Minsk sends positive signals to the West aspiring to continue normalisation
Despite the obvious slowdown in normalisation with the West, the Belarusian authorities have demonstrated a desire to continue this process. Simultaneously, their ultimate goal is to expand the room for foreign policy manoeuvre and balance out Russia and other centres of influence, rather than to reach new cooperation levels with the EU and the US.
On May 14th – 16th, a NATO delegation visited Minsk to participate in the annual meeting on Belarus’ participation in the Planning and Evaluation Process within the NATO Partnership for Peace Programme (PARP). The parties discussed and agreed on additional purposes of PARP, clarified the practical modalities of their implementation, and outlined coordination between the Defence Ministry and the Alliance departments.
On May 15th, the chairman of the Standing Commission of the House of Representatives on human rights, national relations and the media, Andrei Naumovich, and other Commission members met with the head of the European Union Delegation, Andrea Victorin, and the US Chargé d'affaires in Belarus, Robert Riley. During the meeting, parliamentarians informed Western diplomats about the progress with draft laws on mass events and mass media, which were being prepared for second reading. Since freedom of assembly and freedom of the media in Belarus remain in the focus of attention in Brussels and Washington, the Belarusian authorities thereby have demonstrated their openness and understanding of concerns of their Western partners.
In addition, Minsk continued to develop bilateral relations with some EU member states. On May 15th – 16th, Deputy Foreign Minister Oleg Kravchenko visited Helsinki. He held talks with the Under-Secretary of State responsible for foreign and security policy, Europe, Russia and Central Asia, Anne Marjaana Sipiläinen. The parties discussed bilateral relations, cooperation between Belarus and the EU, including within the Eastern Partnership Programme, and cooperation within international organisations. The parties emphasised the mutual interest in expanding trade contacts, implementing economic and investment projects, including the access to the Eurasian Economic Union market.
Overall, relations with the West developed in line with the previously outlined trend for gradual and consistent normalisation without significant breakthroughs or concessions by Belarus. That said, Minsk is ready to devote significant time and attention to this process, and to make symbolic steps to keep the West interested.