Normalisation with the West is still on the table
Last week was full of positive events as regards Belarus’ relations with the West: the visit of Johaness Khan and the resumption of visa issuance by the US Embassy, however, neither has marked a qualitative breakthrough.
Relations with the West dominated in the foreign policy information agenda last week. For instance, after a three-year beak, the European Commissioner for Neighbourhood and Negotiations on the EU enlargement, Johannes Khan, visited Minsk and had high-level meetings with Foreign Minister Makey, Prime Minister Kobyakov and President Lukashenka.
Simultaneously, the American Embassy in Minsk solemnly announced the resumption of the issuance of non-immigrant visas to all groups of Belarusian citizens after a ten-year hiatus following a sharp deterioration between the two states.
It would seem that these events, moreover that they coincided, should signal about the intensification of relations with the West. However, it is not the case. The visit of the European Commissioner has initially been planned for autumn 2017, presumably to give an incentive to the deadlocked negotiations on an agreement on partnership priorities with the EU (the relations’ roadmap until 2020), as well as on visa facilitation and readmission. However, judging from official reports and the joint press conference of Khan and Makey, the parties have hardly found acceptable solutions to contentious issues and only reiterated them in a diplomatic manner. Moreover, the European Commissioner has expressed the EU's concern about the human rights situation in Belarus
As for the activity of the US Consulate in Minsk, the decision took more than four years and was fraught with many difficulties. Yet the issue with the absence of bilateral diplomatic relations at the ambassador level has not been resolved.
Overall, last week’s events could be interpreted as a manifestation of the parties' interest in continuing the normalization, however, it would be premature to speak about a serious progress in this regard.