. Lukashenko has not spoken publicly about Mr. Makei’s demise. The state information company, Belta, on Saturday printed a one-line story saying that the president had provided condolences to Mr. Makei’s household.

Mr. Lukashenko has but to announce a alternative for Mr. Makei. Analysts consider the selection may provide a sign of how far the president is ready to push his alliance with Russia.

Tomas Dapkus contributed reporting from Vilnius, Lithuania.

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