Belarusian Foreign Ministry has temporarily surrendered initiative to law enforcement but has not abandoned dialogue with EU
Amid somewhat reduced interest of the EU in Belarus and growing geopolitical confrontation in the region, the Belarusian Foreign Ministry has passed the initiative to the power block. However, Minsk is unlikely to neither curtail the settlement process with Western capitals, nor provoke a tough response to new political prisoners from Brussels and Washington. The authorities could also attempt to undermine the reputation of Vilnius in the eyes Belarusian civil society and international community due to the case of the trade union leaders and thereby neutralize its attempts to draw attention to the Belarusian NPP on the international arena.
Amid the extension of the EU sanctions against Russia and growing tension between Moscow and Washington, Minsk aspires to reduce the attention of the Western capitals to the trade union leaders case. In addition, the authorities have presented the case of trade union as prosecution purely for economic reasons, based the information about the trade union accounts in Vilnius disclosed by the Lithuanian banks in 2011. The Belarusian authorities are unlikely to jeopardize the Belarusian-European relations with new political prisoners. Minsk hopes for a mild response from international trade union associations to the prosecution of Belarusian trade union leaders. That said, independent trade unions in Belarus do not have a common position and law enforcement has taken advantage of tension among trade union leaders regarding cooperation with foreign partners.
In addition, Minsk could aim to discredit Lithuania in the eyes of Belarusian civil society and international community, and, most likely, to play down Lithuanian efforts in prompting a harsh response to the Belarusian Nuclear Power Plant construction. Vilnius often hosts events of the Belarusian civil society and the opposition, who oppose the NPP construction in Belarus and support Lithuania’s efforts in blocking the construction in Ostrovets.
Minsk is not interested in worsening relations with Kyiv, especially in the Belarusian-European context. Following several reports in the independent media about the supplies of Belarusian produces to eastern parts of Ukraine not controlled by the Kyiv authorities and Crimea, Ukrainian Ambassador Igor Kizim threatened with possible sanctions against Belarusian enterprises, including by the EU, should the facts of direct supplies confirm. The Belarusian Foreign Ministry ignored his statement and downplayed the issue. Minsk is confident of the Kyiv's reluctance to aggravate relations with its northern neighbour, especially before the Russo-Belarusian military drill.
Overall, as regards the trade union case, Minsk is ready for critical statements from western capitals and has prepared an economic justification for the pressure on independent trade unions. Law enforcement is likely to relax its grip in the trade union case as the Foreign Ministry steps back on the stage following anticipated harsh statements, especially if social and political stability inside the country retains.
President Lukashenka continues to rotate staff and rejuvenate heads of departments and universities following new appointments in regional administrations. Apparently, new Information Minister Karliukevich could somewhat relax the state policy towards the independent media and introduce technological solutions for retaining control over Belarus’ information space. New rectors could strengthen the trend for soft Belarusization in the regions and tighten the disciplinary and ideological control over the student movement in the capital.
President Lukashenka has appointed new ministers of culture and information, the new rector of the Belarusian State University and heads of three universities, assistants in the Minsk and Vitebsk regions.
The new Information Minister Karliukevich is likely to avoid controversial initiatives similar to those former Minister Ananich was famous for, however, certainly within his capacities. Nevertheless, the appointment of Belarusian-speaking writer Karliukevich could be regarded as the state’s cautious attempt to relax environment in the media field and ensure the sovereignty of national media.
The Belarusian leadership has consolidated the trend for mild Belarusization by appointing a young historian and a ‘reasonable nationalist’, Duk as the rector at the Kuleshov State University in Mogilev. Meanwhile, while choosing the head of the Belarusian State University, the president apparently had in mind the strengthening of the ideological loyalty among the teaching staff and students at the main university in order to keep the youth movement at bay. Previously, Korol was the rector of the Kupala State University in Grodno, where he held purges among the disloyal teaching staff.
The trend for the renewal of mid-ranking executives and their rejuvenation has confirmed. The age of the Culture Minister and three new rectors varies from 39 to 44 years old.