Minsk has advanced its interests in the West, yet there were no immediate results
The past week was eventful in terms of Belarusian officials’ visits to the EU. Belarusian Deputy Foreign Minister Kravchenko at the annual meeting of Eastern Partnership (EaP) senior officials outlined the country's position: to strengthen the practical impact of the initiative and focus on concrete and tangible projects. In addition, Kravchenko confirmed Belarus' readiness for negotiations on a new basic agreement with the EU.
On March 15th-16th, during his visit to France, Deputy Foreign Minister Kravchenko met with Jean-Baptiste Lemoine, the Secretary of the French Foreign Ministry, Florence Mangin, Director of the Continental Europe Department of the French Foreign Ministry, chairmen of some parliamentary groups and commissions, as well as the chairman of one of the largest think tanks, Institute of International Relations, Dr. Thomas Gomart. The parties discussed bilateral relations, Belarus-EU cooperation, security issues and expert cooperation. It is worth noting that, recently the Belarusian diplomacy has been putting greater emphasis on the expert-analytical component of relations with the West. Apparently, Minsk has apprehended the importance of working with opinion leaders to improve the country's international image.
On March 15th-17th, a representative delegation of Belarusian industrialists headed by the chairman of Bellegprom concern, Nikolai Efimchik, was in Belgium. The delegation also included: Deputy Minister of Industry Dmitry Korchik, General Director of OAO Polesie Tatyana Lugina, representatives of OAO Gomselmash and OAO MTZ. The main goal of the visit was to find potential partners and discuss ongoing and future projects with existing counterparts.
The European Union continued to finance infrastructure projects with the participation of Belarus. For instance, on March 12th, the EU approved three international technical assistance projects, which would be implemented by the Belarusian customs authorities. The projects aimed at improving border control operations at the Bruzgi and Berestovitsa checkpoints, improving the efficiency of customs control at the Domachevo checkpoint, and strengthening the capacity of the detector dog service of the Belarusian customs.
Simultaneously, the conflict with Lithuania over the Nuclear Power Plant construction has once again escalated, which may have a negative impact on relations with the EU as a whole, provided that the Lithuanian authorities are attempting to block Minsk’s agreements with Brussels pursuing their own interests. This time, tension has built up over the Ignalina NPP: according to the Lithuanian media, the Lithuanian authorities attempted to hide an incident from the public. In this regard, Lithuanian Ambassador Andrius Pulokas was summoned to the Belarusian Foreign Ministry on March 14th and handed a note expressing Belarus’ concern about the lack of timely update on the incident at the Ignalina NPP.
Hence, Belarus has been actively engaged in interactions with the EU on the diplomatic and project level. Belarus is looking for opportunities to deepen her economic ties with some European states. Yet diplomatic efforts have not yielded a full normalisation of relations with the EU; while trade and economic ties are advancing extremely slowly. In addition, the conflict with Lithuania, if it deepens, may complicate political cooperation with the European Union.